Seventeen Magazine was the first magazine subscription that I was allowed to have. I used to love getting it in the mail each month and usually had it finished shortly after. By the time I was waiting for my next one to arrive, my last issue was highlighted, written in, and had dog ears to mark “important” pages. I think that’s why when I opened Ann Shoket’s book The Big Life within the first few pages it felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend — who felt more like an older sister.
While this is the first review I’m getting up here; The Big Life is actually the third book I’ve finished this year. And while yes, I’m ignoring the fact that I am nowhere near on pace to accomplish my goal of 18 books this year — I don’t think The Big Life could have come at a better time.
At its core, The Big Life is a book that I would recommend for anyone who identifies as a women and is feeling like maybe the pieces just aren’t all fitting together just yet (whatever those pieces maybe) or fitting together the way you thought they would. The Big Life is book for those who want to or do give everything they have in each aspect of their life but simultaneously feel the lingerings of doubt for one reason or another. For me, The Big Life made me feel a little more calm, a little less crazy, and a lot more connected — a more mature version of what those old Seventeen magazines used to do.
Calm. Being 4 months out from my current opportunity ending means that I am (yet again) going through the job search and in some ways I wonder how I’ve grown over the past year through the experiences I’ve had (don’t worry there’s a post coming about this). Some of the same questions of “what type of job do I want?” and “what type of impact do I want to have?” are once again at the forefront of my mind. Not to mention the big one of “is what I’m doing going to be meaningful to me?”. That’s the one that can really keep me up at night. All the questions, along with my personality and it can feel like my brain is thinking of 50 things all at once, playing out the different possibilities and what can come next. Somehow, however, each time I opened The Big Life to read those background questions quieted and even if I was thinking of what was to come next I was doing so in a much calmer way that focused on the things that were important to me.
Crazy. In periods of transition it can be easy to both get lost within yourself and lose sight of yourself. For me these two things that can quickly go hand in hand and turn into a little craziness. Reading The Big Life when I did put this into perspective along with helping realize that it’s not worth skipping this part of the crazy for some future version of everything being in place (or even for someone else’s current situation). Shoket’s book is not a hard read but it’s not meant to be, it’s supposed to be informal like the dinners where she spoke to many of the individuals who helped inspire the book itself. Shoket doesn’t offer solutions simply advice, much needed reality checks, and bits of humor throughout. It’s a book that is not about telling you what you have to do or even what’s right to do but getting you to think about which voices you’re listening to and who you’re bringing along the way.
Connected. The best feeling that came from reading The Big Life is the sense of connection I felt to people I’d never met and who’s full names I don’t know, but who’s stories resonated deeply with me. I can’t tell you the number of times I read a quote from one of the women at her dinners and wondered how they so perfectly stated things I’d thought but never put into words. Even in a world a connected as we have it seems easy to feel our experiences are silos. In finishing the book I felt connected (and not just via the Facebook Group) to other women who had the same desire for a Big Life but perhaps just needed to know they weren’t the only ones searching for something like that.
Ann Shoket is one of the reasons I restarted this blog. It was after hearing her speak at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women in October that I knew I wanted to have a space to write, discuss, and connect with others about the issues I cared about — even if they didn’t fit into a singular category. I didn’t know that the bloggers group I would join as a result of wanting to be more serious about this would eventually lead me back to reading The Big Life 6 months later as I prepare for another transition. I’m not saying it was an act of the cosmos exactly but I can say that whether I was 13 or 23, Ann Shoket has always reminded me to bet on myself, believe in myself, and go for the big one — first through Seventeen and now through The Big Life. Not everyone may need the reminder; but it never hurts to have.