Aminatou Sow’s Work Diary: ‘It’s Not a Dirty Word. I Want to Be Rich!’
Posted November 30, 2018 2:56 p.m. EST
“I don’t think there’s a title for what I do” is how Aminatou Sow, 33, describes her career, which takes many forms. Certainly, she is best known for hosting “Call Your Girlfriend,” a podcast devoted to sprawling conversations with her friend and collaborator Ann Friedman. Its popularity, with 6.1 million downloads in 2017, led to a live tour that sold out shows in New York, Washington, San Francisco and Boston this fall, and the pair are writing a book, “Big Friendship,” for release in 2020.
But Sow, who lives in Brooklyn and speaks five languages, also works as a digital consultant and strategist for brands such as Smartwater and State Farm. Previously, she was at Google, running marketing for the company’s civic initiatives. She also moderates panels and does live interviews with public figures, including Hillary Clinton and gymnast Aly Raisman, and she co-founded Tech LadyMafia, a network that links women working in the digital economy.
When Sow is pressed to come up with one single job title that encompasses all she does, she looks back at the last year, figures out what category of work made her the most money, and says she is that. Last year, that made her a digital strategist. This year, her work for brands is dovetailing with the increasingly public role she has developed via “Call Your Girlfriend,” which means she’s becoming that thing everyone under the age of 40 would probably like to be: an influencer. (She appears in the documentary “RBG,” about Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, after helping to popularize the meme “Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth.”) We connected earlier this fall, just before her podcast tour began.
6 a.m. I’m usually militant about taking Saturday off — it’s the only true weekend day as far as I am concerned. But all summer, I’d been trying to refine a sort of workshop-slash-talk about women’s ambition, and today I finally got a chance to do it at the Wing, the rad women’s co-working space I belong to. At the core, I’m creating space for women to ask questions about ambition, money and power. Female success is complicated. We celebrate lots of individual women for their success, but it’s a whole different beast if you’re seen to be actively seeking power, money or influence.
I’ve been ambitious my whole life. It’s not a dirty word. I want to be rich! I want all the women I know to be rich.
11 a.m. The workshop is sponsored by Smartwater and there’s a photo and video shoot going on throughout.
5:30 p.m. As soon as I get home, I lay on the floor of my apartment to decompress. I roll a joint and listen to this African music+country music mixtape for a few hours. My happiest place.
10 a.m. Since I robbed myself of Saturday, I did zero work on Sunday.
5 a.m. Wake up but stay in bed until 6, before making a scramble and brewing some tea. I don’t drink coffee. I like to wake up to Afrobeats, so that usually comes on the Sonos, but sometimes it’s very ignorant rap. The first thing I do every morning is look at my Gcal to get a sense of what the day looks like.
7 a.m. I’m on autopilot in the mornings and I usually settle into my den slash home office. I leave my computer and phone plugged in here before I go to sleep. My insomnia used to stress me out a lot, but I’m more zen about sleep hygiene these days. No devices in the bedroom.
9:30 a.m. I hate invoicing so much but I use Bonsai and it’s pretty chill. Great for tracking time, projects, expenses and, most importantly, sending reminders to the deadbeat media companies that owe me money.
10:30 a.m. I call my accountant. I need to find a new one because mine is retiring, which is too bad because I love her. She’s an immigrant like me and gives me so much tough love. She is truly appalled at how I handle money, but she also goes out of her way to make sure I don’t end up in IRS jail. And she’s always reminding me that even though the president is a dirtbag, this is a great time to do business through a pass-through entity.
11 a.m. Emails! I just switched over to new Gmail on desktop and it’s terrible. I have to confess, I’ve been using the canned responses and the autocomplete feature and I feel like a serial killer. The canned responses are so cheerful (“Great, thanks!”) and phony (“Thanks, I’ll check it out!”), but ruthlessly efficient.
3 p.m. I sit down to do work related to “Call Your Girlfriend,” the podcast I co-host with my friend AnnFriedman. Every week we call each other to discuss everything from politics to pop culture through a feminist lens. It’s a lot of fun but we are also definitely running a small, profitable media company. We’re going on tour this fall and, even though we have a touring agent for the first time, we’re still writing the live show and I’m chasing down sponsors.
People are afraid of working with their friends, but I love it. It keeps me more honest and motivated.
6 p.m. I walk away from the computer and make dinner. My brain is pretty fried, so I stay in and read. (“Petit Piment,” by Alain Mabanckou.)
9 a.m. Today is stacked with doctor appointments: oncology follow-ups and therapy and soooooo much anxiety. Late last year, I had endometrial cancer diagnosed, and even though I am technically in remission, I have a zillion appointments to stay on top of. It feels like a full-time job.
10 a.m. I head over to the psychiatrist to discuss my meds. I’ve dealt with depression/anxiety most of my adult life but medical menopause has made that a bit tougher to navigate. I used to be weirdly Christian Scientist about taking medicine — not even Advil for headaches — but now I have seen the light. Shout out to SSRIs and benzodiazepines. I know very few people who don’t struggle with mental health issues, so I am unapologetically open about my own. There is no shame. I’m a productive member of society with a couple of broken neurotransmitters. Not to be all Ina Garten about it, but if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought are fine.
1 p.m. I do some work at a bar in SoHo and it takes my mind off cancer. I’m in conversation with Rebecca Traister at the New York Public Library tonight, and for the first time in a long time, I’m nervous about moderating an event. She’s a good friend but I’ve also been reading her for over a decade, and she’s shaped so much of my thinking about feminism, power and politics. It feels like an important moment to be discussing women’s anger and I feel some pressure to cover as much ground as possible.
5 p.m. I mosey on over to the library and Rebecca is fantastic, as is the response from the crowd.
10 p.m. I get home pretty late and take some CBD to sleep. I don’t know if it works, but the trazodone I also take definitely works.
7:30 a.m. First thing this morning is an interview for the podcast with Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor of Georgia. I do some prep but it feels like cheating, because I interviewed her live recently at the Wing.
9 a.m. The rest of the morning I spend in my inbox until my computer dies. That’s my method usually: Plug in at night, work until it dies, take a break while it recharges and then get back to work. Same thing with the phone. I don’t care if it’s good for the battery, it’s great for my brain.
3:30 p.m. Rest of the day is spent slaying the inbox.
7 a.m. I’m writing a memoir with Ann. We usually write together in the same room, side by side, but lately we’ve been experimenting with writing separately at our own pace. We give each other the same writing assignment and come back to edit it into a coherent, melded passage. Writing is hard, but the accountability of knowing someone else is doing the exact same thing as you at the exact same time 100 percent works.
3:30 p.m. I meet a friend on the Upper East Side and go for a long walk. Getting out of the house is a must if you work from home.
8:30 p.m. I go to a dinner put on by a fashion brand in a fancy hotel. I’m seated next to good friends, so it doesn’t feel like work.
9 a.m. I am writing an essay for an anthology. I’ve been outlining it for a while on my phone when I have short breaks or when I’m on the train, so I put all of that in a doc and start writing around it. It’s a trashdraft: doesn’t need to be perfect, just needs to be all the word vomit you have in you.
1 p.m. Lunch break. There are really no average, normal workweeks for me, so things like eating breakfast at the same time or making lunch at home every day make me feel grounded.
2 p.m. Make my to-do list for next week and go back to reading from research pile. It feels like such an indulgence. It’s days like today I am the happiest not to work in an office and lucky enough to pursue all my curiosities.
4 p.m. I made too many evening plans this week so I’m making dinner at home tonight and turning my brain off. This week, I billed for $39,500. Of that, $35,000 was for the photo shoot/brand work on Saturday. Everyone should be an influencer.