Author of ‘More Than Enough’
Elaine Welteroth is a judge on the new Project Runway. Formerly, she was the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue where she was the youngest ever to have that title at a Condé Nast publication. She is known for shifting the magazine’s mission and making it more socially conscious. Welteroth is now releasing her book “More Than Enough,” which is “part-manifesto, part-memoir” where she writes about her time navigating the media industry and the struggles she faced behind the headlines.
Welteroth tells DigBoston that she’s spent so many years trying to get a seat at the table in the media world. Once she got to the head of that table, she’s now building her own table. “This book is my first table, it is my first offering to this audience, and I can’t wait to invite them to sit at the table and have conversations and break bread. This is just one of the many tables I will build. I have much more to do in my career,” she said.
She is coming to Boston for her book tour, and I got to chat with her over the phone about her book, her success, and her transition to TV.
I’ve seen your social media posts about how you’re looking forward to the book tour. What in particular are you excited about?
I am mostly excited about being in conversation with Bozoma Saint John. She’s a good friend of mine, and someone who’s been sort of an instrumental role model and mentor of sorts in my career. She’s just a total badass in her field, and I’m excited to go in with her and in the company of all the other women who are going to come out and talk about career and talk about success, and also the underside of success stuff—the stuff that we don’t often talk about in public forum. She’s just the best person to help me bring this book to life. And she makes a cameo in it, which is an added bonus, which I don’t even think she knows yet.
That’s fun! So speaking of your book, congratulations! That’s huge, I’m excited to read it. What can readers expect?
I think they can expect an unfiltered recount of one girl’s story of being from a small town and pursuing a big dream in the media business at a time when the world was in the midst of a pretty significant seismic shift, going from the Obama era to the Trump era, and all the changes that come with that. It’s really the story of a young woman finding her voice and using it to change things for the better from wherever I was, which was in the media industry. And it’s just relatable and filled with universal lessons I think that a lot of women will see themselves, and a lot of young women will hopefully learn, or really just gain tools for their own journeys.
In addition, it’s not just about coming of age, it’s really about coming into your own power. And it explores themes from racial identity to burnout to salary negotiations to romantic relationships and how they intersect with our success stories. So it’s multifaceted. And I hope that people will walk away from it feeling inspired, to dream a little bit bigger and to believe that anything is possible.
You’ve had a very successful magazine career, at least I’d say that, and it’s been very go-go-go. How was it stepping back and reflecting on your journey and you being the first or the youngest, and being a “barrier breaker,” as you phrase it?
I think the reason I wrote this book is that I was held up as a trailblazer in headlines, and the young people who are following me only saw snippets of the success story play out on social media in Boomerangs and I think I owed them more than what I could fit in an Instagram caption. And I feel like this book is my offering to them. It’s what I’ve learned thus far. It’s definitely what I’m calling like a memoir so far. I have lots more to do with my life and my career—lots more to learn. But this was the time for me to share what I’ve learned to this point. And there’s a lot. There was a lot to say.
I think we live in this social media age where we’re all scrolling each other’s lives to live success stories on the internet. But we’re only seeing the headlines in the highlight reel, and I really wanted to go deeper. And this book, this book goes deep, and I’m really, really proud of it. I wrote it in kind of record breaking time, because I felt like there was an urgency to the messages in it. And I’m really, really proud of how it turned out. I’m so excited that it’s finally about to be birthed into the world.
How long did it take you to write this?
About a year. Yeah, I would say last year—Wow—last year at this time, I didn’t have a single sentence written in my book yet. I didn’t have a single sentence written on my Google doc I used to write the book. And now a year later, it’s coming out. So it was fast—it was fast and furious—but I think it was the best way to tell this kind of story. It was so at the tip of my tongue. It needed to be told now, like it was bursting out of me, and it kind of flowed onto the page when I did finally start writing, which was like mid-June.
I really wanted it to be out there in time for graduation, because I think that’s around the timeframe that I would have loved to read this book when I was coming out of college, feeling really lost and in an existential crisis about what to do with my life.
Was there anything that was particularly difficult to write or some challenges that you didn’t anticipate?
It’s hard to write a book that requires you to be extremely vulnerable, which this one does. But my mom has always said that what comes from the heart touches the heart. And so I had to be honest. I had to tell the truth in order for this book to be a service to the community of young girls and women who will be reading it. So it was challenging going from being the conduit of stories—as a journalist, I spent 10 years of my life telling other people’s stories and, you know, elevating underrepresented stories. But now, it was the time for me to tell my own. It was a bit of a transition, but it was worthwhile. And I’m really, really proud of it.
And in terms of challenges, it’s hard writing a book. It is really hard to write a book. And people can tell you, but you can’t really understand what that really means and just how hard it is until you do it yourself—kind of like parenting or motherhood, I would imagine.
It must have been a lot of balancing—balancing your book and the show. How did you do it? Was there something you did daily? Or did you have a nice environment where you set time to write?
The thing that I learned that was really helpful was just carving out full days. My life and my work, there’s a duality, right? Like, I’m either all the way on or all the way off trying to write. I’m either lights, camera, action in front of a camera or I’m in my pajamas, no makeup, and my hair thrown up in a bun, with just me and my laptop trying to get the writing done. So I needed to honor that sort of mode, and just block out days where I didn’t need to be on at all — no calls, no makeup and hair, no meetings. Just me and my laptop. And that was really, really important for me to get this book done.
Switching gears a little bit. I know you previously said the phrase “bite off more than you can chew, and chew as fast as you can” was your mantra. But in your recent New York Times article, you altered that mantra because of the hustle and the burnout. I feel like many women of color, or just young professionals overall, bite off more. Do you have any advice for them on what ways they can sustainably get ahead and be successful without burning themselves out?
When we talk about burnout and ways to prevent burnout, we often talk about slowing down. But I actually don’t necessarily think it requires slowing down. I think it requires being more intentional about how we spend our time.
If you can spend more time in your zone of genius, then it starts to feel less like work and less draining and more life affirming and more life giving and energy giving. It takes time to get to a place like that. You have to find out what you don’t want to do before you find out what you actually do want to do and what you are good at. It is a process. So sometimes we have to burnout in order to reset and recalibrate and know what is unhealthy for us.
That being said, it does require hard work. Anything worth having requires hard work. There is no success story that you’ll ever hear that didn’t come with sacrifice and a lot of late nights and struggle.
In my book, I say there’s hustle, and there is flow, but you cannot sustain one without the other, and it is just so true. You have to figure out how you can do as much as you can and then find a measure of surrender, because I do believe there is a divine order to things in our life. Sometimes, I think a lot of women, especially women of color, we’re raised with this concept of making it work, by any means necessary. We take on more than our fair share. But I think over time we learn how important delegation is. We learn how important it is to say no sometimes. We also learn, if we are lucky, that sometimes things break on purpose and things aren’t meant to work. Sometimes when a door closes, you have to recognize that it closes for you. What is happening to you is happening for you. When we hit hurdles, it is an opportunity to reset and redirect.
I have certainly experienced that in my career, and I think it is important to talk about those things with other young women. So hopefully this book will crack open some of those harder conversations that we need to be having to better prepare the best generation of women for success—true success and what that really looks like.
Speaking of resetting and transitioning, how was the transition from being the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue to being on Project Runway?
My transition out of the magazine business has been really thrilling. I came into the business at 20-21 years old with a long term vision in that I knew I would start with magazines but I knew one day I would take a leap of faith and build a multifaceted career in media. And that’s exactly what I’m doing, and I’m so grateful for every year that I spent building the foundation in the magazine business, and I am also really grateful that I trusted my instincts and took that leap of faith when I did. I never once looked back.
I’ve always wanted to learn to tell stories on television. And for me being a producer on that show fulfilled that goal of mine of just learning how to make TV. Being on it is just so much fun. Working alongside with my friends and doing on-camera what I have been doing for so many years behind the scenes—which is nurturing, and helping to develop creative talent—and just doing it on TV has been a natural progression.
Random question, do you have any relation with Boston that I should know about?
I wish I did! I wish I went to Harvard, haha. But I followed my high school sweetheart to a state college and I never ended up applying. But if I could do it all over again, I would try to and hopefully have gotten into Harvard. So this will be my opportunity to relive that moment of coming to Boston. But I have not spent a lot of time in Boston, but I am excited to eat some good food.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.