The Woman Who Taught Me to Chase After My “Big Life”
The room was quiet. Ann Shoket, Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen, had just finished giving a keynote address to a room full of hundreds of young women at a HerCampus conference in midtown Manhattan. When she asked for questions, you could feel the room hesitate. What do you say to someone who you’ve looked up to for over five years? I was an upcoming senior in college, and something in me knew this was my chance to start planting seeds for my dream job — becoming Ann’s assistant.
I raised my hand, not really even knowing what I was going to say, and managed to ask, “Ann, considering what everyone is saying about the magazine industry right now, what would you say to parents like mine who worry about me chasing my dreams of becoming a magazine editor?” She started to answer and then paused. “Do you want to record this to send to your parents?” she asked. I pulled out my phone and, with a shaky hand, recorded an answer I will always remember: “Your job is to have a conversation with young women about the things that matter to them. And it doesn’t matter where you have that conversation — the conversation is the most important thing.” Suffice to say, she sold me on the magazine industry just like she sold me on her passion for empowering, encouraging and having important conversations with young women.
During her speech, Ann mentioned that her assistant, Bernadette Anat, was sitting toward the back of the room. (Every great leader acknowledges their assistant!) After Ann had finished speaking, I raced to the side of the stage to say hello and to thank Ann for the video she recorded for my parents. After, I walked over to Bernadette and introduced myself to her. I was a little surprised she didn’t have a crowd of people around her as well. “This is the girl who has the job I want one day,” I thought. “It seems pretty important for me to know her.” After exchanging contact information, I managed to stay in touch with Bernadette through email and over social media during my last year at the University of Michigan.
I learned how to tell stories and bring creative people together to work as a team.
Right around the time graduation rolled around, I heard through some of my other contacts at Seventeen that Bernadette was getting ready to leave her position as Ann’s assistant for a new opportunity. I remember not believing the timing could be that perfect. (Jobs in the magazine industry come and go very quickly!) I reached out to Bernadette and somehow found myself scheduling an interview a few weeks later with Ann herself. I don’t remember many details about the interview, but I do remember the short presentation I sent to Ann shortly after I left her office that day. It was an interactive presentation that listed a few reasons why Ann should hire me as her assistant and finished with me singing along to a One Direction song. My goal was not only to show her that I was paying attention during our interview but also that I would bring creativity and fun into the role. It was a risk, but luckily Ann decided to take a risk on me and hired me a few days later.
I learned so much from Ann during our few years together, working as her assistant and watching her live out her talent and passion for having important conversations with young women. I learned how to tell stories, how to bring creative people together to work as a team and how to be brave and bold in pursuing my dreams and ambitions and building a life that matters. It was not an easy job, but to be able to live out the dream I’d had since I was in middle school was an opportunity I will forever be grateful for. After my time as Ann’s assistant, I remember meeting with her every few months for coffee or lunch. She would ask me how things were going and encourage me to think about what I envisioned my future looking like — in the magazine industry or otherwise. In addition to asking good questions and affirming my skills and what I had learned during my time at Seventeen, Ann was gracious enough to offer contacts and references that would help me in future opportunities.
What I thought was the most interesting, however, was that it wasn’t just a one-sided relationship. At the same time Ann would offer me encouragement and help me along in my career, she also started to involve me in research for her book, The Big Life. It was clear early on that Ann valued my opinions, knowledge and research abilities in figuring out what kind of conversation she wanted to have in her book. It was so fun to work together as a team to start to pull together this project that I knew from the beginning would change thousands of young women’s lives. I couldn’t wait for them to read Ann’s words of encouragement — the same words that helped me discover my current passion and career.
A few months ago, Ann hosted a fundraising dessert to help me launch a new program centered on mentorship for college students in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the same way Ann hopes to have conversations with young women in her book, I am hoping this program will facilitate hundreds of similar in-person conversations with college students about value, purpose, identity, passion and worth. To see Ann host an event where I was able to share my story and goals with a room full of women and to invite them into what I was doing meant so much to me. I never would have though I would be standing in Ann’s apartment one day, chasing after my dreams with the support and friendship of someone like Ann, who continues to cheer me on today.
Meaghan and her mentor Ann Shoket (Photo provided by the author)
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