Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace are the first to admit that their interviewees--"forty-three women, all of whom were in the same sorority at Northwestern between 1989 and 1993"--are hardly representative of the general population of women. (The interviewees also happen to be Schank and Wallace's former classmates.) But these subjects, whom the authors recently grilled about their professional paths since graduation, do provide answers to a question of general feminist concern: Why don't the careers of these Northwestern graduates, who had many advantages, reflect their stratospheric level of ambition when they were in college?
Before you can say "Not another 'Can women have it all?' book," Schank and Wallace swoop in with an original organizing tool that undergirds The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know about Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life. They sort the women, whose sympathetic stories fill this book, into three categories: high achievers, opt outers (usually at-home moms) and flex lifers (women who have scaled back on work for various reasons). But be sure to use impermanent marker when labeling these women: no longer faced with their mothers' binary choices, women can, and do, skip from one category to another over time.
It's precisely this flexibility that holds the promise of overall life satisfaction--provided women select partners with the same fluid approach to their own careers. The Ambition Decisions is really about how anyone, male or female, can ultimately have it all--maybe not all at once, but across a lifetime. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer