When Ann Shoket was running teen magazines, she learned an important lesson: There are the friends you pal with, and there are the friends you scheme with.
Sometimes the groups mix, but sometimes they don’t. The important lesson here is also a hard one: Let your friends be just your friends.
“Sometimes that was a hard thing for me when I became editor in chief,” Shoket says. “Suddenly I was getting invited to a lot of places, and I was on the list for a lot of events. I always wanted to bring my girlfriends along with me and they weren’t into it. It took me a minute to realize: ‘These are my friends because we love each other — not because they wing-woman for me at a work event.’ ”
When she was writing her new book, “The Big Life,” the former Seventeen magazine editor held dinner parties with young women from diverse backgrounds and career paths. As she talked with them about the things they wanted — in their work lives, their relationship goals and their dreams for the future — she found herself sharing more and more stories like the one above. So she took the experiences and lessons heard at these “Badass Babe Dinners” to create a manual for young women who want to live “on your own terms.”
I spoke with Shoket about the big lessons from her book; below are lightly edited excerpts from our conversation.
On finding your ‘success squad,’ the group of women who understand, support and elevate your professional ambitions
Your friends are not in your business. Your “squad” is in your business — these are your work friends, your ambition friends. But sometimes your friend-friends are the girls you’ve known since junior high when you were talking about curling iron burns and they were your college roommates. They’re the girls you just want to hang out with and not just endlessly grind away at “where am I going? How can I get there?” And I think sometimes you just need to let your friends be your friends.
That’s why you need your squad — you need your wing-woman, your connector, your insider. They don’t necessarily have to be your best friends. They care about you — that’s not to say your squad doesn’t care about you. But your friends are your heart. Just let them love you.
There are so many new, built-in opportunities to find your [professional] sisterhood. You can host your own Badass Babes Dinner, and I get invited to a lot of other people’s chick cliques and book clubs and networking events.
On the myth that you can ‘have it all’
Young women kept saying to me: “I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I know it has to be big.” It was this strength and confidence, and sort of a new vision for how life should go. Women were just figuring it out, but they knew it wanted to be big. But the big life is absolutely not “having it all.”
“Having it all” is somebody else’s idea of the things you should do. It’s like: hot husband, adoring children, big job, house in the ‘burbs. It feels like an impossible standard that doesn’t connect with the reality of young women’s lives.
On finding partners who support you
I want women to find partners whose eyes light up when they talk about their hopes and their dreams and their ambitions. I dedicated the book to my husband because I know how important that part of your life is, and how it’s important to succeed if the most important relationship in your life isn’t supporting your personal ambitions, your work ambitions, your family ambitions.
I didn’t meet the man who’d become my husband until I was 35. I became [editor in chief] when I was 34. And when I was up for the job, when I knew I was being considered, I had this panic — I was 34, I was dating a lot and I thought to myself, “I’m never going to get married. I’m never going to have a partner. I’m going to have this big job and my life will be all consumed.” And I told some friends that anxiety: “Maybe I shouldn’t go for this job.” And some of them agreed. “Yes, you really will be too busy to date. And yes, men will be intimidated by you in that big role.” And I really wrestled with it for a long time and then a friend of mine said, “Dating is not working for you now anyway. Go for the job and figure it out on the other side.” And so I did.
And then yes, my life was completely out of control. And some dudes were weird about it. And some of it was subtle weirdness — like as if we were in competition with each other: “My drama is bigger than your drama.” “My stress is bigger than your stress.” All of that sucked, but I really was too busy to deal with it. I had a big job ahead of me. I was remaking a magazine and repositioning an entire brand. I was like, “I have no time for this. Your thing — I have no time for it.”
‘Thirty is not a deadline.’
“Thirty is a deadline” is something I heard again and again. Women would count down the days and weeks until they turned 30. That was the time by which you had to have the job and the relationship and the baby plan all tucked away. All under wraps. There’s this phenomenal anxiety around it.
In my personal life, I think patience was a lesson to learn. I wanted to move ahead in my career and in my personal life, and things just weren’t working on my timeline. So I had to get rid of the idea of a timeline. But I’ve found from my research and my friends that those external ideas of the way things should be can hang you up. They prevent you from doing the things that make you happy.