9 Life Lessons From Elaine Welteroth
Photography by REDELL MEDRANO
9 Life Lessons From Elaine Welteroth
Photography by REDELL MEDRANO

If there’s one person who perfectly embodies the multi-hyphenate career trend, it’s Elaine Welteroth. The 33-year-old journalist can list Project Runway judge and producer and New York Times bestselling author to her CV after using her platform as former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue to skyrocket her profile into a one-woman media brand. 

That brand is clearly a premium one. When you hear Welteroth’s name, it’s usually in conjunction with adjectives such as ‘trailblazing’ or ‘revolutionary’ or ‘groundbreaking’ - three descriptions that are clearly justified. At 29, Welteroth broke records to become the youngest ever Condé Nast editor-in-chief, and only the second African-American to hold such a position. But she also transformed the magazine, intellectualising Teen Vogue with politically engaging content targeting America’s youth. She now acts as Cultural Ambassador for 'When We All Vote' (Michelle Obama's non-partisan voting initiative).

Now, she’s balancing talk show appearances and public speaking with a new role as author of the bestselling More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say). Half-manifesto, half-memoir, the book offers life lessons on race, identity and success in an effort to remind women that they are more than enough. Here, she tells all about the life lessons she has learnt along her road to multi-platform success… 

You don’t have to be defined by one dream or one job title for your entire life

Get out of any job or relationship that makes you feel small. Instead, position yourself for growth by surrounding yourself with the people and the spaces that encourage it. Identify what your passion is, then figure out what your mission is, and do it. 

The best career advice I’ve been given is to make friends with fear

Ava DuVernay told me that at a pivotal time in my career, when I was transitioning away from magazines. Fear leads to self-doubt and stagnation; it keeps people from doing things that could be the most transformative moments in their life. You need to reframe fear as a motivator and indicator that something is worth doing. 

Sisterhood is the reason I’m able to do the work that I do

The best part of becoming a leader as a woman of colour was being inducted into what I call the POC C-suite of women who go out of their way to empower and uplift each other. I live by that old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats, so I’m excited that we’re finally in a moment that celebrates the notion that there’s room and space for all of us. 

I aim to keep gratitude at the forefront of everything I do

It’s easy to get swept up in the fast lane, with its crazy schedules, and become unconscious of the reality of the extraordinary things you’re doing. Reminding myself that I’ve created this life and that I’m living my dream is important. When you’re in a better headspace, you can give more to your work. 

I consider every female boss I’ve ever had to be a mentor

At the top of that list is Harriette Cole, my first boss from Ebony magazine and the reason I moved from a small town to New York. She was a role model for me and gave me the vision for my multifaceted career. Being able to see another woman of colour succeed like this was key - the saying “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” is definitely true. 

Photo by Joshua Kissi

My bio on Instagram is “Don’t be eye candy. Be soul food”

Social media can be bright, shiny and attractive, but it can also make you feel sick, so be conscious of what you’re serving. Let it be a natural, authentic extension of who you are. Remember that any interaction is an opportunity to empower, uplift and redirect attention to what is truly important. 

Sometimes you have to turn your phone off to stay connected

Spending quality time with the people and places that matter to you only benefits your work, because when you’re happier, you work more effectively. So make sure you schedule quality time, because if you wait for openings in your schedule, they will never come. 

I literally diarise joy

On my schedule, I will block out buckets of time for joy, and then I do whatever I feel will make me happy at that time. Building in those moments of recreational playtime is energising. It might feel impossible, when you’ve got a deadline, to drop everything and relax, but force yourself to do it. It recalibrates your brain so that you come back with new perspective and new energy - it’s the best creativity hack I’ve ever been given. 

I smile every morning

No two days are ever the same for me. I’m always in the air or in a hotel. It’s important to rise with the sun whatever time zone you’re in, so I’m always up early. When I wake up I force myself to smile. It sends positive signals to the rest of your body so you get up thinking, “Let’s do this!” 

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