Elaine Welteroth, former 'Teen Vogue' editor in chief, on advice for building the career of your dreams

Wellness Editor
Yahoo Lifestyle
Journalist and editor Elaine Welteroth at the BET Her Awards on June 21 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Bumble)
Journalist and editor Elaine Welteroth at the BET Her Awards on June 21 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Bumble)

My interest in Elaine Welteroth began with envy. At 29, Welteroth was named the editor in chief of Teen Vogue — a job I had spent much of my adolescence coveting — and was the youngest-ever editor in chief at a Condé Nast publication, as well as only the second black woman to have the title. Once she got the job, she transformed the magazine, turning it into a a place for serious political opinions and inclusive narratives.

And then she left.

“We all have the power to rewrite the rules no matter where we are,” Welteroth told a live audience at Girls Talk Real, an OKREAL event in partnership with Lou & Grey, last month. “We have the power to rewrite the rules of what it looks like to be in a certain role. We don’t have to be confined to boxes just because we’ve been placed in them.”

Elaine Welteroth in conversation with OKREAL founder Amy Woodside. (Photo: Courtesy of Sara Powell)
Elaine Welteroth in conversation with OKREAL founder Amy Woodside. (Photo: Courtesy of Sara Powell)

Since leaving Teen Vogue, Welteroth has shattered the confines of the boxes she’s been put into, pivoting from editor in chief to thought leader, host, inspiration. Welteroth has covered major news and entertainment events (in print and on camera) — from March for Our Lives to awards show fashion; written an episode of both Black-ish and Grown-ish; spoken on panels all over the country; and begun work on a book.

Needless to say, somewhere along the way, my envy of Welteroth turned into deep awe and admiration for the career she has made for herself and the tireless, passionate way she tackles every project.

Welteroth spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle about how exactly it is that she gets done all the very many things she gets done — and what her advice is for setting goals and then knocking them out of the park.

Yahoo Lifestyle: In a very nuts-and-bolts way, what tools do you use to organize your day and your to-dos?

Elaine Welteroth: Apart from living and breathing by my Google Calendar, and waking up to my iPhone’s alarm clock, I am quite low-tech when it comes to organizing my life. I use a notebook religiously to write down everything. It’s like my brain’s hard drive. It contains my daily agenda, meeting notes, and even just random thoughts or quotes that inspire me. I really love a to-do list — mainly because I can’t keep track of everything in my mind, and I love the feeling of crossing things off of it. But lately whenever I feel overwhelmed by the amount of to-dos on the list, I’ve found it helpful to jot them all down in my “notes” app on my iPhone and organize them by project instead; then I create a “Done” list that I move each completed task into.

I am very visual, so I like to be able to see all the projects on my plate as well as every action step required to advance each one. As the “Done” list starts to grow and the to-do list begins to shrink, I feel lighter. But it’s important to be sure to build in self-care “tasks” into your daily agenda as well. I tend to work through lunch if there’s no set stopping point in my day, so one of my daily to-dos is a reminder to eat and to work out. I get the greatest sense of accomplishment when I have handled all my business without neglecting my health.

Is there a way that you organize your weeks or months to get the most done that you can?

I set quarterly goals because I find it easier to focus on immediate targets versus far-off plans. Usually my quarterly goals serve a longer-term vision but some are just one-off short-term accomplishments. It’s so important to dream big, but I believe it’s equally as important to break them down into bite-size action steps that you can take every single day. And to do this across every aspect of your life — not just your career. I met someone recently who inspired me to read a book a month with the simple practice of setting daily page goals. At first I thought, “When am I going to find the time to read 12 books a year?!” But the idea of breaking down a 200-page book into six or seven pages a day helped me recognize that the bigger goal is totally achievable. And of course, the jolt you get from accomplishing even a small goal in your personal life can create positive momentum that you carry into knocking out your professional goals. 

What you feed will grow. 💫🌾

A post shared by Elaine Welteroth (@elainewelteroth) on Apr 24, 2018 at 5:26am PDT

 

When you look at your career, how far into the future do you plan?

I tend to set timelines for projects in two-year spans, max. Most times I’m working against a quarterly goal and setting six-month check-ins with myself for reflection and recalibration. I have a fairly clear big-picture idea of what I want to achieve in every aspect of my life, but I’m always surprised by how much life has in store that I never could have planned for. That’s the beauty of life! You have to remain flexible. It’s crucial to have vision, a sense of purpose, and to develop your work ethic — but perhaps the most important characteristic to cultivate is faith. Because you know the saying about plans: You make them, God laughs at them. And in my experience the divine plan is always so much better than the plan I came up with on my own.

Speaking of which, 10 years from now, what do you hope your life looks like?

Call it superstitious, but one of the keys to my success has been not talking about what I want and simply working toward it.

And to scale things back a bit, what are some of your big goals for the rest of 2018?

Finishing my book. Planning my wedding. 

What about self-care: You are always working and traveling. How do you practice self-care especially with how busy you are?

No matter where I am I read my devotional every morning before I check social media, which is a small but important mental-health checkpoint. It helps set the tone and intention for my day before allowing my thoughts to get hijacked by the internet, which is a pretty wild, tumultuous place these days. I have been going to a guided meditation class every Tuesday for a number of years now, which helps me reset mentally. And going to church on Sundays always helps put the rest of my life into perspective before the workweek hits. I also try to commit to a workout at least a couple of times a week — not because I want to lose weight but because it does so much for my ability to perform at my best in all areas of my life. I’m admittedly a pretty impatient person and I can easily become high strung, so I’ve found that being consistent with all of these practices helps me be more mindful and generally less stressed. 

Have any parts of your life suffered because of how dedicated you are to your career?

For sure. Being what my friends would call a “workaholic” has taken a toll on my overall health at times, especially throughout my 20s. I lost weight during stressful periods at work and hardly ever made time for anything outside of my career. Whether it was accidentally skipping meals, not carving out time to reconnect with my friends and family, or not prioritizing exercise, I had a difficult time cultivating a sense of balance. I think we live in a world that often promotes an unhealthy addiction to “the grind.” I’m glad to see that narrative changing because what I’ve learned since turning 30 is that there is no glory in a grind that grinds you all the way down. Investing in your well-being is an investment in your work.

 

For women trying to make it in their field of choice, what do you think are the most important things to keep in mind on a daily level?

I used to say bite off more than you can chew, and chew as fast as you can. Now I’d probably add: Be sure to breathe, stretch, shake — and laugh! — between bites.

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