The Ambition Interviews: A Table of Contents

Seven stories about women who were all set to rule the world—and how their careers shook out

Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Today The Atlantic is presenting a short series of essays we’re calling The Ambition Interviews.

The Ambition Interviews began as a project between two friends, Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace, who had attended Northwestern University in the early ’90s. What had happened, they wondered, to all of their brilliant, hard-working friends from their college days? Had life come together as they had hoped? They reached out to 37 other members of their sorority’s graduating class, and those conversations became the foundation of the essays we now present.

We recommend starting with Hana’s introduction essay, which details the project, and from there the essayslisted herecan be read in any order.

  1. What Happens to Women's Ambitions in the Years After College
    An introduction to The Ambition Interviews.
  2. Having It All—and Hating It
    For so many women with kids, one question weighs on them: “How can I find a job that gives me growth, but I’m not pushed over the edge by it?”
  3. When Women Choose Children Over a Career
    “I went to a job interview after my first daughter was born and cried the whole way home.”
  4. Rethinking What Success Looks Like
    For women who left the workforce, their ambitions didn’t disappear so much as found a new target.
  5. How Much Ambition Can a Marriage Sustain?
    Power couples are a rarity. Instead, many high achieving women have husbands who do their own opting out.
  6. Beyond Maternity Leave
    For all the focus on parental leave as a barrier to women’s professional ascent, women’s real struggle with work-parenting balance grew—alongside their children—years after their maternity leave ended.
  7. The Sexism They Faced
    One colleague’s constant refrain: “When are you going to have babies and quit?”

The women of this study are not by any means a representative sample of America, and, in particular, Hana writes that the group was not racially diverse. What makes this group interesting is not that it tells the story of women in America, but that it tells the story of a group of women who by all measures were in a position to rise to the highest echelons of any industry. Why some did—and why many didn’t—reveals much about what stands in the way of greater gender equality in the workplace today.

We’d love to hear from you and your own experiences in pursuing both career and family and the tradeoffs they each demand. Email us at