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Episode #2 Summary
In our chat with Atoosa Rubenstein, we explore how burnout can creep into even the most impressive career — and how authenticity, self-care and real art can save the day. We also get some of the most exciting stories from Atoosa’s time as an editor-in-chief — a peek behind the curtain of a creative mind — and learn how she endeavored to help people by using her work.
Content People: Burnout, Meditation and How To Choose Yourself
Some of today’s best Content People can trace their creative inspiration back to Atoosa Rubenstein. At just 26 years old, Atoosa was editor-in-chief of “CosmoGirl and “Seventeen.” Without her, a lot of the storytellers we enjoy today might never have embraced their natural talents.
And where did all that inspiration come from, you ask? Simple: her letters from the editor. Open, vulnerable and full of the kind of honesty that makes content come to life, these letters kick-started countless impressive careers — including Atoosa’s.
Though she’s no longer editor-in-chief, Atoosa is still telling stories that matter. She’s fearless, guys. And the way she explores sensitive topics — it’s something all content creators can learn from. Atoosa even gives us her secret to avoiding a creator’s worst enemy: burnout. Listen along as we uncover how her personal journey helped illuminate self-care solutions (like journaling) that just make sense:
View on Zencastr
But don’t worry — this isn’t all about work and burnout. We also talk about talent. And friends who backstab you at camp. And brushing your emotional teeth. Oh, and content creation, of course.
Thanks for stopping by. And don’t forget to take a page from Atoosa’s book and tell us the raw, honest truth about the podcast.
More Content for Content People
Atoosa Unedited: Subscribe to Atoosa’s newsletter for a weekly dose of inspiration and honesty.
Atoosa’s TEDx Talk: Watch “Leaving It All to Have It All.”
Donald Robertson: Check out @drawbertson on Instagram.
Julia Cameron: Try Morning Pages to clear out the ol’ pipes.
Brafton: Visit Atoosa’s (self-proclaimed) new best friends for more information and free content.
Hi everyone. Welcome to Content People, a podcast where we talk to smart people about creative work, creative leadership, and their career journeys. This podcast is produced by Brafton. Brafton is a content marketing company powered by a global team of creative professionals and marketing experts.
My name is Meredith Farley. I’m the COO at Brafton. I oversee our creative production and service teams, and I’m here with Ian Servin. Hey, Ian.
Ian’s our creative director of video who’s producing this podcast. Thank you very much for doing that, Ian.
Absolutely. And I think we have a really exciting episode with Atoosa.I read the slate profile that was about her sort of return and I can’t believe we got her on the show.
I know I’m like over the moon. So for those of you who don’t know, Atoosa Rubenstein is the former editor-in-Chief of Seventeen Magazine and the founding editor of Cosmo Girl. She was super young when she did all of that. I think she was 26 or at 26, she became the youngest magazine editor in chief at Hearst over their 100 year history. And then she went on and did really cool stuff. Like she executive produced a MTV series, Miss Seventeen, and now Atoosa has recently launched her own Substack, it’s Atoosa Unedited.
For those of you who knew or were familiar with Atoosa before, she used to write these really vulnerable, honest, incredibly compelling letters from the editor. And I think that really resonated with so many pre-teen and teen girls who were reading those magazines and they felt like they knew her. And I feel like this Substack that she’s working on is like the new version of that.
She was so awesome to talk to and yeah, like what did you think about the conversation?
I thought it was really great. I mean, she not only has this really awesome background, right? She accomplished so much, but she also experienced burnout and that comes with a really compressed sort of initial start to her career.
And so she learned so much from that, but she was also working, you know, at the highest levels of these magazines. And so she also learned a lot about what actually makes really good content. I think her points about shallow versus deep content and what it takes to produce deep content. I think those are great lessons, not just for people working at magazines or, or, you know, digital sites, but you know, any content marketer can really take those to heart.
Yeah. No, I, I totally agree. And so the Slate profile Ian mentioned, we’ll put the link to that in the bio and we can also put the link to her Substack as well. It was, I think the slate profile was maybe last January or around then. I think that’s right. It kind of brought, so Atoosa when she was 35, she retired. I think that’s kinda the burnout you’re talking around too, Ian.
She was like, I’m done. And she kind of left the public eye and the Substack is her kind of step back into a more public figure position. I loved that when we got to talk to Atoosa about TikTok. It is so fascinating to get her perspective on how modern day algorithms, the web search and Google relevance has totally influenced the way that we plan content. And I thought she had really very thoughtful insights and was really open and honest with us about a lot of things.
So I thought it was such a fun conversation. I really hope that you guys all enjoy it and you know, we’re just starting out on our Content People podcast journey and hope you stick with us and that you enjoy our convo with Atoosa.
Hi Atoosa. Thank you so much for joining Content People. I’m really excited to have you on. You meant a lot to me growing up. I was a Cosmo girl, and Seventeen subscriber.
I love that. Thank you.
I was born in New York City, but we moved to upstate New York when I was about five and reading the, you know, getting the magazines, like reading your notes, it felt like unspeakably, unspeakably, like glamorous to me.
…it was the glimpse of the life that I was you know, seeing through the pages, but also your you know, your, your letters every month were so inspiring and felt very real. And I know it wasn’t just me, it was my friends too. We would get them, we would keep the magazines and have them around and I think the Slate article about you last year, toward the end of last year really kind of brought you back into my consciousness a bit. And I, I reflected a bit and I thought, man, I don’t think I’d totally consciously clocked how much you had influenced my thoughts on career and love of content and the thought of being an editor.
And so when you started your Substack, I was super thrilled and I have loved having Atoosa content back in my life.
Aw, that’s so sweet. Thank you.
So thank you so much. And I feel like there is such a very real Atoosa effect. I am not alone in being of the generation of women that you impacted and influenced, like, why do you think you inspire so much devotion and fandom among your readers? Because that’s such a real thing.
That’s so sweet. I mean, I can’t think of it within that context but I can’t deny that there’s an Instagram site that’s popular called Thank you Atoosa right? It’s not called Thank you Valerie. Or Thank you Anne Marie, or Thank you. You know, somebody else who was an editor at the time.
Thank you Anne.
I think that I was probably the first person to almost bring this, like, almost like reality, like we became, we became familiar in time with reality television, but I sort of brought this dose of reality to the magazine space. Because for me too, it was a dream come true.
You know? And that was, that was the context. For me of that life. Like I, you know, there are some people who are always going for the Gold Star and they’re like, I’m gonna be an editor in chief and blah, blah, blah. For me, it had just more of a fantastical, magical quality to it from, from both, from the get-go as a reader reading the magazines, I too thought that they were, they were, they were a very special, magical portal into another world.
For me that was a preferable world than the world that I was growing up in. And then also throughout the process, you know, there wasn’t a moment that I wasn’t kind of having an outer body experience like this is, fucking cool. Like, you know, even when my bosses would ask me to do things like get my dry cleaning, I was like, damn, straight I’m getting your dry cleaning. Cause you’re the best. You know? And so I had that enthusiasm and I think that I communicated that enthusiasm when I became an editor-in-chief to the girls in a kind of a real way, as opposed to pretending to be a grownup, because I was also 26. You know, the other editors in chief were the age I am today, they were real grownups with families and this and that, and I was just like, felt still like Cinderella at the ball and that that energy was probably contagious.
Yeah. Gosh, that makes so much sense because as you’re talking, I’m thinking you, well, what you say about reality tv, kind of starting around the same time like maybe everyone was kind of like starting to maybe, well it’s funny, I don’t wanna say reality TV is authenticity, but the idea of like, yeah, we wanted something more real and like a peek behind the curtain.
And you, you were so much, you were so you, we could feel your enthusiasm. And to your point, it was, you know, it wasn’t like super curated already living and feeling part of, and taking for granted like the, the awesome lifestyle of like really, you know, people who’d been doing the job for 30 years. Like that, that realness came through.
I don’t even think they shared their lifestyle, you know, like when I was a fashion editor. So prior to your, me being sort of in your ether I remember they would put me in fashion stories That was very unusual. Today, when you look at the back of People Magazine, you often see Andrea who’s like, I think the beauty director, like all of those girls giving their favorite products, their favorite clothes, their ideas.
That shit wasn’t happening back then. So in like the late nineties when Cosmo was kinda putting me in their fashion stories and naming me, that also helped kind of build my star and my mystique even within the industry. You know, so like the kind of the making of the it girl, and you wanna know who actually started that whole thing with me is, do you know the artist Donald Robertson? He’s very big on Instagram.
He’s like huge. I think they call, it’s like Donald Drawbertson is his Instagram name, but he, at the time, he’s huge now, was the creative director of Politico. And he just like, kind of saw me one day and was like, you, and he likes to say he discovered me in the fashion closet.
But he did, he put me in front of the camera and then from there, you know, everything took off.
Wow. We can look him up and throw his Instagram in the show notes. That’s really cool. I think, I mean, and also I know in, in your communications and letters to the readers, you are, you were so vulnerable and it felt very, you know, you shared like, that you showed pictures, like you were like, I am not the perfect, like like the glamorous person we saw wasn’t your history and you were so sharing about that. And I think it helped people feel connected to you and in your Substack. I feel like you’ve been so, what feels to me like so raw in a way that’s very generous. I’m curious back then and now, do you ever feel nervous or unsure before you hit send?
Yeah. Like, you know, back then when you were younger and I was younger you know, I certainly had awareness of things in my life that I wasn’t sharing, right? Whether it was incest from my childhood or the adultery frankly, that I was experiencing as an editor in chief.
But I wasn’t ready to share it. And it also I don’t know that the incest would’ve been above everybody, the, the audience’s head, but it was a lot. And I’m not sure that that’s at that age. I don’t know that it would’ve, it was, it was certainly, I was not ready to share any of it. And so what feels so beautiful and sort of like so much organicity to it is that now that you are older and you can hear my truth I can also share it.
You know, I both have the sort of emotional musculature to share it and you have the emotional musculature to receive it and, and, and hopefully share back within the community. But no, nothing’s ever been hard. Things have been sticky. Like, like a funny story I’ll tell you from when you were a teenager.
I remember like one of our first issues of Cosmo girl, I wrote about how this friend of mine totally backstabbed me and I go into detail and my kids, I have now a teenager and nine year olds, and they love this story of how this girl just totally screwed me over at camp. She was my best friend and I wrote it in the thing and literally, Like the week before the issue came out, this girl reaches out to me after many, many, many years. I mean, we were 12 years old last time I talked to her saying, you were my best friend. You were this, you were that. I was like, oh shit this story might feel familiar to you. I never heard from her again.
I still think of her and I still hope to one day reconnect. But now that, anyway, so yes. No, I never, and in fact, next week, I mean now that we’re, you know, we’re talking about Rob, Rob Wade, and that’s so, so much in the news. You know, there is like, I, I did terminate a pregnancy while I was working and I was pregnant in one of the most famous pictures of. Like the ones that is like all over like that, it’s kind of like one of the pictures people use when they’re writing about me and I was pregnant and with a baby that, you know, I did not take the term. And so in kind of like thinking about that now, like that’s a really dicey subject, right? Nobody knows this.
Literally nobody knows except for my best, best friend, one friend. So I don’t feel scared, but I definitely wanna do the story justice.
Yeah. Is it something that you feel like you are interested to explore like through your Substack, through your communication?
Yeah. Yeah. I’ll write about it in this week’s Substack. So Sunday my, my, in this moment, my expectation is it will be on that topic, it will be kind of about that picture and maybe what was going on for me. And, and just to kind of explore, you know, the importance of choice and also the place for grief in our society in general. So, you know, for me it’s always like, it’s not quite, so it always goes on a little bit of a path. Emotionally, I haven’t explored it yet, but when we get off, that’s what I’ll be doing.
Wow. Yeah. Well I think that it’s, it’s interesting what you say about kind of, you know, maybe people my age who are older now and kind of come along with you and are more in a place to receive those stories and the truth of your experience there. I feel like it’s really meaningful and cathartic in a lot of ways for a lot of different people to hear you be so honest about these. Difficult and painful, but very real and not singular experiences in some ways.
I do feel like part of, you know, one of the issues with this particular topic is everybody wants to support the rights, you know, but nobody kind of wants to say, Hey, I had this happened to me and here’s why. And I feel like it’s within the personal stories and, and you know you know, how, how could someone like me get into a position like that?
Like I was very successful. I was smart. It wasn’t like I was a teenage girl who didn’t know any better, but like, when you kind of take the history of abuse and you know, the different ways that I was anesthetizing myself and, you know, what would my, you know, just the many things that would’ve been impacted had I kept that pregnancy.
I mean, I just think it’s, I think it’s a complicated issue and I think if we can all share our complexities with each other as a society in general, not just on this topic, on all topics you know, there’s, there’s just, I think there could be so much more just compassion for each other and acceptance and, and I hope, you know, peace and freedom within that.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think one thing I really appreciate about a lot of what you’ve been writing and putting out there is that. , you’re not you know, it’s, it’s not black and white. It’s, you’re not creating heroes and villains of your history or the experiences that you had. You’re being incredibly honest about what you feel was like your, you know, I don’t know, word I’m looking for, but kind of your role in your personal history but also really in an inspiring way, talking too about how you are kind of embracing self-love and compassion for everything that you survived and went through. And I think it’s such a, I find it healing to read some of these things myself just because it’s very. . I, I think so often, well, I don’t wanna say so often, no, but like historically as a culture we’ve treated, or a society, we tend to treat things as so black and white.. you know, I was wrong here, they were wrong there, et cetera. And you really bring compassion, love, and acceptance of ambiguity to a lot of topics in, in a, a really thoughtful way.
Is that something you do consciously?
I believe that, I mean, you know how many people, like when you think about the way partners fight, you know, whether they’re married or just in a relationship, there’s always like, somebody like wants to win, like somebody has to win. And really we’re all right because we’re bringing to the table all of our woundings, however large or small. And if we can make space for all of our respective woundings I think we can just have compassion and. And respect for one, one another. And I feel like that’s just what I’ve learned. You know, I’m 50 years old, I’ve gone through my share of life and there’s plenty more ahead and not just, what I’ve learned is that everything is complex.
You know, there are no heroes and villains, you know, when I talk about my perpetrator for, you know, for the incest that I survive, like I have so much compassion for him. Cause who does that? You know, only somebody who’s very, very hurt and you know, is also a victim of the ancestral family. Woundings, you know, we’re all, we are all survivors of our woundings and if we can just kind of make space for those, the tenderness. Not just our own, not only sort of armoring to protect our tenderness, but, but to have kind of reverence for each other’s tenderness.
I guess it isn’t, I’m not doing it. I never do anything to teach, like I don’t see myself as a teacher, but, you know, it’s definitely something I’ve learned. So, you know, I’m definitely modeling it. I definitely model it.
Yeah. One thing, and I feel like I’m going down a slightly different line of questioning than I’d initially had, but I’m really curious about is that one thing I feel like both in professional environments and in personal life, can, I think, be difficult to navigate is empathy, understanding, and compassion for why someone did what they did, but also the appropriate amount of like boundaries and helpful anger for yourself. What’s your approach to that?
Well, I think the most important thing is just mindfulness. Like when you’re in your body You know, you can navigate both in terms of your own woundings and what your comfort level is, which is like, you know, the healthy boundaries that you’re talking about too. But also just be present with what’s over there. I think a lot of times when we’re not present, which most people unfortunately aren’t, because as a culture, we’re very uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. And in some ways we’re uncomfortable being uncomfortable emotionally, but we’re very comfortable being uncomfortable.
Like with the external piece, like meaning we’re taught at a young age. You go to school, nobody fucking likes school, right? But you have to sit there and like, oh, you have to do your work even though you don’t wanna do homework. Like at a young age, you’re kinda taught to ignore your own limits in some ways. And yet but, but don’t communicate your hurt. You know, don’t communicate your discomfort. So we just get all of these really mixed signals as young people that I think is important to t just sort of detangle as we get older. And for me, you know, there’s no magic bullet in every situation. First do this, then do that.
But for me, what has been a massive game changer is meditation. And people say, oh, I meditate. But what they mean is I meditate. Like sometimes , you know, like I’ve tried it. I try to, but meditation as a daily practice has completely altered how I show up in every situation in my life. Can I give you an example?
So Last weekend I did this TED talk, right? TEDx talk, and before the whole shebang started. The whole cast, meaning all the speakers are on stage, they’re like, so there’s a finale song and we’re all gonna, it’s like song about joy and we’re all gonna sing the song. We’re clapping and we’re holding hands. Now you and I don’t know each other that well. That sounds like the, my biggest nightmare come true. Ok. I’m like horrified, like, I’m like, I still have a part of me that, you know, like has to have like a little bit of a cool, you know, so like this idea of being like, yeah, joy, you know, blah, blah, blah. Like on stage, like, I dunno, like, and I said, and so I was in this position once. Years ago at a Planned Parenthood thing I was getting an award at, and Natalie Merchant, who’s one of my all-time heroes, pulls me on stage to sing with the rest of the honorees. And I was like holding her hand still thinking, can I die right now?
It was like, the worst. I have PTSD from it. And so I pulled them aside and I was very proud of myself. I was like, so I’m not gonna be doing this. And they were like, and I didn’t take a mean way. And they were just like, but everyone’s doing it, including like the celebrity and everyone’s doing it. I’m like, that’s great for everyone. I’m not doing this because I don’t feel comfortable. And like they just were like, and I was like, I just had to sit with that. I was like, that’s it. Then so I was feeling very proud of myself and then I. Heard one of the other speakers and he was a refugee. And he was talking about being othered, you know, that when he was in Africa he was othered cause he was gay.
When he came here within the gay community, he was othered. Cause he’s a refugee within the refugee community. He’s othered cause he’s gay within the black community. He’s othered because he’s African. You know, like all of other, and I realized like, holy shit. Cause of the meditation practice, because of my sort of embodiment as I’m listening to him speak, I said, oh, I really relate to this idea of other, I’ve always related to it.
I’m othering myself by not being part of this community at the end. Wow. It’s like, I’m so scared. Of not fitting in and not being that kind of like Lucy goosey joyful person, cuz I still am like a little fashiony inside that’s not, that’s like the opposite kinda vibe. Yeah. And I said, I’m othering myself.
And so my first thought was, okay, next time I’ll make a different choice. But again, I’m still present. I’m embodied, I’m staying with myself. And I was like, well, the opportunity is this time. This is the next time. And so I found the girl at right before the finale, and I was like, I’m sorry, I, I really sat with it and I’ve changed my mind.I’m gonna do it now. The story isn’t, I did it and my gosh, I’m going on tour now. I’m joining a gospel choir. This is my future. No, I was un, I was uncomfortable, but I felt comfortable in the step I was taking on behalf of myself and my own growth and not othering myself because I’ve been othered or cause I felt othered, not like allowing this trauma from my past to just be shifted a little bit and for me to have a little control over it as opposed to it having control over me.
And so that’s like a very different story than what you are asking me about, but it what it is, the connection is embodiment. And when we can be as embodied as possible, and that’s not always easy. You know then we can really both hold our boundaries in a healthy way and also have compassion and empathy for whomever we’re in community with and show up for them.
And I actually believe meditation is the magic bullet.
I love that story. Thank you so much for sharing it. And I like too that it’s like, it’s a two step process where first you’re, I think you’re, you’re in your body. You’re like, what are my boundaries? I’m not gonna force myself to, I would feel the same. I’d be like, please God, anything to not do that. And then you like, sit with it further and dig deeper and really listen and then kind of actually, you know, step out of those boundaries a little bit. That’s, I mean, it’s beautiful
I’m sure you’ve heard of IFS, like it’s a kind of therapy, Internal family systems. It’s gotten very hot now, but it’s like the kind of therapy I’ve always done, like when I was working as well. And so, you know, basically, cause I went through it with my therapist afterward and, and the way he kind of broke it down was like, first I advocated for my young part that was afraid. And by advocating for that young part, I kind of was like, it’s okay, Atoosa. Like I got you. And then like a more grownup part was able to come out and kind of hear him, hear the guy that was speaking about, about his othering. And then an older part was able to then advocate for, you know, the sort of the place that I wanna be heading toward, which is not necessarily being led by my wounded parts.
And ultimately that’s, that happens so much at the office, right? Like, I mean, people just step on our wounded parts and then we’re just like, it, you know, turns into this stuff that is just you know, my wounding versus your wounding. And, and I do think that I think that for me, meditation, like I, I didn’t meditate when I was working at all. This meditation practice is kind of new. It’s like within the past six months. And it’s been a game changer.
So yeah. I mean, the inner child work, I totally agree. I, I try to do a bit of it and I, I agree with you that our inner children are, you know, I think there’s like authority figures, structures, bosses, and those parental archetypes trigger us so easily. And I’ve found that to be helpful too. So, so what kind of meditation do you do? Is it transcendental or guided?
I tried that. I tried everything. Like I did that, like you paid $1,200 and you get your mantra. And by the way, almost yeah, almost everybody I’ve ever met, like, who’s been naughty enough like me to share their mantra and have the same mantra as me. I don’t wanna, shit, I don’t wanna shit on it. Because it works for a lot of people. For whatever reason, it didn’t work for me. So I, it’s, I’m more in like a sort of mindfulness based, so like Tara Brach, like Jack Kornfield, Jack Kornfield is like my North Star. So, you know, every day, like today I did it, it could be different ways. Like I, I might do like. 30 minute guided meditation with Jack from his website. Today there was a particular one I wanted to do, but it was only 11 minutes. So then I sat an additional 20 minutes in silence. But the most important thing to me is it’s like this little tweak.
A lot of people talk about how you get, just gotta make room for it. Like you’re doing something like eating your broccoli when you hate broccoli. And for me, I do it consistently every day because it feels so good. I don’t mean afterward during it, all of it, it feels almost like a orgasmic experience of just being free inside of myself. It, there kind of isn’t a better part of my day.
I mean, I love seeing my children, but on a selfish level, like that time inside of me with just complete freedom and no tethers to anybody it’s a gift that I give myself every day. And, and if you, if we can just see it as that it’s a massage, it’s not broccoli.
It’s like brushing your teeth for your inside of you, you know, like you would never not brush your teeth. If I even look at my kids without brushing my teeth in the morning, they’re like, get outta my face. So like, that’s like the first thing I do is obviously brush my teeth and then the first thing I do for my inner life is meditate.
Meredith: I meditate as well. I’ve only in the past few months gotten like, really into it. I keep a tracker and I just give myself a little check mark for the day. I find satisfaction there and I’ve also found it really transformative, but you’re inspiring me to be even more disciplined about it. I know you also do your morning pages, right?
You know, I’ve actually taken a break from the morning pages, because there’s only so much you can do. And I feel like as my meditation practice has gotten deeper I haven’t had the space to do the morning pages. But I find that the morning pages are really helpful for me and spurts of time, like when I have a lot going on. Because it just is like an emptying of the pipes, you know? And I just feel like right now I don’t need them.
Like I remember there was a time that I had found out my husband had cheated on me. I happened to have been doing, this is years and years ago to, to over 10 years ago, 12 years ago. And I happened to be doing morning pages at the time. Oh my God. It was so helpful when I’ve gone through breakups. Oh my God. So helpful. Now what I do is I just have my morning page’s notebook around and whenever I feel something’s clogging the pipes. I’ll just like pull it out and just start doing it spontaneously.
Wow. Yeah, I mean, it’s a great tool and for anyone listening who doesn’t know, it’s, I think it’s Julia Cameron who wrote The Artist Way. She’s a huge proponent of three long hand pages first thing. Oh my gosh. Yeah, that’s the book. Atoosa is holding up the book. . It’s an awesome, an awesome tool, and maybe we can link to it in the show notes for anyone who’s Oh, yeah, sure. What we’re talking about.
And she also does, you know, I did a 16 week workshop with her and she does those online now, and that is also really something because yes, of course it’s very easy to do these pages yourself every morning, but to do it with her. And she, she’s a real interesting, eccentric character. She will teach other different things and all of the things I learned from her are like little tools that I just pull outta my toolkit when I need them. And they’re just wonderful.
Meredith: Oh my gosh, I am gonna check that out. I really like Russell Brand’s podcast and she was a guest on it. And yeah, I have listened to that episode like three or four times. She also really advocates for going on walks, like the idea that you listen to podcast or music, you’re kind of transporting yourself to the artist consciousness and you need to stay with your own self. Yes. Which I found so awesome at times and also awful at other times. I’m like, I wanna be anywhere but hanging out with just myself?
We used to do that. She called it the artist’s walk. But you know, now how I’ve transformed that, like again, knowing that she gave me this great toolkit and then I kind of make it my own. Like now with the artist pages, sometimes I will do ’em in the morning, other times, like I can pull out my notebook and show you that too, it’s all right here, but I go for a walk with my best friend David almost every day. And that walk, he’s a chaplain. So, you know, we talk about the kind of things that you and I are talking about now at, at length and in depth, but also it’s about awe, you know, like seeing Central Park in its different colors and its different stages, seeing people.
And so we really are kind of present with what we see and, and to be able to share that with each other is just so beautiful.
Wow. I’m finding your practice as very inspiring
You know, because a lot of times people your age, and I was like this as well you put your output before your input. Right? And so you have a big job and you have to perform at that job. And, and that is tied up into also your own self-esteem, right? And, then you fit in your input. When you can. And what I’ve learned now as a 50 year old is the input, meaning the things we do to nourish ourselves must come first and then do we have time for X, Y, Z?
Because what I learned having been, you know, when I was a younger your age and, and out in the world career wise, I remember thinking. People would be so surprised that I was very successful. Like I had so much output. I’d be like, I’m leading a show on mtv and I was constantly output, output, output.
And, and, and I just would look at other editors in chief at all magazines. I’d be like, why are you not as prolific? Well, because they valued their lives, you know, and their careers ultimately ended up being far longer than mine because I completely burnt out. And so, you know, I, I don’t know what their practices were, so I’m not necessarily talking about them per se, but just for me, what I value now is my wellbeing and my wellbeing, my friends, I need to be in nature and I need to have like a significant relationship with my internal life, which meditation gives me. And so those three things have to happen. And if they don’t happen, then I can’t write my Substack, I can’t even commit to lunch with somebody. That might be a great opportunity or whatever.
So that’s just, you know, it’s something to think about. And I, and I even put socializing outside of best friends in the category of output because going to social events is so draining. I got invited to something this Friday by a very kind of well known person in New York, and she was like, oh, this person and that person, you know, it’ll be so good for you to be in this, you know, and, and you know, yes, it would be, you know, I’ll be in the New York Post if I go to that, you know, like they’ll, that’ll, that’s what’s gonna happen in a good way.Hopefully not in a bad way. And cause I’ve been in the post in a bad way too, but I’m going through a divorce right now and so I have a lot of my feelings are very kind of tender and I don’t have time in my Friday to do that. I have to do my self care. So, and you know, I say that when I say no and people, you know, it’s a little weird.
People think it’s a little weird when I say things like that. But, you know, it keeps me on point with what’s important to me.
Yeah. I think it’s so interesting was when you say that, it’s like, oh my God, I can imagine, I mean, I’m not being invited to those names, but I can imagine the putting all of these you know, marquee names and PR opportunities, they feel so huge. And so choosing yourself over them, like I imagine making a habit of that, you learn that you are more important than all, even all of those things that other, that, well, the inner child,
Right. The inner child knows. She’s scared right now. She has a lot of feelings of fear because of the transitions and like, we’re not gonna make her go, you know, like maybe we made her go to school for all those years and we made her go to, you know, piano practice once you didn’t want to, but we’re not gonna do that anymore.
Wow. Well, I kind of, I wanna transition a little bit in line with what you’re talking on about burnout. I think a lot of women my age, I’m 35, are having a bit of a rethink about how they approach work and life in line with what you’re talking about. And for me, gen Z, this younger generation, like slightly questioning and rebelling against the stuff you mentioned. Hustle culture, the girl boss ethos… it’s interesting. It’s pushing boundaries and perspectives for me, and I’m really, how do you think women’s perspectives on work are changing now? And I know that that was somewhat, I you know, the girl, the concept of girl boss and hustle culture.
I know some of what you touched on your Ted talk a little bit too. I’m really interested to get your thoughts and perspective on what’s happening right now.
I think that that’s, that was exactly the, you know, that was, I, I experienced this, you know, I left my career at the height because it was completely untenable to me. And I recently reconnected with my therapist from back then and, and it had been many years and, and I’d almost forgotten how bad it felt inside. And then when I talked to him, he remembered and he was just like, do you remember, like, you didn’t even, you felt uncomfortable when you were outside and like walking to an appointment cause you felt like you were not being productive. Like you felt like you’d get in trouble. Like you were not, you know, like it was almost like he, I mean he called it agoraphobia and cuz I was filled with so much fear when I wasn’t like doing output and like kind of creating something.
And yeah, I mean I think that what I hear, and you know, I’m unlike you, I’m not in the, you know, in a corporate culture, to be witnessing it firsthand. I can understand that the kind of hustle culture that I was, one of the like OGs of, you know, of just like we work around the clock, you can do it, you could be anything you wanna be at what cost, you know, literally never really addressed at what cost. Right? I left in order to address at what cost.
But I think that, you know, these younger people are coming into the workforce and they’re seeing a mess. And my guess, they’re thinking, this doesn’t feel right. You know, this doesn’t seem appropriate. And I think all of us, because of the pandemic had to reevaluate. Because even moms who don’t have jobs participate in hustle culture in some ways, right?
They, they hustle their kids like going from Mandarin class to horseback riding, to tennis, to, you know, and then when all of that was stripped away and there was probably so much more peace and feelings of freedom despite the, you know, kind of some of the horrible stuff that was also happening in, in terms of people’s health.
That must have felt like a relief. So, yeah, I just, I mean, one of the biggest points I, I guess I make in my TED talk is that like, you know, we talk about the great resignation and I see like TikTok videos about like how to be a freegan. Like how to, how to retire by age 30. You can be a freegan, you can be a this, you can be a that. And I, and I would just say, well, how about we just stopped defining our self worth through our output? How about we start there for ourselves, you know? And. And I could have done that had I known that I didn’t know, like I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know why I was hustling. I didn’t know that I was kind of being chased by you know, kind of trauma from my childhood.
You know, I had to kind of pull all of that apart and understand how I got there. But once I did, I realized that, you know, I didn’t necessarily need to leave my job. I could have taken better care of myself while I was in it. And so I think that, I mean, that is certainly the great opportunity and I think if enough people do it, we will hopefully shift that hustle culture within companies too.
Yeah. And it’s when, when you’re talking about feeling a little stressed, walking outside, like mm-hmm. , every now and then we’re fully remote. Like, if I walk around the corner to a cafe and get a coffee in between meetings, I feel I have to, I recognize that I feel guilty. I’m like, that’s crazy but I’ve got this kind of feeling of I need to be available if someone has question, Gchat, et cetera, like, you know, you’re, you’re a bad manager or lazy if you’re not there for it during the workday, which is, you know, insane.
And I think a lot of that comes from our childhood and kind of being forced into school and forced to pay attention, forced to really attend. And I think it’s like it’s trauma. And it does show up. And if we can just name it and just acknowledge that we feel it I think that’s big. Cause I never named it, you know, I never I I just felt it and I assumed there was something wrong with me.
And I think one thing I’m really somewhat related to and really curious for your thoughts on is I like this, this incredibly fast-paced digital age that we’re living in, where everyone is connected and there’s so much content and info coming at us all the time. One thing, kind of like even just thinking about and preparing for this meeting, I was remembering what a tactile experience content used to be for me. Like I would wait, you know, I’d be excited for the magazines to come and sometimes I’d look in the mailbox and they wouldn’t be there that day and I’d be like, ah, maybe tomorrow. Mm-hmm. and then like, if it was like really hot or cold that day, like the magazines are hot or cold and then you’re like paging through them for the whole month and revisiting and re-looking at these same articles and photographs and now an article or any image is just like, you know, it’s so fleeting. It has a shelf life of hours and, and content has changed so much. It’s changing our brains, I think. But like, what do you see as, what am I trying to ask? I guess like, do you think there is an ethical way forward around content creation and consuming that’s gonna like, keep our nervous systems regulated so that we are not you know, we’re not out there freaking out, staring at our phones, looking at 18 articles on the way to grab a cup of coffee every day? I know. That’s a lot.
And even, and even like hurting our necks, I mean yes. Like that’s like a real thing, right? For me it’s I think that right now we have a great opportunity. Content is not only fleeting, it is very low quality. There is an art form to everything. You know, there is an art form to photography, there is an art form to, I mean, everything, right? Everything has has, there is mastery. and the people that have achieved mastery and content for the most part, are not part of the content game right now because content is being created by everyday people. Yeah. And I think that there is something really cool about that, and there’s a place for that.
You know, there was a time when, you know, like my thought and my vision always was, and, and technology quite wasn’t quite there when I was there, but is to sort of have a have like that sort of higher level, like having all the fact checkers and copy editors, you know, really, and, and reporters, experienced skilled reporters creating work and then having community that is vibrant. And so now what’s happened is it’s just the community part pretty much.
And so like somebody was telling me like, this is kinda related, but different, like they were doing an ad campaign photo shoot, and the makeup artist was an influencer. And, and you know, makeup artists, like when you look at the makeup artists that were very big when you were younger, that might not not have been on your radar, but like the Kevyn Aucoins of the world, I mean, these were artists, you know what I mean? They had vision and now it’s kinda like if you can make a TikTok video and then they just kind of retouch it, you know what I mean? And it, it’s just everything has just kind of sunk a few levels down. So I think that there is a huge opportunity to create very well curated content. It requires someone with money and a vision and courage to do it.
Unfortunately the major media companies are very fear-based. Their business just got eaten up and so now they’re also in the algorithm game. And the, the, the folks who know how to hire top talent and have had top talent in the past are now just hiring kind of middle management to just kind of keep things going as opposed to, like, when I was hired they gave me full reign to do whatever I wanted. And some of that stuff was like, I created a sticker page. Right? That’s like, expensive. Very expensive. It was like a hundred thousand dollars a month investment on their part, but it really brought in the reader. So that was like, that was great. But I also ran pictures of vaginas because I felt it was really important for girls to know what their equipment looks like.
Yeah. And they were surprised by that and Walmart and Albertson didn’t like that they pulled it off their shelves, but still it was something, you know, it was, it was, it was a point of view. It was directional at the time. Now, you know, goop does it all the time, maybe, but at the time it was very unusual.
And nobody’s doing anything unusual now except for being a train wreck. And I don’t mean it in a mean way. Like if somebody is a train wreck where they have something terrible that’s happened, then we’ll address it. Like when Jeff Bezos sends around a picture of his junk and it gets on the internet, you know what I mean? But like there isn’t that kinda this about something really powerful that’s being created with intention. Not for young people or I don’t think for women either. I don’t get any magazines. I’m not pressed on like, I have to see x, y, Z website. I just feel like I’m eating pirate booty all day, kind of looking at Instagram, hoping for something to touch me in some way, but nothing does.
As you’re talking, I’m thinking about how, kind of like, TikTok, for example, is like the perfect dopamine addiction, short circuit. Like it’s short, there’s something unexpected at the end. The next thing comes up right away. And it’s like our baser circuitry is so stimulated and in there but then that kind of like are more conscious when that is what is served. Our greater self is not really engaged or inspired in the same way. And it’s hard though, like how do companies, you know, when you’re competing with how to short circuit users attention, how do you engage folks with deeper but slightly more challenging higher barrier gear to entry ideas?
We fucking sit down at a meeting with high level people. And we come up with a goddamn plan. You know what I mean? Like, it’s like no one’s even having that conversation because they’re just like, oh, I mean like when I went up, this is the way. Yeah. When I think about my own experiences with content, you know, I remember being a senior in college. I went to Barnard and like just like sitting around flipping a magazine and one day I saw something called cutting, like self-injury. I had never heard of it. I was a cutter. I thought I was the only person in the world who did this. Like you know how you have some weird thing you might do with your nail or you might take your toes and you think nobody else does it. Imagine like you then come to this thing and you’re like, oh shit, this is the thing. Why do people do it? I’m reading it. I’m reading it. Incest. Incest. What’s incest? Now? I don’t grow up with the internet. There’s no internet at this point. Incest. That word sounds familiar. I’ve heard incest. Incest. I go to literally the Miriam Webster dictionary my brother gave me for high school graduation. I look up incest. I’m like, holy shit, that happened to me. You know what I mean? And so like I’m having this massive life-changing moment that both clarified what I would do for the rest of my life, that I would want to create those moments for other people in a very thoughtful way. And. Began my own healing journey.
And that was because of a group of editors who sat at a table and wanted to help their audience. And they weren’t thinking about how do I get enough clicks? They weren’t thinking about, you know, I sat down with my team every day and anytime I heard any bullshit that was like, oh, In Style did this, I’m like, I told you a picture of a girl. This girl, you know, this girl needs us and let’s go read. What is she up to? They would start their day reading, for 30 minutes, letters from our audience to really understand like, how do you be in the headspace of this girl?
Because we weren’t right. We were grownups, young grownups, but still grownups. And so, you create from there, think about the thoughtfulness that goes into that, you know, as opposed to like, today it’s like, There’s no thoughtfulness. I looked at one fucking cat video on Instagram and sent it to my boyfriend, and then suddenly my entire feed is cat videos. Right? It’s like, okay.
Like I just needed that one. You know, that, and, and it reminds me of, and we’ve talked about this in my, I think maybe in my, maybe I haven’t, but this is important to know, like when I was creating the magazines, we would have focus groups, right? And we’d also have monthly focus groups sort of surveys that we would do with our research department.
And without fail, whatever came up as the number one celebrity in our magazine research and in focus groups that readers said they want would be the lowest selling cover. The highest selling cover would be somebody not even on the list. Because really like, I mean, users today, we call them users. Back then we called them readers. Readers want what they don’t know they want yet. They don’t, they don’t even know. You know what I mean? So like, I remember Anne Hathaway was very highly rated as somebody because she was in a movie, maybe Princess Diaries or something. And all the girls were kinda interested in her. And we bumped her for a cover and did Mary Kate and Ashley, they’d never been on a cover before of anything other than it was the beginning of the Mary Kate and Ashley that we then became like fashion icons and whatever. Oh my God. That issue sold so well. And like, I remember the publicist of Anne Hathaway was like, how could you bump her?
You know, at one point I thought it was about Reese Witherspoon, but it was about the Olsen twins. How could you bump her for them? Like people wanted that. And so if we go just by algorithm, Not only are we not doing a service like coming from like a heart-based place, but when you’re not doing a service, then you’re just a fucking, you’re just like a, a folly, you know what I mean? Like TikTok is only as big as the folly and, and when I created a magazine for a few years and all these years later, you care about me and you care about me because I cared about you. And that was a relationship. And that is how we build brands, it’s not just by like, what is our short-term gain and how can we get the most number of clicks? Or how can I have the most number of followers? I don’t have the most number of followers, but my fucking followers, like, I’ll tell you. Like when we see each other on the street, we cry because they changed my life and I changed their life. And that’s just real.
And there is an opportunity for that. There is, it’s not about necessarily me doing it, maybe it’s one of you guys doing it in your, in your age group. But there is an opportunity to really be in community in the way we’re all hungry for. And so it’s really, it’s gonna take somebody like, look at this fucking Elon Musk. Right? I mean, I love him because he made my car and I love my car. But I mean, spent all that money buying Twitter. We just, who says it matters to be in connection, in community of service? We can do better than clickbait. Somebody with money’s gotta do it cuz this shit doesn’t happen for free.
I’m feeling really inspired by what you’re saying. I feel like even going back to where you started with, just like you are like, what is cutting? Oh my God. What? Like my, I feel like my heart is pounding. Even just thinking about that moment and then thinking about a time where, I don’t know, not like a dark ages before the internet, but where information was harder to come by.
Good information is still hard to come by. No. Yeah. And I know, cause I have a 13 year old who’s constantly trying to do recipes from TikTok and they don’t work cause it’s not good content.
And it’s like when you talk about service and like service, wisdom sharing, curation and kind of the alchemy of like, how can I connect with what people wanna be connected with about, I also think that what you’re talking about, like not to shade TikTok-ers, but it’s kind of taking, it’s like, I’m gonna take your, your attention, your dopamine, your circuits for being my follower.
Right at the end. It’s like follow and share. Follow and share. Follow and share. Yeah. We never asked you to follow and share, you know what I mean? We just tried to do a good job for you and I think all the magazines back in the day do, and, and I just think that there is that opportunity to give instead of take and, and will, will require I think somebody with an appetite and, and deep pockets to, to fund it, honestly. Yeah.
Well, I know we’re at time and I am so grateful Atoosa, I feel like I’m gonna be riding on thinking about what you shared for the next few weeks. Like I, so if people want to follow you right now and wanna engage with you and your content, where do you wanna direct them toward?
Atoosa: I mean, you know, like a lot of people, I’m on Instagram, it’s just my full name, Atoosa Rubenstein. But where, you know, I do, my work is on Substack so it’s atoosa.com and I have a weekly letter that yeah, that feels, you know, very much like the grownup version of the editors’ letters I used to write back then.
And I’ve loved them. I will include both of those in the show notes. And thank you.
Thank you so much. This was such a fun conversation. I’m so glad that you are out there doing what you’re doing and talking about these things, like thank you so much, Atoosa.
You’re welcome. Thank you so much.
All right everyone. We hope you enjoyed our chat with Tusa. We’ll be coming to you next week with an interview with Cliff Stevens.
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