Date of this Version
Journal of Women in Educational Leadership, Vol. 6, No. I-Junuary 2008 ISSN: 1541-6224
Review of Anna Fels. (2004). Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 297 pages.
Anna Fels is a practicing psychiatrist who has written on psychiatric and medical topics for the New York Times Book Review, The (London) Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, Self, the Science Times section of The New York Times, and most recently the Harvard Business Review. She is a member of the faculty of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
The central theme of Necessary Dreams is the importance of ambition in women's lives. Fels states that "(w)omen, more than men, need to actively imagine themselves into their futures because so little is mapped out for them at this historical moment" (p. xvi). She contends that to have a plan, to pursue an ambition, it is necessary to dream. Although women have more choices open to them than ever, they are often still reluctant to express their ambitions. Why this is so is the subject of this book. From her research, Fels concludes that ambition is composed of two parts, mastery of skills and meaningful recognition of that mastery. She uses the term recognition to mean "being valued by others for qualities that we experience and value in ourselves; it involves appreciation by another person that feels accurate and meaningful to the recipient" (p. 9). Both mastery of skills and recognition are essential, in Fels's opinion, in that a plan for the future without mastery is not ambition but mere "wishful thinking" and that a desire for recognition without mastery is the essence of narcissism.