Editor and journalist Elaine Welteroth on how to succeed without sacrificing who you are

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Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

American journalist Elaine Welteroth has forged a career defined by taking risks, breaking ground and always, always being herself. In 2016, aged 29, she became the editor of Teen Vogue and the second-youngest woman to hold an editorship at Conde Nast. When she became the publication's beauty editor in 2012, she was the first Black American to serve in that role.

Her career has also taken her in front of the camera; as a host on the US talkshow The Talk and as a judge on the show Project Runway. She is also the author of a bestselling memoir, More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) and recently became a Masterclass instructor on 'Designing your own career'.

Here, she talks to Bazaar about what it takes to truly succeed on your own terms.

Develop a healthy relationship with your inner critic

"I no longer think silencing the inner critic is the goal. I think the goal is to develop a productive relationship with it. As a journalist, that inner critic has helped me ask better questions. As an editor, it has taken my work from good to great. In navigating life and different work environments, it helps us assess risk. At its best, when utilised in a healthy way, we can tease out useful information from that inner critic that aids us in self-reflection and self-awareness. But, at its worst, it can have a paralysing effect. When the scale tips and you need help re-orienting your relationship to that inner critic, it’s helpful to commit to a practice of positive affirmations — which I basically think of as speaking to yourself the way you would your best friend."

Don't take challenges personally

"I am still working on how I deal with challenges, to be honest! But, for me, it starts by trying to not take things personally. I try to remind myself that everyone I work with or around has their own set of values, standards, motivation, and, frankly, their own agendas. I can’t expect my values to be prioritised 100 per cent of the time because corporate entities and interpersonal dynamics are complex."

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Understand your own mission

"I always have to remind myself of why I do what I do. My mission wherever I am is to give voice to my beliefs because they reflect some segment of the world that may not be represented otherwise. In those situations, I have to be creative and persuasive in order to tilt the scales towards what I believe is right. It helps to focus on the things that are bigger than you."

Know when to walk away

"No matter how hard you try, you won’t win every battle. And it’s important to know your breaking point. There’s a limit to how much you can fight for your values before you realise it’s no longer worth your energy. Sometimes the only answer is to walk away.

Own your mistakes - and work to rebuild trust

"Being authentically yourself means owning your mistakes and being honest. At Teen Vogue I was called out for running a story about an Afrocentric hairstyle because I featured a biracial model who many thought was white. It was my first experience with cancel culture and, while I had a lot to learn from the experience, what I’m most proud of is that I decided to respond directly to readers, which was against the counsel of leadership at the time. I was able to own my mistakes and rebuild trust while starting an even deeper conversation about colourism and identity. As rocked as I was by the initial backlash, I was emboldened by the ability to turn what felt like a disaster into an important conversation."

Drown out the noise and focus on the work

"Be grateful for every opportunity to pour your authentic self into your work, without thinking about the number of people paying attention. Ultimately, your commitment is to work hard, to take care of yourself, and to grow. This path requires doubling down on self care, introspection and reliance on your support system to keep you sane and remind you why you do what you do. Focus on the work and not the outcome."

Don't rush - take it one step at a time

"The worst advice I’ve received — and given — was that you should bite off more than you can chew and chew as fast as you can. Over time I’ve learned the merits of taking things one step at a time and pacing yourself. Your career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon."

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