For our fifth episode of #GirlsTalkReal with Lou & Grey, Amy spoke with Tavi Gevinson—writer, actress & founder of Rookie Mag. We talked about the now closed Rookie Mag and how it served as a place where young women could be expressive, feel heard, and figure themselves out in a safe space. Tavi spoke about her victories, challenges, choices, & what’s next. If you weren’t there, you can watch her episode of #GirlsTalkReal here. Our favorite OKREAL quote from Tavi: “Our instinct and intuition is an algorithm”
The evolution of Rookie
I was deliberate about the vision for Rookie from the beginning. I wanted to run an online magazine for teenagers that I could relate to, that was smart and funny and honest. In the first year I top edited everything that went on the site, and I was very focused on the creative side of Rookie. Things started to change about two years ago as the digital media business model began to bottom out, and I had to focus more on how to make the business sustainable. It became a lot harder to make money as a free ad-supported website.
There was definitely an identity shift for me while running Rookie and growing up. As a teenager, it was great making a publication that I wanted to read–at the same time, that was limiting for our audience. As I got older, I developed other creative outlets and I started to care more about sharing Rookie’s platform with other people. I wanted to make sure there was something for everyone because I wanted the site to have a life outside of me. There were thousands of readers and their feedback was always informing the platform. We were all growing up together. Along the way, I realized I didn’t want it to feel too much like a clubhouse. I became more mindful and began to see myself as a big sister facilitating the conversations. For four years, we put out the Rookie Yearbooks, which were 350-page full-color books, filled with the best of the site. I was so specific about the spreads, backgrounds, and fonts. Some of the pages were in my handwriting and scans of my clothes. In a lot of ways, Rookie is a record of me growing up.
I hope that when people read Rookie, they feel seen and heard. I hope they can see themselves reflected back. There’s so much you go through at that age and you don’t always have the words for it. Rookie helped people’s creative expressions. A way of dealing with difficulties is to find something that describes what you’re going through and mirrors how you feel even if you don’t fully understand it. I hope Rookie did that for people and made them feel better.
Figuring out what to focus on
I was able to follow many creative pursuits when the business part of Rookie was easier and when the industry was easier. We also had a bigger team of editors. I could oversee things, but still be in a play or go away for a week to write. It worked for a while. At some point, it stopped working and I wanted to know what it’d be like to be in a play and just be in a play.
Part of figuring out what to focus on was a big part of my guided therapy. My therapist would have me picture my evolved self and have me ask her what her days looked like. I was trying to find a solution for Rookie as a business, was in meetings with investors and potential buyers and was getting a lot of advice. In the midst of all that, I would put Rookie on hold to do a play or manage to get a lot of writing done. I saw that as an indication of what I loved doing and actually needed to do. If you told me I couldn’t write or act again, I would be really sad. That realization helped me decide what to focus my time on.
VC’s, advice, cutting through the noise
The good thing about getting a lot of advice from a lot of people is that it teaches you that there’s no right answer. You begin to understand that people just have different points of view. There are the people who give you career advice and then there are people who give you life advice. For a while, I was meeting with people and just wanted to know what I should do business wise for Rookie. It took me a while to realize that I needed to be having more conversations with my friends and fewer conversations with people who were investors and CEOs. Business people will only tell you to do the next thing because it’s what they know to prescribe. You can’t expect them to ask you if you’re happy. It was helpful to talk with my friends and people who had no skin in the game and didn’t see themselves as a part of my career.
No one knows what they’re doing and a lot of people are trying to give the advice that will make them feel better about what they’ve done. I’ve learned that people are usually trying to justify things they’ve done in their life, or see themselves in you.
A mindset for success
Something that helped me reframe the way I think is a book called Mindset. It is totally a self-help airport book, but a legit one. It teaches you about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. The fixed mindset will make you only want feedback that will tell you that you’re right. If you get feedback that says you’re wrong, you won’t know what to do with it. You’ll feel like a failure. In the growth mindset, you’ll receive feedback as good because learning is good. A growth mindset helps you be more open in taking in everything and not being afraid of disappointments or failure. I try to see changes within my career as part of my path in growing as a person.
I like to look at the playwrights in a room who are working on new plays. They have to change things in front of everyone and an actor will give them feedback saying, “This line doesn’t make sense.” The playwright just has to say, “Okay, let’s talk about it.” This is why I think it’s important to have collaborators that you’re comfortable sharing feedback with. It helps to stay open and be OK with negative feedback, changing things, and adapting rather than just needing to be right all the time.
Over the past few years, I’ve kept a list of all the goals that I have and things I want to accomplish. Some of the items on the list are individual projects I want to work on or people I want to work with. Big picture goals are great, but it’s more important and useful to break goals down to what your days actually look like.
A friend of mine once said, “People aren’t good or bad, they’re either brave or cowardly.”
It made me think differently about how I communicate with people or deal with conflicts. When I’m setting my goals, I know that I can cowardly or I can be brave. It’s up to me what I want to do with challenges.
On process & end results
The last two years have had a quiet hum of anxiety for me. Now that it’s quiet with Rookie, I’m able to see how much I was learning even when I didn’t realize what was happening. I try to trust that even if I’m in a rut, struggling, or just want to jump ahead to a different phase—change is happening. You won’t realize it until later, but when you look back you’ll suddenly realize that you’re stronger. Our instinct and intuition is an algorithm. Your gut has been collecting data about everyone you meet and every decision you’ve made and what feels good versus what doesn’t. When you have a feeling about something, listen to it.
When I’m working on something hard, I try to take myself out of it and know that it is a task. It is my job. There isn’t time for me to sit and wonder if I am capable of it.
Change is long, slow, and hard. If it’s really good work, it will take a lot of editing and revising.
I love to know that I’m living authentically and that I’m doing things that I need to do for myself. It’s how I maintain my self-esteem on a daily basis. I’ll journal, take walks, and not just work like a machine. I need to know that my relationships are in good shape. Connections with other human beings are the most important things in life. I gain a lot of self-esteem and self-worth from my friendships and from other nurturing young women.
High standards vs self compassion
Self-loathing won’t help me do the work that I want to do. Being open and adaptable helps you get things done. If your ego is fragile, maybe you should try doing something different that won’t make you hate yourself. Improvement takes time and you need to be compassionate to yourself all the way through.
Get out of your head. Do immersive things that help you forget yourself.
Fulfillment vs success
I tend to associate success with career success and separate from fulfillment. I’ve had moments where my career is going well while my personal life is not. Sometimes it’s reversed. My therapist once asked me, “What do you need to know when you go to bed every night?” I want to know what I’m grateful for, not worry about work, and know that what I’m doing is making the world a better place. I used to think that I’d start taking care of myself once my career was at a certain place. Now, I take care of myself so that I can sleep better at night.