“Pizza will get you far in life,” says Ann Shoket as she sips her lemon ginger tea.
Ann is losing her voice, but her excitement for her new book, The Big Life, is palpable.
Deep, insightful conversations take place at Ann’s dinner table whenever she invites a select group of millennial women, or Badass Babes as she calls them, for pizza and rosé. Together, they find ways to help each other, regardless of how far along they are in their careers.
Since her years at CosmoGIRL and Seventeen, Ann Shoket has been a champion for young women.
She now provides career and life advice to millennial women who have traded their Seventeen subscriptions for daily emails from The Muse via her Badass Babes newsletter.
She takes it one step further with her book The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be.
Below, she chats about The Big Life and offers actionable career advice most relevant to millennial women in New York City.
Before The Big Life, there was the Badass Babes newsletter. Tell us about creating it. Did you initially write all of the content? Take us back to the day you launched it and the first comments or reactions you received.
AS: The stories all intertwine between the Badass Babes and The Big Life. As part of the research for the book, I hosted a series of dinners at my apartment and would invite young women and tell them to bring their friends, and we'd have six or eight women around my dining room table eating fancy frozen pizza and drinking many bottles of rosé.
The conversations around my dining room table were so interesting and so deep. After half a dozen dinners, I wanted to connect the women at my table with each other.
The amazing moment in media that we’re in is that you have the tools to publish yourselves, so I logged on to MailChimp, made a newsletter, opened the doors to everybody and the next thing you know, thousands of Badass Babes signed up for the weekly newsletter.
The newsletter is 100% my point of view. I have a very long perspective on the changing tastes and values of young women and I want to give my audience some perspective. It’s a two-way communication, it’s a sisterhood, and I want everybody to participate in the conversation. They're just thoughts starters.
You’ve been instrumental in how teenage girls and young women consume media as executive editor of CosmoGIRL and then as editor-in-chief of Seventeen. How did you deal with personal pressure after your tenure at Seventeen? Did you have an idea of what you wanted to pursue long-term?
AS: Yes! I knew very early on what I wanted to do. I wanted to continue the conversations that I had with young women helping them grow up into the women that they’re meant to be, and I wanted to move into the next phase of life with them.
An entire generation of young women has grown up with me. Eight years at Seventeen and another eight years at CosmoGIRL. The women who were reading when I was at CosmoGIRL, they’re in their thirties now and the women who were reading me when I was at Seventeen they’re in their twenties.
Here’s an entire generation that grew up with me and I wanted to move to the next phase with them because we had all of these deep, emotional conversations and I don’t understand why that ends when you turn twenty and your subscription to Seventeen expires.
The stakes are even higher in your twenties and thirties and it’s even more important to examine all of that complicated terrain. I call it the “itchy emotions.” The other phenomenal shift that has happened is that young women have become much more ambitious and focused on career and success in a way that I didn’t see maybe 15 years ago or even 10 years ago.
When career, ambition, and success are at the center of your focus, it changes the way you think about everything. It changes the way you relate to your friends and your family, the way you think about your partner, the way you think about your own family so that was a very interesting moment in time for young women.
It’s a moment for young women that’s more complicated than ever. I kept looking for someone else to say what I knew needed to be said and nobody was saying it.
Feeling replaceable at work resonates with millennials everywhere, especially those in a hyper-competitive place like New York City. How can millennials stay positive under the pressure of earning a seat at the table and wrangling self-doubt?
AS: There’s this old idea that your career had to be one way and you'd start at the bottom and you'd climb up, up, up, up. The company was loyal to you, you were loyal to the company, and you'd grow together.
Maybe it wasn’t your whole career that you'd spend there, but maybe you’d spend ten years, 15 if you were lucky. That idea has disappeared and we can thank the recession for that. Companies don’t feel that way about their employees, and millennial employees don’t feel that way about their companies, so it goes hand in hand.
When your company says you’re lazy, entitled, and disloyal, you can say, “Well, you’re not loyal to me. Why should I be loyal to you?” There has been a phenomenal rise in this idea that we all have a side hustle, we all have a passion project, we all have something else going on so you can’t expect your job to be everything to you anymore.
I think it’s important to move up and move around and cover a lot of ground and have a lot of experiences and I think that it’s a mind shift. You have to change your way of thinking that allows for possibility and allows for things to happen differently than you ever expected, differently than your mom expected, differently than your boss expected.
When you’re open to possibilities and opportunities, you don’t have as much anxiety about your job because you have faith in yourself and your ability to make the situation work for you. This is young women’s opportunity to rewrite the rules for success so it works for them.
Can you share some mistakes you made early in your career that you regretted, and how did you learn from them?
AS: No [laughs]. I made every mistake possible early on in my career, but you just keep learning. I am brave and wanted to try new things. I wanted to make my mark in new territory. If you’re going to make your mark in a new territory, you can’t do what other people have always done before and that was important to me.
And the mistakes I made were only mistakes because I misread the situation. I’ll give you an example [pauses] this is a silly example. I was up for a job at a fancy magazine, and I wrote a thank you note. I was so empowered and feeling my girl power that I wrote a thank you note to this woman on a Wonder Woman note card.
I don’t think my message landed well with her and I never heard from her again in my entire career. Who cares? I was the kind of chick who was going to send a thank you note on a Wonder Woman note card. I misread the circumstances thinking that she'd be the kind of woman who would appreciate that and think that was great and badass.
Had I sent that Wonder Woman note card to someone else, someone else would’ve thought that was amazing and badass and hired me on the spot. There are rules of the road that you need to learn, but you want to make sure that you’re representing your own personality.
You know that thing they say about college that you’re going to find the college that’s right for you? I feel like it’s the same way about jobs. Don’t change yourself to fit into something that’s not going to work for you and be uncomfortable.
That said, there are basic rules. I’m a huge fan of a handwritten thank you note, but no Wonder Woman note cards. I’ve also gotten note cards with kitty cats and butterflies, and I think that that’s the wrong thing to do, right?
It wasn’t until I was in the receiving end of thank you notes that I that I thought of a million ways this could go wrong so it should be a really simple, handwritten note. You know, I put my note cards on my Instagram, so that’s the note card I write to everybody.
And with your leather binder!
AS: My leather binder was a present, which is my favorite thing. Simple note cards, good handwriting. Grown-up handwriting. I see a lot of babyish handwriting, which also isn’t a good sign.
Because I know that I blew it on the note card that one time, I now feel tremendous authority to tell young women how to get it right on the note card. You have to show some personality. That’s why they’re hiring you.
They want to know who you are and what you’re going to bring to the table. If it’s not the right fit, it’s not the right fit. It’s just like dating. You have to date a million people to find the right person who’s the right fit for you. You have to date a lot of jobs to find the right fit too.
Putting ourselves out there is difficult at times, especially when we want to create a squad of our own. How can women become better at networking?
AS: Stop networking. Make friends in the business. Networking doesn’t do anybody any good. You’ve got a stack of business cards in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. It’s a nightmare. It’s so uncomfortable.
However, you need help, you need a sisterhood, and you need a network. If you find women who are doing something interesting and you want to help them, help them. When the time comes, they’ll help you too.
Have a relationship. Not a transactional one. Not one that says, “I’m going to help you because you’re going to help me.” Have a relationship that says, “I’m going to help you because I think what you’re doing is amazing.”
Landing a job in New York City is often a cut-throat and tedious process and more so nowadays. What advice do you have for job seekers trying not to burn themselves out?
AS: You have to care less. It’s luck and it’s persistence. You have to try really hard for everything, but if you don’t hear back or if you get a “no,” it’s not personal. It’s not the right time, it’s not the right budget, it’s not the right whatever. It’s not personal.
You can’t feel every rejection like it’s a wound. You have to be “Okay. On to the next. Okay. On to the next.” It’s exhausting, but that kind of energy is what’s going to create the change that you want to see in the world. Just keep pushing forward to try and find your place where your voice can be heard.
How did you find your voice and your confidence in your twenties?
AS: I don’t know if I found it in my twenties. My first job was at The American Lawyer and my job wasn’t exciting or interesting, but I had to do it, and I had bills to pay.
While I was there, I launched a website. Everybody launches a website now, but this was 1996 so nobody launched a website. Nobody was paying me to be the boss, so I put myself in a position to be the boss and to figure out how to have a staff of writers that I paid with pizza and chili nights at my house.
It was my chance to see what I could do. I was betting on myself and that actually gave me a lot of confidence because digital media was so brand new. I was treading into territory that a lot of my bosses didn’t know about.
It was something I knew about that I was able to explain to them. I was suddenly able to have my own domain. Which is not to say that I was phenomenally confident or a game-changing, rule-breaking pioneer in my day job. I had a mid/low-level job to do and I did it. But to have something of my own on the side, taught me a lot about business.
I recently read a story in Marie Claire where your former Seventeen colleague, Kaitlin Menza, writes about being shamed into a lower salary. Based on your experiences, what’s a woman’s most powerful negotiation tool?
AS: I love Kaitlin for telling that story. She’s told me that story before. I love her for telling that story to the world. One of the things that’s a huge change with this generation of young people is transparency and to my generation, it feels like TMI.
For you, it’s like, “Why wouldn’t we talk about how much we’re getting paid?” And, of course, talking about how much you’re getting paid is the only way to get paid equally.
Gosh! Negotiation is hard because you don’t come in with a lot of tools, especially if you’re young. You want the job, they have the job, and they don’t want to pay you for that job. Their job is to pay you as little as possible.
That first moment when you’re negotiating is the most power you’ll ever have because once you work for the company, they’ll think of a million reasons not to give you a raise or a promotion and if they do, it’ll just be like the tiny incremental raises that you get.
My friend, Alexandra Dickinson, who writes in the book about how to ask for a raise, she launched a consultancy business called Ask For It. She makes a really good point about negotiating for things that aren’t money because sometimes those are easier to get. Right?
There’s some truth when people tell you it’s not in the budget. There might be still some wiggle room, and I would always ask, always, for 20%. If the money is legitimately not there, there are other things to ask for: management responsibilities, extra vacation days, side hustle projects, ask to head up task forces within the company. All of those are important to keep you moving forward and give you a broader umbrella and a bigger platform to stand on.
Millennials are all about creating a career on their own terms based on what feels right for them. What makes a great personal brand and what do you think millennials get wrong about crafting a personal brand?
AS: Oh my God! I would never, ever pretend to edit someone else’s personal brand. I’m thrilled that personal brands are a thing because there’s so much freedom in the world, but that’s the whole point.
You’re putting yourself out there and you’re finding a following that works for you but never tell anybody on their personal brand what to do. The only thing I’d say is that as you build your personal brand or your personal platform, you have to see yourself as greater than your ability to photograph avocado toast.
You as running your own brand are the head of marketing, the head of customer acquisition, and the head of development. All of the things that you do, are all big corporate jobs at a big corporation and don’t sell yourself short like, “I just have a little blog.”
Can you share any tips for overcoming the pressure to be original in a saturated creative market?
AS: That’s hard. It’s really hard. I’ll tell you what I think stands out — excellence. It’s so hard and you’re like, “Thanks for the pressure Ann. I’m already working so hard and now I have to be excellent too,” but that’s the truth.
People who are excellent or are creating excellent content and people who are operating at a really high level, people who are phenomenally open and honest in their personal life in their social media brands. All of those things really stand out.
Michelle Phan wrote the foreword to my book. There are a million people who do what Michelle does. The reason Michelle is iconic now, maybe she’s just turned 30, is because what she does is excellent.
She produces her beauty looks at an excellent level, she’s always thinking of new ways to invent herself, she’s looking for new businesses she can commandeer and has a deep, emotional connection with her audience. All of those things are really important.
#BadassBabes are all over social media sharing how they’re accomplishing their Big Life. What’s your favorite social media platform and why?
AS: I like Twitter because it’s fast and if I have something to say, I can say it and connect with a lot of people really quickly. I find that Facebook has to be a little more thought out, and Instagram has to be beautifully orchestrated.
Pizza plays a big part in your Badass Babes dinners. What’s your favorite place for pizza in New York City?
AS: My pizzas come from Fresh Direct and I have a freezer full of pizza at all times. If you came over to my house now, we could sit and have pizza. We could have three different kinds of pizza.
There are two places I like if I’m going out for pizza. I like Nick’s Pizzabar because they have the craziest flavors Bacon and Ranch, Buffalo Chicken, Barbecue Chicken. I like Motorino for its fancy pizzas like Pancetta and Brussel Sprouts.
One is high brow and the other one is low brow, but they’re both good![Feature Image Courtesy Instagram]