There is nothing more magical than someone who is standing in their full power & living their truth. Elaine Welteroth is one of these people. For our reboot of #GirlsTalkReal with Lou & Grey she lit up the stage & the lives of so many women with her insight on finding your power and navigating your way with tenacity, intention and gratitude. If you weren’t there, you can watch her shine here and tune in later this month for more episodes of #GirlsTalkReal. Our favorite OKREAL quote from Elaine: “I think that most decisions in your life take you in one direction or the other: expansion or shrinking.”
During an existential crisis in my last semester of college, I came across a magazine and Google searched the name of the woman who wrote their cover story. That woman was Harriet Cole, and reading her bio felt like I was reading my future. She was a journalist across multiple media platforms and she started in magazine. From there, she branched out and became a best-selling author. She did TV and moved into the syndicated radio-show space. She was the first person I ever saw who was a multi-hyphenate before there was a term for it—she’d built her own brand before there was Instagram. She was the most accessible version to me of someone like Oprah. Nothing could stop me from that point forward. I didn’t know day-to-day how any of it would pan out, but I knew that I was up for it.
I was relentless in pursuit of my vision, and at that point, in pursuit of Harriet. I called her office constantly. I wrote her a letter and snail-mailed it to her. I emailed. I followed up. I followed up. I followed up. I remember offering to fly to New York to bring her coffee and that I just needed 15 minutes. I think that at some point, they thought I was insane and that’s why they finally let me talk with her. Sometimes I look back and wonder, ‘What if I gave up before she confirmed that call? What if I’d ignored the voice in my head that said, ‘Google her’ that night? What if I never actually followed through?’ There are so many what-ifs that could have prevented me from being where I am today. It’s surreal for me to think about that tipping point and how it completely changed the trajectory of my life. It all hinged on following my instincts and recognizing the call when it happened. It was the dogged pursuit of truth within myself and within others like me. Sure enough, Harriet ended up being my first boss.
Recently, I had a pivotal conversation with my ‘Harriet 2.0’; film director and powerhouse Ava DuVernay. During that discussion, (in reference to myself) I said: ‘Who was that girl? I don’t know where I got that courage from, because I don’t feel like I have that now.’ Ava said, ‘You’re still that girl. That is who you are. Be brave enough to listen to your voice. Do those things that you did before, because that is how the universe speaks to you about where you’re supposed to be.’
I’ve had many self-limiting beliefs along the way, some of which have shown up in my romantic relationships with men. I think that our romantic journeys are inextricably connected to our professional and spiritual journeys. I think they’re all one. Who you are in one relationship absolutely spills over to who you are in other areas of your life. One major self-limiting belief I had—that I think many girls have been socialized to have in this country— is this idea that you’re not enough on your own. That you are meant to partner with someone who will rescue you from your life, and take you off into the sunset to a better life of their creation. They will be the breadwinner and they will compensate for whatever you don’t have, and together you will be whole. This was really apparent in one particular relationship in my 20s. It was the Carrie and Big scenario: he was the finance guy, the stability. She was the creative fashion girl, the butterfly. This dynamic had a lot to do with me always feeling like an underdog. The underdog syndrome is particularly real for women who are different, look different, and are younger.
Do we want expansion or do we want to shrink?
I came to the city from a small town in Newark, California. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school. I followed my then high-school sweetheart to college which was the worst decision ever. I came out of college with a chip on my shoulder. I felt like I was always trying to prove that I was smart enough and good enough to be wherever I had gotten—and in that relationship, I tried to compensate for everything. I got smaller and smaller and smaller. I didn’t recognize the emotional abuse when I was in it—you never really recognize it until after it’s taken its toll. Then, there’s a wake-up call and you say to yourself, ‘How did this happen? I’m a strong person. I’m a strong woman.’ When I finally got the strength to walk away from that relationship, I felt like my whole life started. The day I stopped talking to him was the beginning of my career expansion. It was the beginning of stepping into who I was actually meant to be. Within five days of ending that relationship, I got the call for Teen Vogue. I needed to trust that I could be enough on my own, and that I was the source of all the goodness. That it is not found in other people, other jobs or other things.. I am the source. Or really, God is the source… but I’m not here to try to take you to church!
One thing that I learned from Harriet was that you either get pushed or pulled into your destiny. Oprah often says: ‘Listen for the whisper before it becomes a roar.’ I remember in that bad relationship it went from whisper to roar to scream. Now, in any relationship, friendship, or work situation—the best way to find my internal compass is to pay attention to the whisper. People say to me that it’s bold that I do certain things, but it would be more bold to stay put when I know I’m supposed to move. We all have strong instincts, especially as women, but we can hold onto things that block our intuition. That’s when you find yourself saying, ‘I don’t know. I’m confused.’ You have to shed whoever or whatever is making you confused, because the truth is already there. You can deny it, but it’s going to get louder. I now get excited at the opportunity to expand. I hear that whisper, and I’m ready to run.
We all have to decide: do we want to be our biggest selves? Do we want the biggest life possible? Do we want expansion or do we want to shrink?
I think that most decisions in your life take you in one direction or the other: expansion or shrinking. If you decide that you want to expand—even if you don’t feel ready or worthy—I think that’s the most important part. Just saying, ‘I want to expand. I want to grow. I want to be better. I want to continue evolving.’ It’s a commitment that you make to yourself and it clarifies all of the other decisions you will make.
I think this idea of fearlessness is flawed. I think that we all feel fear, and when we try to suppress and deny it is when we make errors. Instead of operating in truth, we start operating in lies which can be dangerous. I think fear is a healthy part of life and Ava helped to reinforce this belief in me. She said to me, ‘Are you scared? That’s when you know it’s good. You gotta make friends with fear.’ You need to follow the fear and put language to it: why am I feeling fear? Sometimes that exercise takes away the power. Also, having a ritual or a support system of people that you can talk it out with. For me, it’s prayer, working out, or talking to someone who knows me at my highest, best self that can remind me of that.
It’s so important to surround yourself with people who can see your truth and can encourage that truth.
Let things come to you. Say thank you.
I remember being so fearful of saying what I wanted out loud. I wanted to be a magazine editor so badly, but thought it was impossible for a girl like me. I had a college professor who changed my life. She was the first teacher I had who looked like me. She had curly hair, she was half black half white. She took me and another graduate student on a trip with her to Chicago where she presented at a conference. In the airplane ride back home, we decided we were going to tell each other what we really wanted. I remember each of us wanted something very specific and it was so vulnerable to say it out loud. I was the last one and my face got beet-red. They kept trying to pull it out of me, but I kept saying, ‘It’s so silly. It’s so stupid. It’s crazy.’ Finally, I whispered, ‘I want to be a magazine editor.’ As soon as I said those words, they responded, ‘Yes! Obviously, you would be incredible at that.’ It was as if the tiniest seed had been planted and watered in me—which up until then, I had been protecting. It mattered so much to me that people I respected affirmed my vision, and believed I could achieve it.
There’s something so powerful about women affirming women, and there’s something so damaging and destructive about women who don’t support other women.
We have to give ourselves permission to recognize that we all have the power to rewrite the rules no matter where we are. We don’t have to be confined to boxes just because we’ve been placed in them. I think that’s where it starts. I spent a lot of my career fitting into boxes. The magic started happening when I decided I could get out of them and build my own, really showing up as me. You may stand solo sometimes, but you stand on the shoulders of your ancestors and on behalf of the tribe of people who are with you. There’s never been a better moment to be different, to be other. There’s a community of people who need what you uniquely have inside of you. It would be a disservice to allow the people in your immediate circumstances to shut you down—your purpose is so much bigger than that. At the point I’m at now, my goal is to live and work in flow. There is a huge difference between striving and working in flow. The things that come to you when you’re in the flow state are so much more nourishing and rewarding. It’s the difference between working in abundance vs scarcity. I don’t think that we ever get to a destination where it’s smooth sailing, but there’s a gear shift when you feel like you’re where you’re meant to be.
You can’t chase what comes with the flow, you have to chase the flow.
My present partner Jonathan recently said to me: ‘You’ve fought so hard. You have all these tools and weapons in your toolbox, and it’s time to put your weapons down and say thank you.’ Let things come to you. Say thank you.”