Ann Shoket is best known for serving as editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine. As such, it makes sense that she has also met every celebrity under the sun, or so it seems. Rihanna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, OPRAH – you name her, she’s met her. On top of all this, Ann has also served as a judge on America’s Next Top Model so, you know, she’s got the whole cool factor thing down.
What you may not know is that Ann has also fashioned herself into a millennial-women-whisperer of sorts. After writing her new book, The Big Life, she’s hosted dozens of dinner parties with young women to chat on topics ranging from work, side hustles, money, and relationships. We sat down with Ann to dig deeper into what a Big Life means for us, and for her, and left the conversation feeling like we’d gained another friend. Read on for our interview.
The Big Life is centered on the thesis that millennial women can now write their own story on their own terms and create their unique “Big Life.” Given this thesis, what’s one surprising thing that you learned while researching and writing this book?
This generation of young women are game-changing, rule-breaking pioneers. They want to rewrite the rules for success on their own terms. They want to customize their roles. They want to work when they want, how they want. They want to be free from their office.
And I hate that word — “should.” They were hung up on the old idea of what a parent should look like. I expected ambitious women would want to be with ambitious partners, but I found that most women were happy with less ambitious partners. On top of that, they had imaginary rules with how relationships should go.
Another old idea I heard is that 30 is this big deadline that you have to meet where you have to have the job, the baby, and your whole life plan mapped out. I heard concerns that they wouldn’t be able to navigate a big job and a family.
And for all of those things, they’re simply not true. For instance, the more you’re anxious about getting to 30, the more you’re creating a roadblock for yourself. I have two small kids. They didn’t make my ambition go away. They just made it harder to sleep. My ambition demanded tremendous focus. They took time and attention but it just required me to be more laser-focused to get things done.”
You have a chapter titled “Embracing Your Mess” - this idea that while it’s okay to be messy while you’re going down the right path, but it’s equally important to listen to your heart to make sure you’re moving towards your goals. Have you ever had this moment of clarity in your career where you’ve had to pause and take stock of where you were heading?
Hmm. I think it’s not one big epiphany moment. I’m a big fan saying “yes” to everything. You have to say yes to the cocktail parties. You have to say yes to the ambition.
But sometimes you feel yourself in a real dud. Sometimes it’s too loud, and sometimes it’s too quiet. You have listen to that and try to adjust that next time. And eventually, all your stuff starts to go together.
For instance, all the things I say yes to now are geared towards helping young women achieve. For instance, I’m on the board of a nonprofit that helps people prep for their GEDs. I’m also on the board of an organization that helps women in developing countries be the first get their education [Editor’s note: It’s She’s The First. Check it out.]. I say yes to women’s entrepreneur networking groups.
In the beginning, you just have to say yes to everything. And if something doesn’t work out or wasn’t worth your time, just wipe off the makeup, eat your dinner, go to sleep, wake up the next morning, and that’s it.
Can you talk a bit about privilege and living the Big Life? You touch on it a couple of times in your book. Doesn’t it take money, privilege, and access to achieve your dream?. How should a woman who is less privileged approach living the Big Life?
You know, it’s funny. I don’t think my message in the book is to pursue a dream. In fact, one of the very first chapters is actually called “Get a Job, Any Job.” It’s about putting boots on the ground and gaining real, actionable life skills . Oftentimes I hear, “I want to find a career that’s my passion.” But you have to work, you have to pay your bills. You have to be in it. That’s how you find the thing that’s meaningful to you.
Meaning is actually, I think, more important. Whether that means you want to be a good person, you want more adventure, you want to be loved. Whatever it is that matters to you, that is what you should chase. The “dream” on the other hand is what you wanted to be when you were 16. I don’t think the Big Life is just for women who are college-educated or for women who have access to do startups. The feeling of wondering what’s possible is intoxicating for many women.
I think this is one of the very important things in this revolution, and how they’re redefining success for everyone. It’s not just the “alpha girls” now. The “alpha girls” are the “leaders” — the ones sitting at the front of the class, hands raised, asking to be called on. This new revolution is for everyone. This is for the girl who sits at the back. This is for the girl who’s never even heard of a Series A. Every woman I’ve met wants to make her mark on her own terms. It’s not just the “chosen people” or well-educated people. This is all women who see their possibility.
You’ve had so much success in your career and many would argue that you have achieved The Big Life. So what are you thinking about now? What other goals are you striving towards? What else CAN you strive towards when you’ve already had so much success?
I believe that you never becoming the badass babe you’re meant to be. There’s always a new goal and always a new horizon.
I didn’t meet my partner until I was 35. I didn’t have my kid until I was 40 or 42 — it wasn’t the way I thought things would go.
This book is a new chapter of my career. I was a magazine editor for all of my career. And now here I am, building a conversation as a career. It’s a totally new experience for me. I’ve led big brands in the past, and here I am, building a new brand from the ground up. It’s a phenomenally exciting and terrifying experience at the same time. I don’t know how it ends or how it turns out — I don’t have a safety net. But I do know how to have a conversation with young women on what matters.
I don’t think I’m ever done. The Big Life gets bigger. I don’t want that to sound like I want a bigger house, better things, etc. As much as I often feel like I’m 25 again (because I’m in that striving, reaching stage in my life) I also come into this new stage with confidence. And so I don’t think that I see it that way.
What she does for self-care, or in her free time:
It’s funny, I actually don’t love the turn of phrase “self-care.” It puts too much emphasis on “you must put yourself first.” It just rubs me the wrong way.
But I do work out, not obsessively. I love pilates and I just started doing SoulCycle. I also will use those free moments for bonding or networking, whether it’s with a friend or a business friend — we’ll go to pilates or do SoulCycle together. I love a glass of wine at the end of the day.
We also have kids and they’re young and demanding! My husband and I try to spend as much as time as we can together.”
What she’s reading:
What she’s watching:
I started watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I’m astounded by her talent. I sit there and marvel at how smart and aware and well-executed that show is. It’s so smart! It shows that all of us are flawed and lovable and that’s okay.
What she likes to treat herself with:
I like a good matcha.
What she wants to do more of:
I think that’s the one thing I get to do the least: hang out with my girlfriends. Not like business friends, but my best girlfriends, who are like my buddies. I don’t see them enough. I think it’s because everybody’s busy and we all have young kids, so it’s often just, “Let’s just get together and bring the kids.” and we let the kids run around while we catch up.
Who she’s inspired by:
I’m super inspired by Issa Rae of Insecure. I love that she shows that women don’t have to be “fierce and flawless” and still be valuable. I think she has created a phenomenal conversation and I am in awe of what she’s been able to do.
As told to Alisha Ramos, March 2017. Lightly edited for clarity and conciseness. Images courtesy of Ann Shoket.