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Recommended Reading: Necessary Dreams by Anna Fels

Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives struck a chord with me.  I spend a lot of time hearing about women who reign in their professional horizons. I have caught myself doing it too. I remember a day in high school when I thought, "Maybe I should be a psychologist. They get to set their own schedules and can have a flexible work day." That's how strong the pressure was on my teenage self to find a career that accommodated a certain kind of personal life. I am a terrible listener. And I have known I wanted to go to law school and be a civil rights advocate for almost as long as I can remember. At least since I studied American history in the 5th grade. And yet there I was, 16 and thinking about abandoning every ambition in favor of a career I wasn't suited to for a hypothetical work/life balance I didn't yet need. So. Messed. Up.

So when I read this review on Slate.com I found myself nodding my head and heading over to Amazon:

For 30 years, America has been turning out gifted girls—athletes, student leaders, artists and writers, science whizzes. Cheered on by parents, teachers, and coaches, they go to college and universities and do brilliantly. Routinely, they head off from graduate and professional schools to demanding positions in business, philanthropy, medicine, the law. They do everything asked of them and more, but unaccountably, as they draw closer to the vocations for which they've long been preparing, a cloud gathers over them. By turns hectoring and anxious, a gloomy chorus announces that success will deplete their romantic prospects and cheat them out of the families they want to have. It seems that Virginia Woolf's imagined adversary, the Victorian Angel in the House—she who always put her own needs second—rises to flap triumphantly over the times, despite Woolf's hope that modern women would kill her.

I had heard Anna Fels speak once.  Like Linda Hirshmann, she was talking about resources, and how women are wasting them. But this book goes much deeper into the issue. There's quantitative analysis of women's changing ambitions and fascinating anecdotes from women who continue to undersell themselves despite remarkable successes.  There's also really heartening evidence that the women who juggle and live to tell the tale score significantly higher on the various happiness and satisfaction measures than those who never attempt to raise a family and work. All in all a very worthwhile read.

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