It seems as if Ann Shoket was there through it all; the complicated bits of our pre-teen years and our eager arrival to become a young adult. Now, the former Editor-In-Chief of Seventeen magazine (who also helped launch CosmoGirl) is traveling with us through adulthood, as we continue to put together the pieces of our careers, finances, friendships and yes, even our love life.
Recognizing that millennial women want to carve their own path to success without the resources or remodels to do so, Shoket created a sisterhood of young women who wanted to find passion and purpose on their own terms. Beginning with The Badass Babes, a community of young, hungry, ambitious millennial women, Ann extended the candid conversations that occurred around her dinner table and launched a weekly newsletter covering the emotional and complicated topics we hold dear.
On March 14th, 2017 Ann Shoket releases The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe Your Were Meant to Be, an actionable and authentic guide for millennial women who want to get everything they want on their own terms.
Today, Ann chats with us about her upcoming book, the piece of her professional journey that doesn’t get told enough and her personal motto on life and success.
Her Agenda: One of your missions is “to help young women recognize their power and make the world recognize it too.” How did you recognize your power and at what stage in life did that come to be? Was it something that came naturally or did you work hard to develop that power throughout your career?
Ann Shoket: I worked really hard to develop it. I have always been the person who wants to wade into new opportunities and new experiences. I have always raised my hand to say that I want to take something on; a project, a new initiative at work, launch a new business. Those were the hallmarks of my early career.
When I was at the American Lawyer Magazine, which is where I started my career, I wanted to understand how we were going to launch a digital service for attorneys, and I wanted to understand the newspaper business and how they could all work together. When I was at React Magazine, which is a teen news magazine…I started out doing feature stories. The editor one day said that he wanted to launch a style section. Then I was like “Great!” I wanted to figure out how to launch a style section. So I did that. I also wanted to learn how to go on ad sales calls. So, I did that too.
Then, I went to go launch CosmoGirl Magazine and that was exciting. It was 1999 and everybody was launching something new and here we were going to launch new ways to talk to young women about the things that mattered to them.
It wasn’t purposeful, but by volunteering and by actively seeking out new adventures, I started to carve out a niche for myself. When you own your own lane, and you know what you bring to the table and what makes you awesome, then you can own your power. It takes a minute to figure out what your lane is. You have to try everything to know what your special sauce is. But, once you figured out the things that make you feel good and excited, that is when you learn to own your power.
Her Agenda: So, would you say getting involved in different things came out of pure curiosity or were you just naturally interested in the world of media and young women?
Ann Shoket: I was interested in being in journalism from my teenage years. I wanted to be a reporter and I wanted to be a writer. I went to NYU and I majored in English and Creative Writing. But, I realized I wasn’t going to be a novelist. So, that is where magazines came in. It was sort of the intersection between great writing and creativity. It wasn’t until later that I learned that I had a passion for helping young women become who they were meant to be.
It was at React, a teen news magazine, where I first realized how much more I liked talking to young women more than attorneys. When I got the chance to talk to young women about the things that mattered to them, there was a little spark. Then when I moved to CosmoGirl that was when I really got to dig in and feel like I was doing something meaningful in young women’s lives; I was having an impact and the things we were talking about mattered. Then, when at Seventeen, I was able to craft the editorial agenda the way I thought. That was my chance to double down on meaning and to figure out how to have meaningful important conversations. Fashion and beauty and relationships are really meaningful, especially when you are a teenager. It was a journey to figure out what matters to me and how I can have an impact and what my mission was.
Her Agenda: You speak about passion and mission. It seems that the common belief is to follow your passion and you would be happy for the rest of your life. What is your advice for figuring out your passion and mission is?
Ann Shoket: So, I don’t think you should figure out your passion. I don’t think you should figure out your purpose. I think what is important is meaning and what you want to do is something that is meaningful to you, meaningful to other people, and meaningful to world. If you sit around and wait for your passion to start, you’re never going to get there. It doesn’t come to you. The thing that gets you excited or whatever you want to call it doesn’t come to you unless you are actively working for it. Frankly, my advice to you at the beginning of your career is get a job (any job!) because you just don’t know what interests you or what is going to spark something in you. I thought I was going to be a business reporter or journalist. I didn’t know I was going to find it so meaningful to talk to young women about what matters in their life. It sort of happened by accident. I had a job, I was talking to people, and I was networking like crazy; that is where you start to find the thread of meaning. Forget passion.
Her Agenda: What is one thing about your journey from becoming editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine to now publishing your own book that would be surprising to our readers? Especially in terms of exemplifying grit.
Ann Shoket: It’s funny. I don’t really see it as grit. I just think like, “what choice do you have?” You have to take a big swing at something that would be exciting for you to do. You have to throw your hat in the ring for opportunities. Even if you’re not quite ready for them or even if you’re not sure about how the way in which it will change your life. Get the opportunity first then figure it out. What choice do you have but to keep going and to find some other way to scratch that itch? You don’t have a choice. So, I am all for resilience and grit but I also think it’s just super practical that you just have to keep moving forward. You should never tread water.
So, the piece of my journey that doesn’t get told enough is that I was up to be editor-in-chief of a magazine twice before I landed the gig at Seventeen. The first time was a magazine that I had pitched. I had this idea that I had been nurturing and it was a big opportunity for me to go for it and I just did. I put together a really elaborate proposal. I had a lot of research. I went to my boss who took it to her boss and it actually got heard for a while.
There is an important lesson in there though. And it was not to go above my direct bosses head. I needed her to be invested in my success. I was invested in her success. I didn’t want her to be surprised (you never want your boss to be surprised). It was important for me to have had her support and I thank her still for that moment that she took my idea to her boss.
So, that first idea went around for a while. But, the idea wasn’t in the business plan. And that’s a tough lesson to learn. You could be perfect and amazing and awesome and yet maybe it’s not just going to work for whatever external reason. That idea (a couple years later) got me a pitch to be editor-in-chief of another magazine. The next time, I was way more ready; I knew what went into a pitch, I understood the process, and I knew how I was going to make my proposal. But, I was still really nervous. And I didn’t get that job either. There was another editor who was in line ahead of me and she got the gig. That one hurt. Because I knew my idea was really good and I really felt that I was ready. But, the truth is, by going through [the process] the second time and just moving forward came the chance for me to pitch to be editor-in-chief of Seventeen. At that time I was really ready. My idea was good. My pitch was good. I wasn’t nervous. I owned my space. I knew what I was bringing to the table. I had a really clear vision on how I wanted to move forward. And so that was the job that was mine. That was the job I was ready for. That was my moment.
Her Agenda: Wow, third time’s a charm.
Ann Shoket: The truth is I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to pitch to be editor-in-chief of Seventeen if I hadn’t had those two other chances. Raising my hand both of those times was my way of saying, “I know that someday I can be editor-in-chief of one of your magazines and so, put me in the game.” I had to learn how to give a pitch. You could workshop that idea and somebody can tell you. But, until you actually do it, you don’t know. And now I’m beginning a whole new adventure. Something I’ve never done before. I never launched a book before.
Her Agenda: Congratulations on your new book! What sparked your interest in writing The Big Life and why is it so necessary for twenty and thirty year olds to have today?
Ann Shoket: I kept hearing again and again from young women that they didn’t have role models or have a clear-cut path on what they wanted to do in the world. They felt that what they wanted to do was so different than anything that anyone had done before; the path to success had been blown up in a million different directions and they didn’t know which way to go.
I was there at the beginning of this change and it happened probably around 2011/2012. After the recession, an entire generation of young women was mobilized to take control of their destiny. They saw the rug pulled out from their parents and they vowed that it wasn’t going to be them. I started to see it in the letters that they would send me at Seventeen. I started seeing it in the research and I saw it in the young women I was meeting. So, rather than let the recession make them feel small or that their options and horizons were narrow, this generation of young women were determined to define success and on their own terms.
They’ve seen that the old ways of doing things didn’t work and because I had been there, because I had been talking to them this whole time, I knew that there was more to say. I knew there was so much more to say into the next phase of their life. I’ve been there from the beginning and I also have the perspective of someone who isn’t twenty-five anymore. And that’s where The Big Life comes from; it’s a guidebook for millennial women to help them understand their power and clear the path ahead of them. To make them see their life as possibility rather than see obstacles that is in their way.
Her Agenda: So, what is your personal motto on life and success?
Ann Shoket: Try everything and don’t plan too much. I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t have a ten-year plan. I have goals and aspirations and I have a little bit of a vision of where I would like to be but I think that life throws you all sorts of twists and turns and you have to embrace them.
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Deadline: March 20th.
[Editor’s note: This interview published on March 13th, 2017. It has been edited for length and clarity.]