Reese Witherspoon Shares Her Best Career Advice for Ambitious Young Women

Updated 09/05/17
Emma Summerton for Glamour

Reese Witherspoon doesn't just play ambitious characters on the big screen—she also wants more women to be proud of their appetite for success. When the Academy Award–winning actress (who founded her own film production company, Pacific Standard, and her own multi­media company, Hello Sunshine, as a way to spotlight women's diverse stories) spoke at Glamour's Women of the Year Awards in 2015, she told hundreds of young girls in the audience that "ambition is not a dirty word. It's believing in yourself and your abilities." In a new essay for the magazine, Witherspoon reveals the surprising thing she learned from Mindy Kaling, how mothers can help change the perception of ambitious girls, and her best advice for ambitious women.

On what Mindy Kaling taught her about minority women in Hollywood: "When I asked [her], 'Don't you ever get exhausted by always having to create your own roles?' she said, 'Reese, I've never had anything that I didn't create for myself.' I thought, Wow, I feel like a jerk for asking that; I used to have parts that just showed up for me. I can't imagine how hard it is to write your own parts and simultaneously have to change people's perceptions of what a woman of color is in today's society."

On how parents have a duty to create a world that encourages ambitious young women: "As moms, we have a unique opportunity to keep changing this attitude that ambition is an ugly quality in women [and] that it makes you unlikeable," she says. Citing a Columbia University study that found that women who were perceived as ambitious were more likely to seem more selfish and unhireable when compared to a man who possessed the same traits, Witherspoon encourages parents to "talk to your kids about ambition as a positive trait in men and women [and show] that a woman with passion and ambition is [not] out only for herself."

On her best advice for ambitious women in all industries: "Just do what you do well. If you're a producer, you've got to produce. If you're a writer, you've got to write. If you're in corporate America, keep working hard to bust through the glass ceiling. If you want our voices to be represented in government—and I think we're all getting behind that idea now—encourage women to run and help them with their campaigns," she explains. "And when your ambition pays off, I encourage you to give your sisters a little goose out the door by helping to nurture their ambitions."

Head over to Glamour to read Witherspoon's complete pro-ambition manifesto, and share your advice for other driven women in the comments below.

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