Entre Nous: Ann Shoket, author of The Big Life

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There are so many things you can do once you leave The Big Job. Some people take a vacation. Others do a stay-cation. Ann Shoket, the former Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen magazine, chose to write The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be. I was fortunate enough to speak to Ann about why, why she would want to speak to women of a certain age after spending so much time with them. The answer is as interesting as Ann herself.

Why did you decide for your first book post-Seventeen to write a book about millennial women?

Because it’s the generation that grew up with me. I was on the launch team of CosmoGirl in 1999. I was editor-in-chief of Seventeen from 2007 until 2014. That’s fifteen years of teenage girls who we grew up together. We worked through all the complicated tricky emotions about being a teenage girl. It never made sense to me why when your subscription at Seventeen ends when you’re twenty years old, do you stop having those deep complicated emotional conversations about growing into the woman you’re meant to be. Frankly in your twenties and thirties the stakes are even higher; you don’t have a safety net. I would hear again and again from young women that they didn’t have role models, they didn’t have guideposts, they didn’t have how-to manuals, they didn’t know how to put their lives together. This generation of young women is different than any generation that has come before it. So the question is: when career and ambition and success are at the center of your life, how do you put the rest of the pieces of your life? So that’s where The Big Life comes in.

When you say, “meant to be” what does that mean?

So one of the first question I always ask young women is When you were sixteen-years-old, what did you think your life would be like right now? Some women can put their finger on exactly what they wanted to be when they were sixteen and they were working towards it. For other women, it was an idea or a feeling to be loved, to have adventure, to have fun, to be important. Everybody again and again said they wanted to do something big and meaningful and have a big impact and make their mark on the world. Let’s be clear: this generation is not interested in climbing a corporate ladder or leaning in to their career. This idea of being at the top is not necessarily what they have in mind for themselves. Some do. Not everybody.

Will having it all ever retire?

I hope so. That old idea of having it all feels so dated and dusty. This is about crafting the life that you want on your own terms. This is not off the shelf one-size-fits-all. This is about customizing a career and a relationship and friendships and family the way you want it to go. It doesn’t mean a lot of money it doesn’t mean fame but it means having an impact on the world making your mark.

So in researching tour book, you hosted dinners at your house, right?

I did over the course of two years two dozen or more dinners of young women coming to my house. Six or eight women around my dining room table! We had many bottles of rose and fancy frozen pizza and a killer cheese plate. Every single time, same formula. And talked about the itchy emotions and our hopes and our dreams and all of the things keeping them up at three o’clock n the morning. Some of them talked about having it all and then talked about very quickly about how that didn’t appeal to them. They knew they were game-changing rockstar pioneers. They knew they were changing the dynamics for work because they didn’t see anybody ahead of them that was doing what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do.

What ideas did they inherit coming into the workplace, if any?

I heard a lot of people say well that’s how my mother did it or I don’t know that’s not the reigning ethos of the senior women in my office. There was a lot of these old ideas: that 30 was the deadline by which you had to have the big job and the partner and the baby plan all figured out. It was one of the things that I tackled as aggressively as I could, to let go of the anxiety of that timeline that they were holding onto from a previous generation. They would say that they worry tremendously that would they have to take the foot of the gas of their career when they had children and a family.

Where was all this anxiety coming from?

This anxiety [came from] women who had children down to women who didn’t even have two dates in a row lined up, they were just tinder dating five nights a week sometimes more. So there was this real anxiety that your family life is in competition with your work life, which is another thing I really wanted to tackle. It doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of possibilities and opportunities! The idea of letting go of the things you should do and focusing on the things that you want to do.

How do you focus on what you want to do when you have rent to pay?

Well that’s interesting. The things that you have to do, you have to do. You have to get paid. There’s tremendous virtue in getting paid and one of the questions that come up again and again from young women is how do I find a career that feels like a passion? I say that you should stop looking for your passion and find the things that matter to you. However, we also have this realization that your job can’t be everything. You need a side hustle that’s going to give you greater fulfillment. The side hustle fills in all the blanks that your job—whose job it is to pay the bills—doesn’t necessarily do.

What similarities do you see between our generation and the millennial?

When I got out of college there was a terrible recession just like millennial women who were getting out of college in 2009, 2010, 2011 and had the rug pulled out from underneath them. What my generation did when faced with a recession was work in a coffee shop. We created slacker culture—the McJobs, low-level/low-pay job that was just there to hold you over until the economy right-sided. This generation of millennial women—when faced with a crushing recession that could have sucked their dreams dry—they got motivated. They couldn’t get jobs so they started their own. So I actually see a bigger divide between the way that our generations handled economic diversity. I think frankly we’re all now being tasked with careers that are longer and more unpredictable than we ever thought they would be.

How has your approach to feminism evolved over your lifetime!

So, in my fifteen years of working in young women’s magazines, I only used the word feminism once and it was in 2013 when we did a story, Are You A Feminist Question Mark? It was just the beginning of hey Katy Perry says she isn’t but Miley Cyrus says she is, what does it mean? We talked about coming up in the world, we talked about competence, we talked about equality, we talked about strength and ambition. We talked about all of those things that are the meaning of feminism but we never mentioned feminism because it felt like such a loaded word. I always felt like, duh we should be equal right? Of course, we should talk about strength and competence and achievement and equality but I never used the word. I’m so thrilled beyond imagination that that’s all young women want to talk about these days is feminism. I’m over this old idea what does it mean? I think we should just stop with that question. I think we should stop agonizing about and just make it feel normal.

Get your copy of The Big Life here.

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