Charged Up! podcast: Achieving your dreams
Episode 37 with "The Big Life" author Ann Shoket
Ann Shoket, author of “The Big Life” and a former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine knows about the dreams people have and the ways many of them are making them come true. Spending years as editor-in-chief of a major magazine that deals with the hopes and dreams of young women, as well as researching the young adults who create the success we all want, Ann has figured out what traits, habits, and skills will give you the greatest advantage to making those dreams come true. Whether you’re looking to climb the career ladder, add more travel and adventure to your life, or venture out on your own as an entrepreneur, Ann’s advice is worth heeding.
So, let’s get Charged Up! about Living the Big Life with Ann Shoket.
Jenny Hoff: Ann, thank you so much for joining us.
Ann Shoket: I’m so excited to be here. I love it. This is amazing.
Hoff: You’ve lived a pretty big life so far yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about your career and how it helped bring you to this place where you can advise and encourage younger generations to build full rich lives, the lives of their dreams?
Shoket: I was editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine for the better part of a decade. Before that, I was one of the launch editors of Cosmo Girl Magazine. If there’s anybody out there who remembers Cosmo Girls.
Hoff: I do.
Shoket: If you could, I’ve had this very long view of the changing values of young women. There’s an entire generation of women who grew up with me. We went through Hillary Duff, and Taylor Swift, and Justin Beiber, and Miley Cyrus, and all of those rich conversations about growing into the woman that you’re meant to be. I never understood why when you’re 20 and your subscription to Seventeen runs out, we stop having those conversations. Because it’s in your 20s and 30s that the stakes are even higher and your dreams that we have spent all of those years nurturing and getting closer to can seem even further away. That’s where the big life comes in. How can you get everything you ever wanted? The career, the life, the love, the ambition, the money on your own terms?
Hoff: Absolutely. I love in your book you interview a lot of influencers. You interview a lot of young women who have done just that. You also obviously put a lot of your own input, your own stories in there, and you go through a lot of sections of how to find your meaning in your life, how to apply for a job and get the job that you want, and really how to create a full life to incorporate everything. So I want to go through some of these and I really don’t think it’s just even for young women. I think there’s a lot of people at many stages in their life where maybe they want to make a pivot or they want to make a change or they never pursued that dream or they’re feeling financially strapped and they want to get to the other side of that. I think that a lot of the advice that you give could really resonate with them too.
Shoket: It’s a big life for all.
Hoff: It’s a big life for all. That’s right. Men, women, young, old, it doesn’t matter. In your book, you emphasized meaning a lot even if you aren’t at the job you’re dreaming of or you’re not finding yet the financial fulfilment on your to-do list, you say that meaning is your North Star. Can you go into that more and also how this doesn’t just apply to people starting out on their careers?
Shoket: First of all, I want to be clear that the big life is not about fame or money or affluence. It’s not about having it all. This is like this one size fits all idea of the way things should be. The big life is about crafting a life on your own terms about what matters to you. This generation of young women is more ambitious than ever before and they’ve never had greater opportunities in the world. But they’re not so interested in being at the top. They want to craft something that’s meaningful to them. Meaningful to them, meaningful to someone else, meaningful to the world. Those are the things that matter above all else to millennial women. We spend all our time thinking about our passion and our purpose, I actually think it sets way too high a bar that it’s actually paralyzing. You’re going to sit on the sidelines thinking, “I must find my passion. I must find my purpose.” But you know what matters to you. You know the things that get you excited. Maybe it’s adventure. Maybe it’s fun. Maybe it’s friends. Maybe it’s travel. How can you bring those things, those threads into your life, in all parts of your life, in your love life, in your work life, in your “life” life? That’s the thread of finding something meaningful to you.
Hoff: Absolutely. So it’s not just saying, “I’m going to be the next big Instagram star, the next YouTube star. I’m going to make it to the very top of this level.” It’s about making sure you incorporate everything that is important, that does have meaning to you in your life so that you do feel fulfilled on many different fronts.
Shoket: And that might be important to you, to have a lot of fans. Let’s assume that you’re going to be an Instagram star who’s spreading an amazing message of positivity and optimism in the world. That is your way of expressing the things that are meaningful to you but it’s not – we’ve moved beyond this idea like, “I want to be famous. I want to be big. I want to be rich.” This is about what matters to you and crafting your life on your own terms.
Hoff: Absolutely. And I think that we should all keep that in mind. Sometimes we can feel very frustrated in our career. Have I made it to the top yet or not? But it’s really about looking at everything that is going on in our lives and trying to make sure that we incorporate what’s important. You also gave examples of important questions to ask yourself like, what part of your dream feels out of control or what does work-life balance mean to you? Why are these kinds of questions important to ask yourself?
Shoket: The big life is about creating a conversation that you just don’t get to have very often. These are the kinds of questions you can’t ask your boss because you can’t be that vulnerable with her. Your co-workers are probably in the same slow-moving boat that you’re in and so they’re probably not going to be helpful. It’s not the kind of conversation you can have with your parents because they probably don’t understand the modern texture of your day-to-day life. And so the questions that I always ask are about creating a safe space for a conversation without any judgment, without any assuming about the way things should be but allows you to reflect on what matters to you and how are you going to put the pieces of your life together. But I’ll tell you this, I do have an opinion about work-life balance. It is a sham. The more we talk about balance and about trying to make the perfect balance between your work life and your “life” life, it’s all your life and we’re at the moment in the world for work where it’s all life all the time and all work all the time. You don’t suddenly leave yourself behind when you go to your job and you really don’t leave your job behind when you’re at home with your family. And so I think we have to stop thinking about work-life balance and I say embrace the mess. A big life is a messy life and that you have to see that mess as the momentum and the mojo that’s moving you forward rather than something that’s unraveling your seams.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely. That’s a really good point. It even goes into my next question which is about the new work world order, which you talk about in your book and how the ideas we had even just 10 or 20 years ago are very different from today and how we view the workforce and how we view our ambitions and our aspirations. Can you talk about that a little bit, the new work world order?
Shoket: Yes. So this is a generation of women that doesn’t want to sit still and wait to get promoted, doesn’t want to go up, up, up in a straight line, wants twists and turns and adventure, wants side hustles, side projects at work, taskforces, innovation think tanks. There’s not a straight path to success anymore. This generation of young women doesn’t want to lean in. They’re like, “Hey, company, you lean in to me. I want you to figure out how you’re going to keep me engaged in your work and how are you going to make your company meaningful to me.” What keeps employees loyal and engaged is when the work they’re doing has meaning for them. This is a whole new idea for how work should work. This generation of young women is transparent in a way that their bosses see as KMI but that transparency, the “bring your full self to work,” that level of transparency, especially salary transparency, it’s going to get us all closer to equal pay. One of the most important threads that I have seen with this generation is how they’ve replaced this old idea of competition, particularly among women, with collaboration. That the old idea that there’s room at the table for one woman and you have to fight tooth and nail to be that woman at the table has disappeared. This generation of young women is all about helping each other achieve and succeed. It’s really very inspiring.
Hoff: Absolutely. And I want to get into some of the actual tips and tools that you gave. You gave some very concrete tips such as securing your job and moving up the ladder if you want to or changing jobs and even just what to do with your resume and who to contact. I’m going to go a little bit into that but first, you interviewed a lot of people in the book who have created either really big companies or they’re social media superstars. What kind of underlying thread did you see between all of them that seemed common with every one of them?
Shoket: The women who I interviewed for the book were there because they’re game changers. Jen Hyman, the CEO and founder of Rent the Runway saw this opportunity to create an experience for women, not just nuts and bolts retail of buying a dress but how do you create an experience. She’s really tapped into this idea of community that her users are sharing what their experience with the dresses with other women to help each other also have great experience. And so Jen really, with Rent the Runway as a game changer in that business. Alexa Von Tobel came in and revolutionized financial services aimed at millennials and then sold her company to a giant traditional financial leader. She really is changing the way we think about ambition, particularly, she incubated this business in her living room and it was a great team of frankly at the top mostly women. I love how she tells the story that she closed the deal to sell her company on a Wednesday and by Sunday she had a baby. She really is proving that you can do so much more than you think you can and that there is room in your life for big ambitions for family and big ambitions in your career. I think that’s amazing. Alyssa Menendez, who is a TV journalist is a game changer because she has really made a particular point of diversity in her work and not only in the work she does that’s outward facing but in the work she’s behind the scenes, in helping other women and minorities get a seat at the table. And then Gabby Greg, who’s Gabby Fresh, she’s a plus size fashion blogger. When I interviewed her last year, she worked with me a little bit at Seventeen and I was always so impressed by her. She told me last year in confidence that she was working on launching her own fashion line and it just came out, I think, maybe a week ago. It’s so special. It’s so much about embracing fashion at any size. What I love about her is that she had a very high-profile social media job at MTV and thought it was too corporate. She couldn’t stand to have someone else’s message that she had to carry. I thought that was so the ultimate millennial thing, that she’s working at the icon of youth culture at one time and it’s way too corporate for her. That to me is a sign of how things are changing. Each of those women was selected because I thought they had something really fascinating to say about the way the world is changing but even more to the point about how each of us has a perspective on the world and how each of us has the potential to change the world so it works for us. That’s the on-your-own-terms part.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely. Because we’re in this era with technology and all of these tools at our disposal to really not have to make the choice sometimes between one or the other but to be able, as you said, to incorporate it all. It’s a messy life. It’s not boxed into certain areas where you go to the office and you come home and you have your family but at the same time it enables you to fulfill many different parts of what you need if you want to have a family and you want to try to be an entrepreneur or you want to be successful in your business. I think that is very interesting and that’s a theme that really comes up a lot lately in some of my conversations about the potential that’s out there right now and how you have to just deconstruct your mind. Stop thinking about everything in these different silos and start thinking creatively. Also, I want to talk about job hunting now. Your advice for people starting out as well as perhaps those who have been working for 10 or 15 years but they want to change. What are your top tips for landing a dream job, including taking a non-dream job and making a solid stepping stone to where you want to go?
Shoket: This is the advice that I give all young women who come to me when they’re just at the beginning of their career and they’re so confused about which way to go. Get a job, any job. The whole reason for you to get started in the world is to learn how work works. Yes, you will learn the skills that are going to make you valuable at the job but I actually think that 90% of success is all of the subtle secret handshakes that you learn from being in the office. How does your boss let you know when she’s happy with you? How does she let you know when she’s disappointed? Who walks into a room first for a meeting? Where do they sit? How do they let you know when the meeting is over? How do people get heard in those meetings? Who walks around the office and is sort of the mayor of the office? Who sits in the corner that tries to hide from everybody to be seen? All that subtle information of how to be successful and how to model yourself after the people who are achieving all the gold stars in their work. All of that, you can’t get unless you’re in it, and then you will get it anywhere. The first couple of jobs, it doesn’t matter. My first job was at the American Lawyer Magazine, which was nobody’s idea of a dream job right out of college. I answered the phones. I filed reports. I worked my way up to be a fact-checker, where it was my job to check where the commas went. But the magazine happened to be run by a legendary journalist who was at the beginning of creating cross-platform content like they had with newspapers. He owned Court TV at the time. There was an online service for attorneys. I didn’t realize until years later but I was learning how to take an idea and to build it into a real business. That is the advice I give to young women. Just put one foot in front of the other and get your first job. Don’t worry about the dream job. If you get too focused on one destination, you’ll miss the whole journey along the way.
Hoff: Absolutely. And even in your book, you give tips on how to write your resume, to whom that resume needs to go to, to dressing the part, to all of those things. So I really recommend that if somebody is either searching for their first job or they’re looking to make a transition, obviously, you’ve been at a very high level at a very notable magazine, you’ve got that advice that sometimes it feels like the secrets that you have to break into and just know in order to be a little bit of step ahead somebody else you might be competing with for that position.
Shoket: Yes. And the “what to wear” piece is so interesting. I don’t want to give fashion advice. That’s not my role. But the point is, what’s the image that you are projecting? What do your clothes say about you? I think it’s important to think about. I remember wearing some crazy pants and some funky shoes and somebody pulled me aside and let me know I wasn’t projecting an image of confidence and competence in a professional setting. I match with the clothes piece. What do your clothes say about you? How can you elevate your look so that you’re elevating your message? That’s the important piece there.
Hoff: Absolutely. We also hear about a lot of side gigs all the time now. I’m going to devote a whole episode soon on this podcast to how to start one and make it profitable. But I really like how in your book you also talk about side gigs as a calling card or a way to do something that you’re passionate about even if it’s not your full-time job. Why should someone start a side hustle and how can they use it to advance their career and their salary potential even if they don’t want to ultimately be entrepreneurs as a full-time profession?
Shoket: You’re absolutely right. I do not think that your side hustle is necessarily a straight line to lining your bank account. Your job is what pays your bills. Your side hustle is what pays you in self-respect. What is the thing that you’re not getting in your job that you need to find? Maybe it’s community. And so you put yourself together with a group of other men and women who feel the same way you do about something and that’s what your side hustle should be. Maybe it’s meaning. Maybe your job is a great job. You’re making a lot of money but it doesn’t feed your soul. You need a side hustle that feeds your soul. My side hustle was about putting myself in charge. When I was at my first job, I was like an assistant by day but by night, I had put myself in charge of being editor-in-chief of this very sexy downtown website. It gave me a chance to explore what it meant to be the boss and to run my own show and to make every single mistake on my own dime and on my own time. I blew it. I blew everything. I insulted people. I did poor management. We were like a shop of three people trying to put together this cool pioneering website. It was the mid ‘90s when this happened but I learned so much about how to be in charge and I liked it. That was a signal to myself that I knew there was more for me to do. But also, it gave me something to talk about to my bosses. I could figure out how what I learned at my side hustle could apply and be useful at my job. And so it was a way for me to set myself apart from a lot of the other reporters and editors because I was learning something that I could bring to the table. I think that’s what your side hustle really should be also, something for you to brag about, and something interesting that you are showing a lot of initiative by doing on your own.
Hoff: Absolutely. It’s great for networking too. I feel like if there is a dream job that you have out there and the current job you have isn’t exactly setting you up skills-wise for that dream job like you did taking on some sort of a leadership role outside of that job or starting something on your own can give you those extra skills that you need so that when you network, you can talk about, “Well, I also do this,” which fills that gap that you might be wondering about when it comes to my dream job. Do you agree with that?
Shoket: And the other important thing is that your side hustle is not forever. It doesn’t have to turn into the next big thing. It can be a short- term gig that you do to get some skills, meet some people, and fill a need. Maybe it will turn into something great. There’s a woman who used to work with me at Seventeen named Tammy Tibbott and she incubated a not for profit while she worked with me. I knew she was doing it. She would come and tell me things she was working on and I thought, “Okay. That’s fine but I need that report by Friday at 5:00.” And then one day she came to me and she said, “My side hustle has become so important to me that I feel like I’ve dropped the ball a couple of times at work and I owe it to this side hustle to see where it can go.” And she has. She’s now in every 30 Under 30 List and the organization is booming. As a testament to Tammy and her vision, I’m an advisor because I know she had such passion for making it happen. And so maybe your side hustle is going to turn into your big thing but maybe it’s just going to help you get a leg up on your “job” job.
Hoff: Yes. That’s a great way to think about it. To not put so much pressure on yourself. Is it the next Facebook? Is it the next Instagram? Or rather just is this something where I’m passionate, where I have the skill set to try to put together and just let’s see what goes? What happens with it? Also the part of your book, and we’ve talked about this now, about your mess being your mojo. A sign of success instead of one of failure. That feels really good sometimes when I go home and everything seems chaotic in the house, but can you talk about that more in what it means to prioritize our time even if it means we aren’t living in a perfect atmosphere?
Shoket: When you are young and hungry and trying to put points on the board, you have to say yes to everything. You have to say yes to early morning meetings and afternoon coffees and cocktails and dinner parties and then everybody knows all the fun stuff happens at the after party. And then you have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and do it all again to get to your 8:30 meeting. But saying yes opens opportunities. You’re creating energy that’s going to help you move to the next level in your career. But when you say yes to everything, the rest of your life will be a mess. Your refrigerator’s probably empty, the laundry doesn’t get done. When was the last time that your nails got a manicure or your eyebrows got plucked? Whatever it is, all of that stuff starts to fall away. I’m all for self-care but I think that we need to stop seeing the mess as something that’s draining us and start seeing it as energy and momentum that’s moving us forward closer to the dream that we want to achieve, embrace the mess.
Hoff: Absolutely. I interviewed a man once one who has kids and he was just saying if you really want to become wealthy or you really want to become successful, you need to be concentrating your efforts into that. And if you’re spending half your day washing clothes and cooking food, you’re a cook and you’re a washer which is fine but that’s not going to get you to true wealth. At the time I was a little bit like, well, maybe you’re just not the one taking care of the house right now or whatever. But when you say that too, it’s kind of that same vein where it’s obviously you’ve got a certain amount of time. You need to dedicate it to what’s the most important to you instead of stuff that kind of can be put off. I want to move in to now some life hacks that you share in the book. You talked to a lot of successful people who gave you ideas of how they are able to get things done a lot faster by using some life hacks. Can you give some of your favorite life hacks?
Shoket: Well, it’s funny. I just got a message from a reader who told me that one of those life hacks really changed everything for her which was giving her permission to hire a housekeeper. The house literally was a mess and she didn’t have time and it was nagging at her. As soon as she realized she could split the bill with a roommate and it wasn’t going to take away so much from her income, she felt free. That was a huge life hack for her. Everybody feels like their time is stretched so thin. I like to double up. If I can do a meeting and go to a pilates class at the same time or hit the gym and meet a friend. It’s either with friends or it’s with business or walk and talk at the same time. Alexa Von Tobel told me that she does a regular morning walk. So she gets her exercise but she also gets a meeting at the same time. I’m a big fan of doubling up a lot of those things. Plus it helps you create a personal connection. You’re bringing somebody into your life in a way and sharing an experience together and so business gets done a lot more effectively that way.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely. This might sound superficial to some of you listening, but I love the life hack of getting a blowout once a week and dry shampooing it the rest of the week while taking baths or whatever in order to save yourself from doing hair. And people say, well, hair doesn’t really matter. Obviously it does. If you’re in a workplace or you’re in society, you need to look decent. You need to look put together. But doing your hair every single day can take 30 to 40 minutes which you could be used instead to get into work early or taking care of your kids. For me, that’s something that I had to say to myself, all right, it is money that I would not have normally spent but at the same time it’s saving me so much time while I can still look nice and that’s worth it.
Shoket: Yes, 100%. The idea of this extra 30 minutes in the morning that you’re saving yourself. Think of all the amazing things you can do with it. Not just to get more work done but to have personal time. Spend half of that time cuddling with your kids. Yes to that.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely. I think where money is spent is something that gives you your time because that’s the one thing you can’t create more of really in the world. I would just say forgo the shoes and spend your money on something that’s going to save you time from doing something that can be tedious. What about succeeding in the workplace to move up the ladder or as you put it, earning your place at the table? What are some key strategies to get noticed and get promoted within your company?
Shoket: I hear a lot from young women that they feel overlooked in meetings. Maybe it’s because they’re a woman but also maybe it’s because they’re young. They have something to say and to be honest, it seems so obvious and yet it’s the truth. The way to be heard is to have the facts, to be well-researched, to know what you’re talking about. Not to have off the cuff remarks or necessarily to pipe up but to come into a meeting armed with facts and to know that your idea is well-researched. But it also really helps to pre-sell your idea to somebody else who’s going to be in that meeting and know that they have your back walking into that room, to know that you have other people invested in your success, to feel like they are part of that team really helps you be heard. You can’t argue with a good idea that has support even if it comes from the most junior person in the room.
Hoff: That’s a great idea. Before you go in, if you want to present an idea, talk to somebody who also is going to be at that meeting, who would be amenable to having your back and saying, “I think that’s a great idea,” or showing their support because it will bring more attention to the idea than if everyone just sits there silently.
Shoket: Yes. And sometimes you need someone to open the door for you to say, “Hey, Jenny has this great idea. Let’s make sure she’s heard.”
Hoff: Yes, absolutely.
Shoket: Something as simple as that could really help.
Hoff: Collaboration instead of competition all the time. That’s what your theme is.
Hoff: So what would you say are the three things somebody who’s listening to this right now should do to start living their big life?
Shoket: One, Let go of the five-year plan. It does not serve you. You want twists and turns and adventure. You want to be free to explore. If you’re locked into old ideas as timelines and milestones, and the way things should be, you’re not going to be able to realize the dream. Two, rely on your squad. Again, it’s collaboration over competition. Your sisterhood, these women who are devoted to helping you achieve and succeed are your rock. Not everybody can have a mentor or a sponsor but everybody can have a clique of chicks that are there to open doors and make connections and give them insight and to help them strategize. Relying on your squad is super important. And then lastly, I would say pay attention to the itch. The itch is that feeling of dissatisfaction that there is something else out there for you. It’s not terminal. It’s not tragic. It’s not urgent. It’s just uncomfortable. It’s a little itchy. And when you start to feel that at work, it’s a sign that there’s more for you, that there’s something else, something better, something more you can do. That itch is what’s going to keep you moving forward looking for new horizons and breaking new territory and building the big life on your own terms.
Hoff: Absolutely. Great advice. Get rid of the five-year plan, count on your squad and pay attention to your itch. Basically, it’s being self-aware and being collaborative. What gets you Charged Up about figuring out how to have it all?
Shoket: I don’t think we should have it all. I think we should have whatever you want. I think that the have-it-all is this old idea of some prescriptive, like somebody else’s idea of how things should be one-size-fits-all and it doesn’t necessarily fit everyone. But what gets me Charged Up is to help young women own their power but just as importantly to make the rest of the world recognize it too. Because all of the eye rolling we do about millennials saying they’re lazy or self-obsessed or entitled changes that they are leading in the world the transparency and sisterhood, that is what is going to help us all stay relevant, stay hungry, stay young for the rest of our careers.
Hoff: Absolutely. Ann, thank you so much. I definitely recommend people pick up your book. It’s a great read. It’s a fun read. There’s a lot of great tips in there. This has been a very great conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Shoket: Thank you. Everyone should join my sisterhood. I call us the Badass Babes, and you can sign up at annshoket.com.
Hoff: Perfect. Absolutely. I will do that myself. Thank you so much, Ann.
Shoket: Thank you.
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