Surround Yourself With Ambitious Women

by Nathalie O'Neill

Ah, to feel outshined. We’ve all been down the path of resentment–a crush’s gorgeous new girlfriend, the student who wins the award you were pining after, the girl who nabs your dream job. But in Friday’s issue of New York Magazine , Ann Friedman suggests we put our inferiority complexes on the shelf and befriend the women who intimidate us:

Here’s my solution: When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.

I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.

I was practically bouncing up and down when I finished reading Friedman’s piece. Had women finally decided to end it with all the cattiness and insecurity and start believing in themselves and each other? Evidently, I had gotten my hopes up too soon. Hanna Rosin of Slate’s The XX Factor disagreed with Friedman’s argument:

If I chose my real friends using Friedman’s advice, I would be in big trouble. What would happen if my successful friend’s career suddenly hit the skids? Do I have to drop her because she will tarnish my shine? And what if I have a sudden bout of success and my friend emits the jealous vibe? Do I have to shun her because she’s being unsisterly? In any case, the advice seems old-fashioned, a relic from the days when women did not see themselves as worthy competition for men, so they fought one another for scraps.

Truth is, women still fight each other for the limited spots in the boys’ club. When most top positions in any industry are occupied by men, let’s be real, what we’re doing is fighting for the men to hire and promote us. And if we don’t all support each other in this male-dominated system, yes, it’s unsisterly. It’s been argued countless times that the only thing keeping women from ruling the world is infighting. In fact, this is a reason why, for the past few years, I’ve cultivated great friendships with men–they seem to have befriending the bold down pat, and don’t waste their time worrying about others' successes threatening their own.

I also think Rosin misses Friedman's point. It's not that we should ditch our friends who aren't wildly successful–we just shouldn't let our insecurities stop us from being friends with those who are. It all comes down to ambition. Do you want to have women around you who push themselves (and you) to be the best they can be? Or do you want women who sit back and don’t let themselves (and you) shine?

I’ve definitely had days (or weeks, or months), when I’ve spent more time hanging out with friends who would go on and on about how insecure they were—about their looks, their luck with men, whatever. And I have to say, those conversations did make me feel slightly better about my own accomplishments and sense of confidence–for the shortest time. The reverse can be said about my crazy-successful friends. They can make my stomach tie up with a sense of inferiority, and I start worrying about everything I haven’t accomplished yet (at 21, I realize this is pretty normal). But once I untie my stomach I still have that feeling that I need to do more. My successful and ambitious friends are living reminders of the things I want to achieve, and the people I want to enjoy my accomplishments with. The people who shine help me shine.

“Foregoing the internal ranking system in favor of being your best self and helping your girlfriends do the same was a revelation to me,” writes Friedman. I read a simple sentence a few years ago that changed my life (honestly). It’s only ten simple words: The way to be great is to run against yourself. This simple thought became my new mantra. Now, if we decide to stop competing against each other, we can start supporting each other. Because we’re all running our own race, and we could all use some shiny cheerleaders.

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