Santa Clara University


Barbara Kelley

Senior Lecturer, Communication; Director of Journalism Emphasis

Phone: (408) 554-2158

Current Work

Kelly, Barbara - Image of Focused WorkIn a post-post feminist, post-Sex & The City, post-economic boom and bust world, women are told we have all the doors of opportunity open. We make up the majority of the American workforce, we’re earning more college degrees – all against the backdrop of some amazing firsts: The first female presidential candidate. The first female speaker of the house. The first female vice-presidential candidate on the Republican ticket. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director; Danica Patrick is the first (and only) woman to have won an IndyCar series, and with the launch of OWN, Oprah Winfrey became the first woman to own her own cable network.

We can do anything! And yet, could the second-wave feminists ever have predicted that when fighting for unlimited choices, the fallout for the next generation might instead be a level of commitment phobia that borders on pathological, analysis paralysis, or a perpetual case of “grass-is-greener” syndrome? A world where women seem to have it all – good education, great job, exciting place to live – but are still tormented by the path not taken.

Some folks might suggest that feminism is to blame for all this angst. We disagree: we think that as feminists, we still have serious work to do.

In UNDECIDED: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career – and Life – That’s Right for You (Seal Press; May 2011), my co-author (Shannon Kelley, my daughter, and also a journalist) and I share stories from women who have been blessed with limitless choices and raised with sky high expectations – but find that with the more options available, the harder it is to feel satisfied. We pull together current information from the media and the academic world to present a well-rounded picture of this phenomenon of “analysis paralysis” and the angst that arises from this choice overload.

UNDECIDED (and our weekly HuffPosts) covers every angle of the current employment and life dilemmas women face – from internal pressure to excel, to navigating the tension between work and life, to dealing with the so-called ambition gap, and ultimately offers a recipe for rethinking what it means to have it all. Hint: it’s not a one-size-fits-all formula.

The book explores the reasons behind women’s generational epidemic of chronic indecision and second-guessing, contextualizing this “problem that has no name” using research, interviews with experts, and oral histories from undecided women in their 20s through their 60s. The book explores such issues as:

  • How women arrived at the frustrating place of having too many options, too much pressure, and too many promises;
  • How feminism hasn’t gone far enough: women are living in an unchanged world whose reality is far different from the messaging we’re fed;
  • The science of decision-making and the impact of our always-on culture;
  • How the message that “you can do anything” can leave us feeling as if anything short of amazing is a bit like failure;
  • Why women often feel like they chose “wrong” in their quest to have it all;
  • Why this epidemic of dissatisfaction and indecision is a woman’s issue: we don’t have the generational role models – or proven “steps to success” that men have had for decades.

Representative Publications

“Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career (and Life) That’s Right for You” (Seal Press; 2011)

HuffingtonPost Women (featured blogger).

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