Review: Undecided

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for You by Barbara Kelley & Shannon Kelley

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Mom-and-daughter pair Barbara and Shannon Kelley have a gem here — an important read for basically any shrewd woman of my generation. It’s a relentlessly chatty book but it dives right to the core of women’s “analysis paralysis,” wisely eschewing self-help rhetoric in favor of a more rigorous cultural investigation of the professional challenges that plague today’s young women. The Kelleys thoroughly map the complex web of expectations, both social and internal, that push women to agonize over each and every life decision, and to grieve excessively for the loss of the option given up.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel right at home in discussions of the laundry list of institutional forces that manipulate women’s professional choices. But what shook me up about this book was its insightful analysis of the ways in which we paralyze and punish ourselves. By ascribing so much meaning to our decisions large and small, meaningful and inconsequential, we lock ourselves into a cycle of yearning and remorse. And in our haste to take advantage of our newly afforded privileges in academia and in the professional world, it’s all too easy to sacrifice authentic decision-making in favor of other people’s estimations of what we are — or aren’t — capable of. (Me becoming an engineer just to disprove sexist stereotypes doesn’t mean shit in the big picture if I’m not truly invested. It’s just another way of conforming, of basing my decisions on patriarchal frameworks.)

It’s steadily depressing fare, but the Kelleys rescue the reader by concluding with advice to pursue “work worth doing” — work at the intersection of pleasure and meaning — and a spirited vision of what a feminized professional landscape might look like: one in which women and men are given social permission to implement leadership styles that emphasize collaboration, relationships, emotional connection. It’s a meaningful read.

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