By Ashley Stoney
Elaine Welteroth has had a year. After leaving her post atop Teen Vogue in 2018, she’s writing her own story – literally. This year alone, she’s published a book, starred as a judge on Project Runway, commanded red carpets, and so much more. Four words: Catch her if you can. Luckily, we were able to – and we sat down recently to ask her a few questions about her latest project, More Than Enough: Claiming Space For Who You Are (No Matter What They Say). Here’s how she’s reflecting on her inaugural book-writing experience in the months following its release.
You aren’t afraid to be yourself - a Black woman in corporate America - from the way you style your hair to the way you’ve created content that reflects the Black experience in a mainstream publication. In the book, you write a lot about how your mom was instrumental in your pride in Black culture. Can you elaborate on that?
Elaine Welteroth: My mom definitely laid the foundation for feeling a sense of pride in my roots. She planted the seeds for that [pride] over time, and then watered and nurtured them too. I think it was stifled throughout my childhood, teenage years and throughout college [by others] – and people deal with that in different ways – but eventually, it started to blossom again.
My career at Teen Vogue is when I felt myself growing and expanding and really embracing my roots in my work – but I really do think that the initial impetus of that all started with my mom.
Some people might be coming to the book thinking it’s a career manual of sorts, but if it’s a manual at all, it serves as a parenting manual because there’s so much of my mom’s parenting that I included in hopes that I could multiply her mothering for other women who maybe need that advice in their present-day lives, or are mothering children right now who need this kind of support. Needless to say, I think my mom is the shero of More Than Enough. You might come to it for me, but you gon’ leave with my mom.
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Here’s a geeked-out snippet of me freaking out about the fact that Essence ran an excerpt from my book #MoreThanEnough. In honor of my first #EssenceFest, figured I’d dig it up and finally share this video that I was too embarrassed to post when I shot it a month ago before my book came out. I was VERY in my feelings because this is the magazine that made me want to be a magazine editor. And it is the magazine that made me believe I could. It’s the first and only place I could see myself reflected when I was growing up. So, to LITERALLY see MYSELF and my work in these pages is a huge, surreal, full circle moment for me. God is real!
Congrats on the release of [More Than Enough]. How do you think your book helps women (especially in high-pressure roles) find guidance and balance in pursuing their passions without burning out?
Elaine Welteroth: I didn’t write an advice book intentionally, because I think that the way that we learn best is through storytelling and through women telling their truth.
And so, I shared some of the harder truths, the deeper truths, the universal truths that I think usually get left out of “success stories” that you read online and in the headlines and when you scroll on the highlight reels of Instagram.
What was your goal when you set out to write this book? What do you want readers to ultimately walk away with?
Elaine Welteroth: I hope that women who read this book see themselves in it. See their struggles. See their triumphs, both in their professional lives, but also in their personal lives, because those two things often intersect. We know this as women who lead very intersectional lives. And when we don’t show up powerfully in our personal lives, it has a way of translating into our career. So, it was important for me to show a holistic view of what this climb has been like for me, because I think it’s reflective of what a lot of women, particularly Black professional women, go through.
What was your book-writing process like? It seems like such a personal process!
Elaine Welteroth: It was arduous and beautiful at the same time. I liken it to childbirth in a way. Even though I’m not a mom yet, I feel like being a book mom has gotten me one step closer to being ready to give birth to a human. It took nearly that level of intense, internal work. It was a labor of love though. I went into it very clearly setting the intention that I wanted the process to be beautiful – to not just focus on the outcome, but really be fulfilling. And that it was.
In order for me to get it done and get it done it the amount of time I did - which was relatively quickly - I had to really block out my schedule to hold space for writing time. That’s the most important thing for any writer, for anyone who has a book in them. It’s not gonna write itself. You have to almost create barricades around your schedule.
Sometimes that means not having to put on makeup. You need to be able to be introspective and quiet and to fill your mind in order to let that writing flow catch you. It wouldn’t catch if I were taking meetings or phone calls throughout the day. I had to clear the entire day from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. There could be nothing else on my schedule, except writing. And that was really the only way I got it done.
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Anyone sitting here? 📚😉YO. Philly!! Not gonna lie, I sleep walked into the Free Public Library feeling exhausted from all the travel, but y’all brought me back to life!! I left energized, overflowing with gratitude, and smiling all the way back to NYC. You brought flowers, paintings, hugs, smiles, tears, powerful affirmations, thoughtful questions, and the BEST energy (second best to my hometown SF!). The room was at capacity and so was my heart. I loooved meeting you guys! Thank you for having me @flpauthorevents and thank you to my sis @rakiareynolds for killinnnng it as my convo partner! *** Next up: Austin today 6/27, Chicago on Friday 6/28 with my girl @luvvie (+a couple private events including the @the.wing), and 7/11 in Dallas with my boo @brandonmaxwell.
We love your perspectives on hustle culture and burnout. Do you think it’s possible to find balance between the two? What advice do you have specifically for women and people of color?
Elaine Welteroth: I find that we don’t always share the tools and anecdotes that we need to find balance between the two [hustle culture and burnout]. For me, there was a quote that really stood out to me that I thought about a lot after I heard it. It’s from an academic and a really inspiring writer Eve Ewing, and she said on a panel that we were on together: “There is no glory in a grind that grinds you all the way down.” I needed that message, and I think a lot of women need that message and that reminder.
We can get into that hamster wheel and just go, go, go, go, go, go without ever checking in with ourselves, not only on if we’re healthy and doing okay, but also if this is even the path we want to be on. Is this the work we want to be doing? Is this our life’s work or is it just work?
How can people ask themselves those tough questions on a consistent basis?
Elaine Welteroth: When you find yourself completely depleted, I think you need to do an assessment on if you are spending your energy in ways that are really connected to your purpose. And, if not, I think that’s the time to pivot and make strides to move into that direction. Maybe you don’t know what your passion is, and I think that’s the opportunity for you to do some self-exploration, to experiment on the side, even if it’s just to carve out and plan free time just to be with yourself. To go for a run. To go for yoga. To go try meditation. To go talk to friends who inspire you. Create that space.
Even if your find yourself doing work that you love, you can still get burnt out. Usually that happens when you are depriving yourself in other areas of your life, and you’re sacrificing too much for the work. We need to remind ourselves in that case that the work suffers when you deprive yourself of your basic needs, and that is something I had to learn the hard way.
You perform better and you are better to everyone in your life - and everyone at work - when you are full. When your tank is empty or half-way full and you show up to work, you find yourself looking for validation and your worth and you start to look for things at work that you’ll never get from work. That you can only get from yourself. And again, I had to learn that the hard way, and I’m still learning.
Favorite Recent Book:
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
Still Processing from the New York Times
Woman I Admire:
My current obsession:
When They See Us on Netflix!