Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career – and Life – That’s Right for You by Barbara and Shannon Kelley – 3 out of 5 stars
The folks at Seal Press graciously sent me a copy of Undecided to review (and that was the only payment I received for this post), and I was super excited to dive into it. I suppose by now it’s no secret that I have, at times, been a little disillusioned with teaching, and have questioned my career path. I’m often told that I should be doing something “better,” and, while I wholly believe that there is nothing “better” I could be doing, that notion seems to seep in to my consciousness from time to time, nagging me to pursue other options. I also have a lot of other interests, like writing and going to school, so I have toyed with the idea of writing a book or getting my PhD. You could say that the grass is always greener for me, and that I would like to be incredibly “accomplished” – whatever that means. And this book addresses an epidemic of women my age who are experiencing these issues just like I am.
As far as defining this problem – “analysis paralysis” or the “grass is always greener syndrome” as they call it – this book was brilliant. The major premise that Barbara and Shannon Kelley present is that, since our mothers were all participants in the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, we are now products of that movement. Whereas they may not have had choices for what to do with their lives besides being a teacher, secretary, or houseworker, we now have infinite choices, and we feel the pressure of these choices. Because we “can do anything,” as we’ve been told so often, we tend to think that this means we should do everything, and do it well. Since we are still women living and working in a world built for men, we not only have to do something awesome, but we have to do it awesomely. It may also be the case that, with so many options, we just can’t decide, and so we end up flitting around from job to job, not really quite sure if we are making the right decision for our lives, and trying really, really hard to make it all work.
The product of all of these choices coupled with the desire to achieve is that us young women end up overwhelmed and overworked. It should be no surprise to anyone that the women who were interviewed in this book were struggling with having children and working full time (or with the decision of whether or not to have children at all), and many of them wished that the decisions could have just been made for them. I have often felt this way, and I’ve told Tim as much. I’ve sometimes wished for a mortgage just to be able to say, “Oh, sorry, I can’t move across the country for some mythical job offer. I have a house!” Needless to say, I identified with the women interviewed in this book on that aspect.
However, that is where my personal connection with the book ended. The women in this book were extraordinarily successful by anyone’s standards, and many of them were considering leaving their high-end jobs for “easier” jobs in teaching. As you can imagine, this sentiment really bugged me, because, first of all, teaching is not easy, nor should it be a back-up. And second of all, there seemed to be a pervasive attitude throughout the book – especially when the older feminists were interviewed – that teaching wasn’t good enough for our generation of women. We need to fill in at the top! We need to climb that economic ladder! If there are no women leaders, the world will continue to be a man’s world! I honestly thought that the message of this book was going to be: “Decide what is right for you and do it. If that means you teach full-time, write on the side just for fun, and raise a family, then go for it if that makes you happy. Stop reaching for something more, because you’re doing great by anyone’s standards.” And, towards the end of the book, this was the message, but that was too little, too late for me. Nowhere did I see women with “pink collar” jobs (like teaching) interviewed for this book, and that left me feeling underrepresented.
Along the same vein, I felt that, for a book with a “how to” title, there was so much time spent identifying and proving a problem existed that there really was not very much time spent telling us how to fix the problem. Sure, “look inside yourself and decide what is best for you” may be great advice, but it’s a little lofty. I would have liked to hear more advice along the lines of one of the women interviewed in the book. I can’t find the exact quote, but it went something like this: When it comes to your career, think like a man. Realize you have to pay your bills, and find a job that accomplishes that goal, that you can live with and at times enjoy, and that allows you to do other things with your life. That’s the decision I had to come to. I’m sticking with teaching because I like it, and because it pays the bills and allows me to do other things with my life that I enjoy. Now, I have to come to terms with that decision, which I hoped this book would help me do. Unfortunately, in that aspect, I was disappointed.
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