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PS Picks: 'The Ambition Decisions'

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This PS Pick originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of

The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life.

The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life.

'The Ambition Decisions': In late 2016, while I was home in suburban Minnesota for winter break during my sophomore year at Northwestern University, I came across a series of articles in The Atlantic that instantly piqued my interest. "What Happens to Women's Ambitions in the Years After College" was both a question I had been asking myself and the title of an essay by Hana Schank, an alumna of my very own school.

The most intriguing aspect of this article and the six others that went along with it was that it felt like a rare window into my own future: Schank and her co-worker, Elizabeth Wallace, interviewed 37 women from their sorority’s class of 1993 and asked them how their careers and families had shaped their lives.

Though I tried sorority life for a short time at Northwestern and found it definitely wasn't for me, I found a strange camaraderie with these women whom I had never met—many of whom, like me, grew up in small towns in the Midwest and had graduated with big dreams from a top university.

I was enthralled by these women's stories and their reasons for choosing children over career or vice-versa, but as I headed back to another quarter at Northwestern I promptly forgot about the articles.

That is, until a book entitled The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life found its way onto my desk at Pacific Standard near the end of my internship.

Schank and Wallace's book, an expanded version of the Atlantic articles, draws on real women's stories of crisis, transition, and decision-making to help guide readers—or simply commiserate with them—through tough life changes. The decisions these women make, from accepting a promotion or not to planning when to get pregnant, are decisions that my female classmates and I fear having to confront.

Perhaps my enjoyment of The Ambition Decisions stems purely from my Northwestern connection with these women. But the notion that life is a winding mess of decisions and mistakes is an apt reminder for women like me as we head past graduation and into the "real world." There should be no judgment of high-achieving women to choose another path; however, for some, a high-achieving career is worth some sacrifice.