Mother and daughter duo Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley recently came out with a new book Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career-and Life-That's Right for You. The book explores the burdensome weight of great expectations, the insidious deception in the message that you can “have it all”, and the difficulty in dealing with the illusion of unlimited options for women who were never taught how to deal with them. What they found is that women as a whole are experiencing a collective bout of growing pains. While it may be great to have options, dealing with them can be a bitch.
What makes the book unique is that it’s a “big think” that provides resonance, understanding, background, and a route to – if not satisfaction – self-awareness.
Interview of Undecided Authors, Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley
Laurie Rowen: We are so excited that you are out with a book that can help all of the “undecided” women lawyers out there! For those attorneys who have not yet had a chance to read Undecided, can you provide us with a brief synopsis?
Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley: Thanks, Laurie! As far as we know, this is the first book to tackle the issues relating to choice from a feminist perspective, or to deal with career choice as a women’s issue. We go far beyond the scope of the typical career guide in that Undecided is more about figuring yourself out—what you really want to do with your life, why it’s so hard to decide on the answer to that question, and how to wind your way through the uncharted territory of pressure, expectations, biases, and roadblocks of life as a working woman--as opposed to making your way up the career ladder. We explore the concept with a lively and accessible combination of oral histories from real women who are grappling with career – and life -- decisions; interviews with known experts in various fields, the folks in the trenches—career counselors, professors, spiritual leaders, economists, life coaches, etc.—who have a birds’ eye view of these women; current research and media references; and a healthy dose of our own perspective – and attitude. We also dig into all the factors as to why this is an issue now – and why it’s a women’s issue at this point in time, along with the different variables that help readers understand the phenomenon: we explore the science of decision-making; the influence of technology; a look at how far women have come since the early days of the women’s movement – and how far we’ve yet to go; the elusive nature of “happiness”; and, ultimately, the importance of getting to know yourself—and how to go about doing that.
Laurie Rowen: Why did you decide to write this book?
Barbara Kelley: Haha. As we say in the prologue, it was born of booze and sweat. As backstory: I had noticed something in my students, my kids (ahem), my friends' kids, and my kids' friends -- girls who were blessed to have all kinds of opportunity--the kind of opportunity their mothers never had: And yet, they were dissatisfied, overwhelmed, and unhappy. The kicker was a friends' daughter -- bright, engaging, talented -- who once said she wished she was born into a culture where everything -- from spouse to career -- were chosen for her. So I wrote an op-ed about this for the Christian Science Monitor, and it got a tremendous response.
Shannon Kelley: A few months later, after a hike up and down Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County -- and some cocktails – I convinced my mom that the topic was much too juicy to be contained in an 800-word piece. We should write a book, and we should to it together. We wanted to get to the root of it. To talk to these women. To explore the psychology of choice. To look at how feminism plays into it all. To talk to experts, academics, researchers, therapists, and coaches. To go deep into the trenches!
The topics we explore are analysis paralysis in the face of too many options, grass is greener syndrome, the lure of the road not traveled, what it means to be happy, how to discover your passion, how to get to know yourself, and how we--women--got to this point -- and where we should go from here. We want women to take away the idea that the choices you make to determine your life should be based on what feels right to YOU. Don't worry about chasing down anyone else's definition of success. Don't be afraid to take chances, to go out on a limb. Failure is recoverable, regret is much tougher. Dispense with the word "should."
Laurie Rowen: You talk in your book about the “grass is greener syndrome.” What do you mean by that – and how can women get over it?
Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley: Grass-is-greener syndrome is the feeling that no matter what you have chosen – there is something better out there. When there are dozens of options, it’s easy to assume that one of them must be perfect. So that, no matter what you choose – when it falls short of perfection – you feel disappointed. That you should have, could have done better. It’s the blessing – and curse – of unlimited opportunity, something that is generationally new for women: When you have the power to make your own choices, you’re responsible for their outcome—if you have no options, what can you do, right? It’s not your fault you’re unhappy—but now that we DO have the options, we also have the responsibility. So, often, when the outcome of a choice is a little south of fabulous, you get to wondering what life would be like, if only you’d done X instead.
We think today’s women are held captive by their own high expectations, the myth that they can “have it all”, and the constant barrage of information (including constantly-updated, carefully curated social media profiles) selling the lie that other women out there are doing it better, faster, righter – and having more fun. The other issue is this: when your expectations are sky high, when you are led to believe that you can do anything and everything, no matter what you choose, it never seems to measure up.
Can women get over it? We think so. But it takes a shift in perspective, a realization that having it all – at least all at the same time -- is an impossibility, and the realization that “good enough” really is good enough. (laughs) We have a chapter or two on that.
I think one issue is the messaging about what constitutes "all." The media's image -- beautiful and fit, organic (and gluten-free!) gourmet cook, happily -- and sexily -- married, involved parent, doing important work that's fulfilling and makes the world a better place... That's a pretty tall order! Also, I think the messaging about 'having it all' can make women feel like they're missing out or not measuring up, no matter what they're actually doing. My life seems pretty great, but SHE gets to travel/has kids/is the president of Fantastic Company /doesn't have to work. No matter what we're doing, there's always something we're NOT doing. A fact of life is that if you're doing A, you by definition are not doing B. If I'm sitting here typing an email to you, I am not going for a run, you know? So if I'm in a job that's financially secure, I have financial security -- but I don't have freedom. If I'm married, I don't date. If I travel for work, I'm not home that often. The thing is, everything is a choice, everything is a trade-off. I think it's important to really realize and grasp that idea, and then to go into your choices consciously. We like to talk about choices in terms of what we're choosing -- but we leave out the rather unpalatable part about what we're leaving behind.
Laurie Rowen: You come from a family of lawyers, so you must be very familiar with the profession and the struggles many lawyers face, especially female lawyers. Do you have any advice specific to our “undecided” lawyers out there?
Barbara Kelley: Well, first: forget about having it all. You can’t. At least, not at the same time. And then come to terms with how you want to live your life: work to live or live to work. (Not to continue to annoyingly plug the book, but look at what Jill, an attorney who just made partner in a fairly high-powered firm, has to say about that. ) The fact is, the workplace in general – and law firms in particular – were designed by and for men with someone at home to take care of business. But who lives like that anymore, man or woman? And when kids enter in, it all becomes more complicated. Men can go full-speed ahead with their careers if mom takes charge of the second shift. But with two high level careers, it becomes very difficult to manage a family -- without a lot of outside help, or without one of the partners stepping off the career ladder. Even given a good day care situation: exactly how does someone who is expected to bill X-number of hours – or is in trial -- get to the day care center before it closes at 5 or 6?
So I guess the advice, if we have any, is this: until we can make some structural changes in the workplace – and we don’t think that’s an impossibility -- we need to redefine success - and happiness. we believe -- and have devoted a couple of chapters in our book to this --that the trick is finding yourself and redefining what makes us happy in terms of internal markers rather than the external measures dictated by society and the media: the title, the paycheck, the trophy kids. Until workplaces in general and law firms in particular come to terms with the fact that two-career families are the norm, rather than the exception, it's a losing game trying to have it all, if that's how women define success.
Laurie Rowen: Where should our readers go if they would like to find out more about your book, Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career-and Life-That's Right for You?Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley: We thought you’d never ask! You can find the book on Amazon and other online outlets. Meanwhile, it should be hitting the bookshelves this week. You can also ask your local indie booksellers to order it for you. You can keep up with book signing, etc, on our facebook page, and join the conversation on our blog. Oh, and follow us on twitter. Was that too obnoxious?!
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Barbara Kelley has been a journalist for more than 25 years and a professor of journalism at Santa Clara University since 1997. She earned her master's degree in print journalism from Stanford. Barbara has written for publications including the Christian Science Monitor, the San Francisco Chronicle, theLos Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, Salon, and Bay Area Parent, where she served as features editor and writer and won two national awards. Barbara is married to her college sweetheart and is the mother of two daughters, Colleen and Shannon, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Shannon Kelley is a columnist at the Santa Barbara Independent, a freelance writer and photographer, and a corporate consultant. Her freelance work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Woman's Day, The Arizona Republic, Relevant Magazine, and Santa Barbara Magazine, and her essay "Something Worth Saving" from the anthology Submerged was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA.