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An Ambitious Endeavor

schank and wallace
The Ambition Decisions authors, Hana Schank, left, and Elizabeth Wallace. Image: Meghan McNeer

Fall 2018
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A few years back, classmates Hana Schank ’93 and Elizabeth Wallace ’93 met for dinner and realized that they were both orbiting around a crisis. Since their undergraduate days, they had been told to dream big. “We wanted to live interesting lives,” says Wallace, a freelance editor and writer who spent her early career at Condé Nast. At first, leading an exciting life wasn’t so hard. But as middle age approached, finding a meaningful and profitable career while balancing spousal and familial obligations grew into an increasingly formidable challenge. What’s worse, Schank and Wallace felt that most of their colleagues were too anxious to share these personal doubts publicly. So Schank and Wallace took matters into their own hands and set out on a reporting project to interview their Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters at Northwestern, ambitious women who had stared down similar dilemmas. After more than a year of interviews, they published an immensely popular seven-part series for the Atlantic, which became the foundation of their new book, The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family and the Path to Building a Life. Published this June, the book has received praise from the Washington Post, Elle and Salon. While acknowledging the book cannot represent the experiences of every woman or definitively answer these difficult questions, Schank, a fellow at New America, hopes it will help women better navigate key life choices. “We want people to get comfortable defining a path for themselves,” she says.

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Reader Responses

  • Back in the '50s and '60s the topic of work-family balance was big in psychology and social psychology circles, and many of my students and colleagues were doing interesting research on it. At that time I was also struggling with that issue as I completed my clinical psychology degree with a spouse and three wonderful kids waiting at home for me (mostly patiently but not always) while I pursued big ambitions under great stress and conflict. I would love to partner with Schank and Wallace and interview the career women of my generation who, like me, made their decisions and now can look back and reflect on the wisdom, the rewards, the problems and the conclusions derived from those decisions! It's a fascinating issue that's not likely to go away and will have importance for every subsequent generation.

    Lee Blum Winnetka, Ill., via Northwestern Magazine

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