07/13/2011 09:18 EDT | Updated 09/12/2011 05:12 EDT

Women in Business: Put Your Ambition Into Action This Summer

More often than not, women don't have support in place or simply don't take responsibility for charting their own career paths. So use the quiet summer moments resting on that chair or your next plane trip to challenge yourself to become more ambitious about your career.

If you are a mother of school-aged children, you most likely fall into one of two camps: you're a mom working outside the home and wondering how on earth you're going to fill up the next 10-12 weeks of school vacation with activities for your kids, or you're a stay-at-home mom who's wondering the same thing. I fall into the first category, and am currently in strategic planning mode with colour-coded schedules for my two kids, calling in favours for invitations to cottages and trying to find last-minute spots in day camps.

While there is no doubt that this quandary has become a crucial issue absorbing many of your valuable brain cells, take a moment to envision your perfect vacation day. Is it a quiet spot on a lounge chair while the kids are busy elsewhere? Maybe you're overlooking a lake or an ocean on a sunny day with your favourite drink in hand? Wherever you find yourself, what's on your mind? The next meal you need to prepare?

How often do you schedule your own time to reflect, to focus on you and what you want in your professional career? If you're one of the lucky ones, you might have a mentor you meet with on a regular basis, who will keep you honest about your career plans and help you along the way. But more often than not, women don't have that support in place and simply don't take responsibility for charting their own path.

So use the quiet summer moments resting on that chair or your next plane trip to challenge yourself to become more ambitious about your career. Create a plan during the summer and put it into action as the fall starts. Make July the new January and create a list of goals and the actions you'll need to take to meet them. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Invest in your own professional development. When was the last time you signed up for a course or program? Don't wait for someone in your company to tap you on the shoulder and suggest a course for you -- you need to be proactive about it. Why not attend something in the evening? You'll model the value of continued personal and professional growth to your kids and they'll survive with your partner or a babysitter for a few nights...

2. Find a mentor if you don't have one yet. Even better, find a sponsor. What's the difference? A mentor will be there to give you advice on your career, will help you to find solutions to tricky problems, and might even connect you to the right people. A sponsor, however, will stand on the table for you and make sure you get that next promotion you deserve. They will have enough seniority and clout to make that move happen for you.

3. Think about your professional network. Do you feel you have the right mix of junior, mid-career and senior professionals, both male and female, and connected in the right places, to help you in your next career move? If your professional network is basically non-existent (and your work colleagues are rarely sufficient), you need to invest time to build one. How? Attend speaker events, join an association, go to charity functions, sign up for a course or program -- there are plenty of possibilities. They are yours to take!

4. And the toughest part: explain to your family that this will be YOUR year for YOUR career. Maybe it means your spouse or partner needs to chip in more around the house, or pursue a more flexible work arrangement to make it happen. Or maybe you need to find more help from a nanny, babysitter, or other service provider. Or the kids finally pitch in a bit more around the house -- really, it can be done!

Be ambitious! Set a career goal, be focused, and hold yourself accountable to it. You'll be surprised where it might take you.