Elaine Welteroth on the “Great Resignation” and rewriting your own definition of success

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Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. Well, it’s been over a year since Amanda Gorman made history as the youngest inaugural poet when she performed “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s swearing in ceremony. 

Amanda Gorman When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And that was a moment that almost never happened. This past week, the 23-year-old wrote an essay in The New York Times in which she admitted that she almost declined to be the inaugural poet because she was terrified. Between the raging spread of COVID-19 and the aftermath of a domestic terrorist attack on the very Capitol steps where she’d be standing, Amanda was justifiably scared. Not to mention, Amanda noted “I was going to become highly visible, which is a very dangerous thing to be in America, especially if you are Black, outspoken, and have no secret service. Are you all sensing a theme? Like, LaTosha Brown had to leave her house last year. They tried to chase Brittney Cooper out of Rutgers, and I’ve already told you all about some of the wild threats I’ve had, and none of us have had to deal with the amount of massive visibility that Amanda has. So what does all this mean? It tells us very plainly that the fact that freedom work is this costly is a stain on America herself, because it should never be this risky just to tell the truth. Ultimately, Amanda said, only she could answer whether the poem was worth it. Amanda, I’m really glad you decided that it was. But even if you hadn’t, you’d still be incredible, and more than enough. In her wise words, do not fear your fear. Own it, free it. We are UNDISTRACTED. 

On the show today, journalist Elaine Welteroth. I’ll be talking to the former Teen Vogue editor about the Great Resignation, designing your own career, and pushing for deeper conversations on race and identity. 

Elaine Welteroth You know, I remember being at Teen Vogue and, you know, sitting down with the whole staff and just being like: Are you bored? ‘Cause I’m bored. I’m bored with the way we’ve been doing things. There is more to say. Like, we have got to mean more than a pretty picture.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up. But first, it’s your UnTrending news. 

This week, the Arizona Democratic Party voted unanimously to censure Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Imagine your friends doing that to you. (Laughs). The decision, which is essentially a symbolic slap on the wrist, came after she voted with Republicans to block a rule change to the filibuster that would have enabled the passing of desperately needed voting rights legislation. Here’s what your boy, Bernie Sanders, had to say on “Meet the Press” about the decision to censure Sinema. 

Bernie Sanders It was absolutely imperative that we change the rules so that we could pass strong voting rights legislation. All Republicans voted against us, two Democrats voted against us. That was a terrible, terrible vote. And I think what the Arizona Democratic Party did was exactly right. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, it was. I hope this censure actually holds some weight, at least with her. I’m glad to see groups like NARAL and Emily’s List revoking their support of her because you know you can’t be pro-choice if you’re not pro voting rights. Here’s one even better though, Sinema is up for reelection in 2024, and our friends at Voto Latino are already working to unseat her. This week they announced their campaign Adios Sinema, to make sure she’s replaced with someone who, you know, cares about democracy more than their career prospects. I say goodbye and good riddance because all representation ain’t righteous. 

Next up, today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the U.N. urges every member state to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism, and to develop educational programs to prevent future genocides. This is especially important right now as anti-vax and anti-lockdown protesters at various rallies around the world have been trivializing the Holocaust by comparing themselves to victims of Nazis. Even Robert Kennedy Jr. suggested things are worse for people today with mask mandates than they were for Anne Frank. 

Robert Kennedy Jr. What we’re seeing is what I call turnkey totalitarianism. Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You can hide in an attic like Anne Frank did. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Now, RFK Jr. has since apologized, probably because even his own wife disowned those comments. Listen, I call bullshit on any comparison to the Holocaust. It is deeply anti-Semitic, especially considering the hostage situation that just took place at a Texas synagogue earlier this month. And it’s ignorant as hell, but don’t take it from me. Here’s what the Auschwitz Museum said on Twitter. Quote: “Exploiting the tragedy of people who suffered, were humiliated, tortured and murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany, including children like Anne Frank, in a debate about vaccines and limitations during a global pandemic is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decay.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham January 22nd marked the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I’m praying it is not the last one. Advocates rallied in various cities and on the steps of the Supreme Court to celebrate bodily autonomy because the threats are looming. The Supreme Court is set to decide on Mississippi’s abortion law this summer, a ruling that, given the court’s conservative majority, could very well overturn Roe v. Wade. Here’s Reverend Jacqui Lewis, who delivered a powerful adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer at the rally. 

Rev. Jacqui Lewis Deliver us from white hegemonic supremacist notions, masquerading as Christianity. Somebody say Amen. Deliver us from white men deciding what happens to my body. Amen. And Amen. And Awoman. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  Amen, awoman, all that. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for any amount of time, you know that over here we believe in reproductive justice. It’s a racial justice issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a human issue because if we don’t have agency over our own bodies, we have nothing. 

And finally, the news just came in that Justice Stephen Breyer, an influential liberal on the Supreme Court, is set to retire. We’ll see and say more on this next week, but this is going to be a fascinating time to see if President Biden sticks to a very important campaign promise. You’ll probably remember that he pledged during his 2020 campaign that if he was elected, he would name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. One contender in the spotlight is Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Other possible picks include California Supreme Court Justice Leondra R. Kruger and U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner. Whomever it is, so much hangs in the balance. So the Democrats better get moving. 

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Elaine Welteroth about why so many women, especially BIPOC women, are ditching their jobs to follow our own dreams right after this short break. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And we are back. They’re calling it the Great Resignation. Tens of millions of people have been quitting their jobs. Folks fed up with low wages and bad benefits. Women wanting to start their own businesses. Folks searching for values alignment and not just a paycheck. Truth be told, it may be more of a great awakening. I had my own great awakening right before the start of this quarantation. In January 2020, I left Teach for America after nearly 10 years, and I left the security of a steady paycheck for the first time ever. Well, my guest today is the ultimate multi-hyphenate who knows a little something about designing a career on your own terms. Elaine Welteroth is a journalist, an author, a TV host. In 2016, at age 39, she became the editor of Teen Vogue, the youngest ever editor in chief of a Condé Nast publication, and only the second Black woman to hold that title. Elaine is also the author of the bestselling book More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say). More recently, Elaine became a Master Class instructor, helping people find their true value and purpose, which is exactly what so many of us need right now in this transitional time. Hi, my sister. Elaine Welteroth, I’m so glad you’re here. 

Elaine Welteroth Hi, B. I’m so excited to do this. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You and our dear sweet friend Jonathan are expecting her first child. Congratulations. How are you feeling? 

Elaine Welteroth Thank you, Sister. Today is a good day. I’ve entered the third trimester and I think I’ve hit a good groove finally. But let it be known that pregnancy is hard—a hard ass, full time job and every mother that I know I am looking at through a whole different lens of complete awe. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I am blessed and I am enjoying the kicks. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I love that. I love that. You know, whenever you and I are together, we talk about life. We always end up talking about work because there’s always so much going on. And I think a lot of people look to you for that for very good reason. You even recently did a Master Class called Designing Your Career, which I love, and it’s so perfect because you really are a role model for taking these dreams, putting them in your hands and trying to mold them to get them exactly what you want it to be. So who did you want to reach with your Master Class and what was the thing that you really wanted to convey? What was the big idea? 

Elaine Welteroth Well, you know, I really wanted to reach people whose ambitions and desires and dreams don’t fit neatly into a box or one singular title. I wanted people to feel permission to kind of rewrite their own definition of success. And that true purpose really is multipurpose. It’s multifaceted, and it can be applied in so many different ways. And I think that’s the beauty of the moment that we’re living in right now is that all of those traditional pathways are being disrupted. All those traditional systems are falling, you know, faltering at best. And then with COVID. I think if there is a silver lining, I hate to use that term, but I think it’s that people have had to surrender to the reality that job security doesn’t exist. And that really neither is the concept of control like, you know? So it’s sort of like so many of us have gotten an opportunity through the challenge of the last couple of years to rethink their path, their purpose, how they’re spending their days. And this season has presented an opportunity to pivot in a lot of different aspects of life. And so why not be more intentional about our next step that is more fulfilling and to stop living on autopilot? I think that’s really the message. I think we need to be reminded because we don’t learn this in school. We don’t learn this from our parents that you are in the driver’s seat of your life and your career, and no one’s going to tap you on the shoulder and appoint you to the position that you were meant to be in on this planet like you have to appoint yourself. And it takes real work and excavation to figure out what that really looks like, what you want that to look like. And I wanted to give people a framework and a friend to help them figure that out, or at least to start. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I love that, a framework and a friend, especially in a moment like this when you know you mention the fact that this time has helped a lot of us realize that job security is a myth. I will say both for the employee, but also the employer. Right? That there are a lot of folks who figured people would never step out of the perceived comfort of a “secure” job or role. And yet we find ourselves in the middle of this so-called Great Resignation in America with the pandemic as a backdrop. I mean, in September alone, we know 4.4 million people quit their jobs. What’s really going on here, right? Why are so many people, women, marginalized folks especially deciding to leave the workforce and chart that kind of different course that you’re talking about? 

Elaine Welteroth Absolutely. I think that there’s a lot of people that have come out of this period of reflection with new priorities, and a new sense of courage because that’s what hard times cultivates within you is courage. Like if we can make it through a pandemic, certainly, we can figure out how to chart a new path in our careers if we’re unfulfilled. And I do think that in addition to the COVID pandemic, there was a racial reckoning that was a different kind of pandemic that a lot of people of color, Black folks in particular, were deeply affected by, changed by. And that summer of 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, really unearthed some conversations and hard conversations, some critical conversations within many an office environment. And you know, in the end, if corporations were not really ready to practice what they preached in their press releases or on social media, Black folks and people of color and folks who really were about that change and that progress decided to seek opportunities elsewhere. Like, I think that for so long, the mantra has been, you know, fighting for your seat at the table. And I think that mindset has shifted to not fighting to set your table anymore. If anything, I’m going to invest my energy and time into building my own or to finding like-minded folks to sit at the table with me. And I just think people started prioritizing their peace and their mental health and their values. And when they found areas that were out of alignment, it was time to move differently. And sometimes that’s what we need. We need a little bit. We need a little push. And my first boss, who’s one of my mentors, Harriette Cole, used to always say, you will either be pushed or pulled into your destiny. Either way, you will go.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Mm. Wow. I mean, Harriette Cole is a legend in her own right, and this is why she can come with that kind of wisdom, right? But you speak about the push, and if we’re honest, there are two sides of this coin, right? So there are folks who are pushed to reflect and then they can employ their agency and autonomy in making a different choice. But especially in the wake of the pandemic, there have been so many women and women of color in particular who have been pushed out of the workforce involuntarily right, not on our own time or by our own accord. Women workers have taken the brunt of child care duties during the pandemic. On top of family care and often work, or they’ve had to quit their jobs because they have to take on their child care or, you know, they were just refusing to keep putting up with the, like you said, the total bullshit of like hostile racist work environments. And I think that people are mischaracterizing some of this because they’re calling it burnout or saying that everyone is quitting to follow their own dreams. But it’s more than that, right? 

Elaine Welteroth Mm hmm. I think that so many women right now listening to this podcast probably feel very seen and are probably shaking their heads. I know just from my own inner circle, what you’re speaking is the true experience of so many women. And, you know, I’m excited to see in the next ten years how the resilience of these women who have been pushed out of their dreams in some cases, forced out of jobs that they spent a decade or more building. I just kind of can’t wait to see what’s on the other side of this and what women do with this and what comes of the resilience that is being seeded in this season. But certainly, it has not been easy, and I don’t think that experience of women in this particular moment has been spotlighted enough. Like, I don’t think that people recognize the unique challenges that have been presented to women and women of color in particular in this time.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Especially speaking of women of color. If you look at the stats from this past December 2021, it was Black, Latina, and Asian women that comprise nearly all of the job losses for women. So I mean, we are talking uniquely about something that affects us. What should employers be doing to keep women of color from being pushed out of the workforce? 

Elaine Welteroth I mean, I think this is such a big question to tackle, and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think listening to women is where it begins because women will tell you what it is that they need. And I think that for too long companies have not been hearing them. And you know, I can speak about my best friend since seventh grade. She’s someone who works in the financial world and spent her entire career working to become partner at her firm, and her husband is also someone who is on that partner track. They had two small children and like months into the pandemic, her dream was decimated because she found herself overnight, carrying the overwhelming burden of the household responsibilities, taking care of these children 24-7, her husband is immunocompromised so they could not have caretakers in the home and her life just like that. I mean, she had to confront, you know, the very real primal question of do I protect and care for my children, or do I continue nurturing this career? But to be faced with that kind of question at this point in your career, especially for you and I, we’re like, right at that sweet spot, we’re like mid-thirties. We’re sort of finally reaping the benefits of all of the work that we’ve put in and we’ve planted all these seeds in our gardens are starting to grow professionally and like, we’re at that unique point where we can take it to the next level, and we shouldn’t have to choose between taking our careers to the next level or becoming parents. And so she essentially had to give up her career. There was no way for her to continue operating at the level that she was expected to operate to stay on that partner track and keep her children alive in a pandemic. And rather than her company hearing her when she raised her hand and asked for certain graces, a different set of hours. Can I work earlier in the morning and later in the evening so I can be present for my children during the day, I will get my work done. I mean, there were a number of different solutions that she presented. And the long story short is she was pushed out of her company. I mean, discarded overnight. But I also think it empowered her to create the kind of company that does prioritize women’s needs. And she’s now on her entrepreneurial path, started her own company, works on her own hours, and I’m just so proud of her. And I think she’s one example of, you know, like one story that reflects a reality that so many women are facing, and she’s still in the midst of figuring out this new path. And that’s why I say I want to see where we are in 10 years from now because I believe in these women and I believe in what they’re able to build. And I’m excited about them not taking less than they deserve, killing themselves to stay in these systems that are not set up to serve you or not to not set up for you to win. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. I’m curious kind of what your personal philosophy is around that design or redesign, if you will, of one’s career. I mean, we are talking about, you know, people on the oppressed end of the gender spectrum, rethinking our careers, reevaluating our lives. You spent time working at some of the most high profile places, right? I mean, we’re talking Ebony, Glamour, Teen Vogue and you took a lot of risks. You broke a lot of barriers, both at those places and when you chose to leave those places and have accomplished so much during that time. What is that personal philosophy, that personal mission statement that has helped you chart that career path? 

Elaine Welteroth Well, again, I have to shout out Harriette Cole because I feel really grateful to have found her sort of career model, if you will, like her bio really is what I found on the internet, and it gave me a blueprint to follow. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with Harriette Cole, she really was ahead of her time. I always say to her that she was amazing. She was a multi-hyphenate before multi-hyphenating was a thing like, now everybody’s kind of side hustling and multi-hyphenating and, you know, pivoting and doing all the things. But she was doing that before it was popular and before millennials kind of put it on the map and gave it a little cute little hashtag. And I just remember thinking, that is the coolest thing. Wait, you can do that. Like, I don’t have to choose one title for the rest of my life. You know, we say all the time, it’s now become such a played out phrase, but like, representation matters. And I needed to see someone that I could identify with doing something that I aspired to do to believe that it was possible for me. And so I entered into my magazine career with this long game in mind, like I came into the game going ‘I will reach the point of diminishing returns and I will have to take a leap of faith’ like I not even have to—I will know and trust when it is time for me to take that leap of faith and I will build this multipronged media empire of my own one day, I didn’t anticipate that that one day would come-

Brittany Packnett Cunningham quite so soon,

Elaine Welteroth So much sooner, you know, than I ever, ever, ever expected. So, you know, I think it’s important, though, to have that career blueprint in mind. Like, have a long game, even if it changes. Like, Listen, you make your plans, God laughs at them. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s right.  

Elaine Welteroth But I do think it’s important to enter into everything with intention. And I had this mantra of like, have I reached- this question, I should say, that I posed to myself often in my career, throughout my magazine career and beyond: “have I reached the point of diminishing returns?” And I think it’s such an important question to ask ourselves because there are times when you are just sort of burnt out and maybe you just need a vacation, but you’re not done growing, and you’re not done learning and you were put there to do more. You know, and it’s not quite time to leave. And then, you know, there are other times when the answer is, yeah, I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns and it’s time to move on. And so that’s been a helpful kind of north star for me as I’ve navigated multiple transitions throughout my career. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, I think what’s so powerful, I mean, I remember first seeing Harriette Cole’s face on that letter from the editor page in Ebony, right, and seeing her bright, smiling face in that picture. But I think what is so beautiful in the way that you’ve continued to build upon her legacy is that not only have you been willing to take the risks to be a multi-hyphenate, but you’ve done it incredibly authentically. Like every time I see you showing up, I’m like, Oh no, that’s Elaine. And that’s the same, Elaine I’m going to get like when I run into you at the event or when we’re like kiki-ing on Facetime like you are, you’re full, authentic self on every job. 

Elaine Welteroth Hmm. Thank you. I really appreciate that a lot. I frankly don’t know any other way to be. So, but I do think that, you know, I have not always felt so comfortable in my skin, in my work. It’s been a process to arrive at a place where I feel that I can show up fully as myself. And there were times where it was difficult to find my voice, and I’ve often felt like an outsider, even in these insider-y spaces that I’ve sort of infiltrated. Being the only one who looks like me in a room often has been something that I’ve wrestled with. You know, there’s this sort of age old question for any Black person who knows what it is to be the only one in white spaces. Do you assimilate? Or do you lean into your difference? And I’ve done both throughout my career and ultimately I’ve found more power, I have felt more of my power by leaning into my difference. And as far as hard as that can be sometimes and uncovered that, you know, authenticity is a superpower, even if it makes some people uncomfortable and it has. And so I feel grateful that that has been something that has blossomed and that now is becoming sort of a non-negotiable guiding light. I guess, if you will like, it’s sort of a really good litmus test, like can I be my full self here or not? And if, yeah, if not, it’s non-negotiable. Like, I can’t. I can’t and I won’t compromise parts of myself to fit into any space any longer. And I recognize the privilege in that statement, and I recognize how many, like, shoulders I stand on and how many ancestors never got that opportunity and that I’m doing. I make decisions now, not only for me, but because of them. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Elaine Welteroth I won’t shrink because of them, because they had to. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham But to your point, with that privilege of being able to choose to be your authentic self or say no comes, of course, the immense responsibility to keep opening the door wider and wider. And you’ve been doing that. You did that at Ebony. You did that at Teen Vogue. You did that on the talk. You’ve been doing that on “Project Runway.” You’ve been intentional about taking on racism, feminism, activism and helping people connect the dots between these so-called political issues and lifestyle, fashion. All of these spaces that you occupy. Why has it been so important to you to place that spotlight on justice, on equity and especially on, and say, elevating Black voices and Black culture in these kind of mainstream media spaces you’ve been able to occupy as of late? 

Elaine Welteroth You know, I think it’s just it’s the reason I’m there and I’m clear on that. Like, I’m not there to sort of just go with the status quo. I’m there to challenge, to push. And really, I think I’ve always thought of fashion and beauty as lenses through which to see the world and platforms to have deeper conversations about identity, race. I always call them like, I used to say, like, you know, beauty is the universal equalizer. It’s an easy way to bring in a lot of people into conversations that not everybody is ready to have or wants to have. And so I see it as a unique opportunity to bring people together across divides. And I do also think like I’ve been so inspired by young people in my career, particularly at Teen Vogue and watching how fearless they are in having conversations that challenge norms and that, you know, deconstruct certain stigmas and how they celebrate individuality and acceptance and like how they take no bullshit and like, call bullshit. And I think that they raised the bar, frankly, for us editorially within the magazine industry. And so I feel grateful for the times that we’re in as challenging as they are. I’m grateful for the young people that push us harder to question our why. You know, I remember being at Teen Vogue and, you know, sitting down with the whole staff and just being like, Are you bored? Cause I’m bored, I’m bored with the way we’ve been doing things. It’s like, yeah, there is more to say, like we have got to mean more than a pretty picture, like, what’s the story here? What’s the story that we want to tell? What’s the story no one’s telling. Whose voices deserve to be amplified? And I think, you know, when Trump went into office and we realized, like, there’s so much work to do, I think it empowered a lot of us content creators, storytellers, truth tellers to step up and like to step into gear. And I think I heeded that call like a lot of other people, and you can’t look back. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham This conversation is making me think about our now dearly departed André Leon Talley, who was again a born disruptor, right? An HBCU graduate born and bred in the south and comes in like a burst of light in spaces of fashion and art and culture that were not supposed to welcome a Black queer man with his background. How do you think about extending legacies like him, like his rather, to continue disrupting? 

Elaine Welteroth Hmm. It’s on us to keep it moving, to carry. It’s on us to carry that torch now. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Elaine Welteroth You know, my heart is still so heavy about his loss. And I’ve been reflecting a lot about what his life meant and what it will continue to mean. And also the ways in which the value he added to culture, to American culture, were undervalued while he was here. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Mm hmm. 

Elaine Welteroth It leaves me with a heavy heart, but it also fuels my charge to both give flowers to those who deserve them while they’re here. And also to carry his torch forward and that of many of our greats that are falling, you know? 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamYeah.

Elaine Welteroth The passing of Virgil Abloh.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  My goodness.

Elaine Welteroth It is devastating. Gone too soon. 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamYeah. 

Elaine Welteroth You know, and I think with the two of them, it felt to me that their legacies were cut short. When I think about André, it’s like André, like Harriette, was so ahead of his time. 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamMm hmm. 

Elaine Welteroth You know his, his presence and his persona and his disruptive perspective in an industry that had been so myopic would have been so valued and valuable today. I mean, every brand would have wanted to align with an André Leon Talley today. 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamIf they’re smart. 

Elaine Welteroth Right? But he landed on the scene before social media, before brand partnerships. And I think, you know, he trailblazed in his own way, but he never got to reap the benefits of the kind of path that he laid for all of us. You know, like, he wasn’t able to monetize his fabulosity in the ways in which the millennials –

Brittany Packnett Cunningham in the ways that he deserved 

Elaine Welteroth in the ways that he deserved, in the ways that the kids are now. And I love that, you know, at least he got his opportunity to tell his story and his truth. I wish there was more support for him when he did that while he was here. 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamYeah. 

Elaine Welteroth And I think that’s a call to action for all of us, for an entire industry to rally around people when they speak up. And I don’t think that happened for him. So part of it is a bittersweet; there’s something bittersweet about laying him to rest, but I feel invigorated by the kind of a legacy that he leaves behind, I guess, like I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for André. You know, I’m clear on that. And you know, one thing I just want to say because most people don’t know this about André. Everybody is, you know, clear on his impact. You know, from this proverbial throne at Vogue. But what people don’t know is that he started his career at Ebony

Brittany Packnett CunninghamThat’s right.

Elaine Welteroth And that is what I find so inspiring. That is what set me on my path. You know, when I found Harriette Cole and at the time she was at the helm of Ebony. And Ebony, it wasn’t the sexy magazine that it once was at that point. And people would, you know, even Black folks, particularly Black folks, would, you know, would challenge my decision in starting my career-

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Like, why are you working at Ebony

Elaine Welteroth Why you want to work at Ebony?. And I had an opportunity to start my career at Essence, which was like the much sexier magazine at the time, especially for a girl who loved fashion and beauty. But I wanted to work among one of the greats, and Harriette was one of the great. And I believed in the legacy of Ebony. And I wanted to be a part of resurrecting that, and I look to André Leon Talley started at Ebony.  If André can started Ebony and end up at Vogue, there’s no telling what I can do like, you know what I mean? It was- That’s what he that’s what he meant to me, and I started my career there with my head up high because André started his career there. And I never got to tell him that. But if I could sit with him, if I could sit at his feet and tell him what he meant to me, that’s what I would say. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hmm. He hears you. He hears you. Before I let you go, I mean, there are so many ways for you to keep building this beautiful…  I won’t just say career, right? But this beautiful portfolio of purpose that you are pursuing.

Elaine Welteroth Ooh. Ooh! 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamThat’s a lot of P’s, But you know what? You know, I’m I’m a preacher’s kid, so we like alliteration. But you know what I’m saying.

Elaine Welteroth You do be preaching, B.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham But I’m curious as to what’s next for you, right? You and Jonathan are dropping this collab of a baby in the Spring. So you’ve certainly got to approach this next chapter with balance. 

Elaine Welteroth Yes. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So what is, what is next for you? 

Elaine Welteroth Yeah, man. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Which we would love to know, because if you tell us you want to go retool Vogue, you know, we’ll take the exclusive.

Elaine Welteroth No corporate structures for me any time soon Sister. But no you’re- listen, baby is demanding that Sis learns the art of balance. You know, it’s something that I have not been excellent at throughout my career. You know, we’ve both come up in hustle culture. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. Eye roll here.

Elaine Welteroth I’m like, Make it happen queen. Like, I haven’t historically known my limits or set boundaries. But a baby will create a

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Set them for you. 

Elaine Welteroth They will set them for you. Like, it’s like, sit down and eat sis, now. Like, it’s like, Go to bed now. It’s like, it is forcing a new way of being that I don’t think would have been possible any other way. And I have tried, like I’ve (unclear) – I have started and stopped so many self-care routines. But this is different and this one feels like a permanent change like is underway and I’m now. I resisted it and now I’m in surrender. And professionally, I’m really excited because I just made a very what I call big girl hire. I’ve hired a VP of development, and we are building a production company and I’m working in a beautiful office. I’m remembering how important it is to surround myself with beauty and to have a space to create. And I’m writing again and I’m really inspired by the process. I’m developing my book to TV adaptation, and that is like the next big baby that I feel like I am giving creative, you know, creative birth, that I’m that I’m in the process of. So I feel like I’m pregnant physically and creatively right now and in a really good place with both. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I love you. I’m so grateful to you for spending some time with us, and I’m grateful for all the light you’re shining in the world, so I cannot wait to see what you drop next, including baby to come. 

Elaine Welteroth Thank you so much B. I love you too. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  Elaine Welteroth is an award winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author, and television host. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  There’s a lot of privilege that comes with charting your own path the way Elaine laid out. But there shouldn’t have to be. Like, she said, times of destruction are opportunities to reinvent. Honestly, I’d say times of destruction require reinvention. Whether you’ve completely left the workplace or you’ve simply decided that it will no longer run your life, the Great Resignation is shaking a lot of us up out of our dry places. It’s like we’ve peeked behind the giant curtain of capitalism and realized freedom is not hidden somewhere back there. It’s out here in the time we spend nourishing our own dreams and communities and families, and we don’t have to sacrifice our power and our energy or our time to our bosses any longer. Frankly, I’m looking very forward to this brave new world. We just actually got to take the time from work to build it. 


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Matlow. 

Our associate producer is Alexis Moore. 

Thanks always to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen, and Hannis Brown. 

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you check out your favorite podcasts. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being, and thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.