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Ep 101: Co-Authors Elizabeth Wallace and Hana Schank On The Ambition Decisions

“One of the conclusions that we came to in our book is that men need to change.”

In this episode of the Women Killing It! podcast, host Sally Hubbard introduces us to Elizabeth Wallace and Hana Schank, authors of the new book The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life.

Examining the triumphs, setbacks, and surprises in real women’s lives and aggregating their experiences, The Ambition Decisions points to questions women should ask themselves as they hit major career and personal decisions, and debunks many of the myths that are part and parcel of our conventional wisdom about women and ambition.

The project was born from a midlife crisis where both women felt stuck in their careers and parenting and unsure of how to move forward. They knew they weren’t achieving everything they wanted, but they didn’t know how to move from that stagnant place.

They started talking to friends from college that they hadn’t talked to in 20 years, and they started to see patterns emerging that made them expand their work, conducting formal interviews and writing The Ambition Interviews, published in The Atlantic.

“Ambition takes a lot of different directions and can go in a lot of different ways, one of which is ​career. But other things that you can be ambitious around are your children and your family and volunteer work and wanting to train for trail marathons. There are a million different things that you can be ambitious about that are not just ‘I want to get more promotions.’”

In this episode, Elizabeth and Hana talk about why the “high achievers” they interviewed were the least conflicted of the group, their discoveries about emotional labor and the best thing you can do for your career when it comes to choosing a spouse.

Elizabeth and Hana share two prominent examples of women who became the breadwinners of their families after taking more of a care-taking role for many years, and talk about why investing in your career even when it might not make financial sense pays off down the road.

“In general, we found that women do this childcare calculus. And especially if you are primarily staying at home and looking at picking up some hourly freelance work here and there and you need to pay a sitter and you’re like ‘I barely make enough to cover the cost of the sitter’ — we hear that time and time again…it is so worth it, not only because…you then have a better option of going back full time but also over time you will make enough to cover the cost of the sitter if you keep working. But if you step away entirely, it’s much harder to come back.”

They also cover what they learned around defining ambition and success and the privilege of having a choice in the first place.

Listen to this episode for an important reminder that you’re not in it alone with the complicated challenges of navigating womanhood, career, and motherhood.