Best-selling author of More Than Enough, Elaine Welteroth has mastered the art of finesse. Not only has the former Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief written an entire book full of pointers for people who want to lead a purposeful career, but she’s also dropped major tea on her rise to success as a Black woman in the fashion industry.
During a product launch event hosted by Ancestry.com, Welteroth sashayed around the room in a glorious bright orange dress. She’s mastered that TV glow. As she addressed the intimate audience about her own family lineage self-discovery, I knew this kween is, in fact, the real deal. Meaning, she talks the talk and walks the walk.
“Everyone has a story to tell, whether or not they want to publish it,” she said in her opening remarks. “This moment is particularly personal to me because my grandma Maggie just passed away and she was my ultimate influence into my own Black identity,” she revealed. In More than Enough, you’ll read about Welteroth’s endearing trips to deep south Georgia to visit her grandma Maggie as well as her socially awkward experiences as a mixed-race teen in high school and college. Through it all, Welteroth rose to the top. STYLECASTER had an intimate conversation with Welteroth about her career, her life, and being more than enough.
Transitioning from publishing into television was a no brainer for Welteroth, and she’s enjoying every second of it. “It has been really smooth,” she said. “I mean, really smooth! It has felt like a natural progression going from a career in magazine journalism to Television in front of the camera.”
Though it can seem nearly impossible to transition into an entirely new career–Welteroth has mastered the art of finesse. “In terms of finessing where you’re trying to go, the first thing is knowing what you want,” she explained. “A lot of people don’t know what they want and don’t feel comfortable with giving themselves space and the time to figure it out by trying things and by making mistakes because that’s the way you will learn. People are always talking about ‘finding your voice.’ You don’t need to find your voice, you need to figure out what your voice sounds like. It takes lived experiences to understand what your instincts feel like and that’s what you’re the twenties are for.”
In More Than Enough, Welteroth gets vulnerable about her promotion to EIC at Teen Vogue, and what’s she learned in retrospect. “It is about recognizing when you accomplished the dream and giving yourself permission to chase new dreams,” she reflected. “There is one sentiment that I want people to walk away from when reading my book and it is that your life is a series of dreams realized. You do not have to be defined by one dream, one title, by one career path. The goal is to find your personal mission and carve out a path that allows yourself the flexibility to spend time doing more of what you want. While I left Teen Vogue, I did what I came to do and more. I paved the way.”
Still, I knew that anyone who came out unscathed after a closed-door meeting with Anna Wintour would have some bomb salary negotiation tips. “Take your time,” the Project Runway judge said. “You are always entitled to a night to think through negotiation and how you want to approach it. Know your floor and ceiling. Know what you’re aiming for, ask for it, you just might get it. And know the lowest number is that you will stay for. Be prepared to walk away if you don’t land on the floor. The best negotiators walk in with a readiness to walk away if there isn’t a mutually beneficial resolution. Do your research and it’s not always going to be published online. It’s about tapping your network. Nurture your network and call on them when you need them.”
Though we’re all striving to craft our own narratives in our careers–Welteroth wants everyone to know that focusing on titles isn’t important. “I think titles are limiting,” she said. “We can waste a lot of time clinging to titles for a sense of validation. That is an illusion. If we can liberate ourselves from the idea that a title defines us, that a title that someone else gives us, that a company gives us, is what defines our value in the world, then it opens up possibilities. You can dream with more recklessness. You can start to do what’s right for you. To figure that out, I had to look back at how I spent my time when I was a child. Before those labels and titles and salaries started to define us, how did you spend your time? Often there are breadcrumbs that lead directly to your passions. That’s a good place to start.”
Going back to her roots–literally–was an eye-opening experience for Welteroth. “We get stuck in this singular experience and feel like it’s all on us and it’s ‘all about me’ and this moment,” she explained. “But when you zoom out and look at your family tree and think about fitting into their stories, there is something more powerful and grounding about knowing you exist within the context of this larger narrative. We have the opportunity to take it farther than anyone in our millennial. We are our ancestors wildest dreams. That is energizing! That is inspiring.”
In More Than Enough, the California native writes, “Showing up is an act of revolution within itself when you’re different.” However, becoming a “boardroom boss” didn’t happen for her overnight. “It’s always a progression,” Welteroth revealed. “Whether it’s an executive position, motherhood, or being someone’s life partner, it’s an invitation to expand and grow. Many times I found myself being the youngest in the room, certainly the youngest leader or the only Black woman, and those experiences as challenging as they are, are opportunities to grow. You have to seize those opportunities and silence the doubt in our minds.”