When I think about the course of my life, I liken it to an ocean. Seemingly endless. At times, turbulent. Other times, calm and peaceful – nothing short of a breeze. It's a constant ebb and flow. A continuous state of flux.
Throughout your years of struggle, you quickly learn that as soon as you think you've been granted some sort of certainty by way of securing the bag in education, or the entry level job you've been wanting, that deluxe apartment in the sky – you feel you've made it. I haven't quite felt that epiphany just yet, but I feel I'm close to it. Closer than I've ever been.
At times of discomfort and of uncertainty, writing saved me from myself and made me feel safe enough to accept that my life would be about the journey overall, not a destination.
I was just 23 years old when I was offered an opportunity to be a sex contributor for xoNecole after penning a sexually expressive blog as part of a blogger writer challenge. I had been so afraid to write this piece, but I took the plunge and was rewarded greatly. I now had my first gig with a media outlet.
At the age of 26, I am now the site's managing editor. I'm just now settling into my new role, but you could not have told me at the age of 23, that I'd be helping to run a thriving digital media outlet that uplifts and empowers the next black woman. It was just a year ago, that I had no idea where my career was headed, but I was reminded that at 25, Elaine Welteroth became the first black beauty director in Conde Naste 72 year history. At age 29, she stepped into her coveted role as Editor In Chief at Teen Vogue and that helped me keep my eye squarely focused on my own journey as a writer in the digital space.
In case you aren't familiar with her work, Elaine took the publishing world by storm last year when she became the youngest editor to hold the title of Editor-In-Chief at Teen Vogue, and only the second black person ever to hold the position in Conde Nast's history. When I learned of her accomplishment, it felt like a win for black women everywhere who aspire to be on a similar journey. Including me.
At the time, I was in the process of starting over. Yet again. This time, it was right after losing my 9 to 5 (well, more like 1 to 9) where I was a glorified telemarketer. It was yet another gig I used to keep me afloat while in pursuit of the things that set my soul on fire. I wanted to write, but at the time, writing didn't pay the bills. Not completely anyway. When I lost that job, it felt like yet another message from God telling me that this wasn't where I was supposed to be. Everything seemed to crash all at once then and I found myself back home to recoup and heal.
Seeing Elaine take the reigns at Teen Vogue, it felt like a shining light in the midst of the shadows that doubt veiled over my life. I saw my world open up to a new possibility. Life wasn't one size fits all. She would become my inspiration and my aspiration and I started tuning into what Teen Vogue was doing daily. Before her, reading the mag wasn't even an option for me.
But I felt connected to her story. I felt connected to her win. More importantly, I felt connected to the way she treated young girls like complex, intelligent, progressive young women.
It was incredible to see a woman who saw a void and did her best to address it on her own terms.
Prior to making waves as the EIC at Teen Vogue, Elaine got her start at Ebony as an unpaid intern, which eventually led to a paid permanent position. From there, she became the Beauty & Style Editor of the magazine before joining Glamour in 2011, where she served as a beauty writer and editor. While at Glamour, she was promoted to Senior Beauty Editor, and transitioned to Teen Vogue as their Beauty and Health Director. Within three years, she'd be offered the role of a journalist's dream as the EIC of a publication that was ready for a major rebrand. And she was the one who held the pen.
This week, she announced her decision to part ways with the publication and possibly leave the publishing world behind altogether. In an Instagram post, she wrote:
When I moved to New York City at 21 as an editorial intern, my greatest dream was to become Editor-in-Chief. It was a goal too intimidating to even say aloud. I was convinced it was totally out of reach for someone with no connections, no trust fund, and no fancy clothes. I pursued the path anyway. Eventually, I started believing the vision placed inside of me. I learned to shrug off the fear of failure, and how to refuse the urge to shrink—even when I was asked to.
Now, at 31, God has broken the glass ceiling on all of my wildest childhood dreams. My bucket list is all checked off and somewhere along the way I've managed to join the ranks of unstoppable women who've, throughout history, stared back into the face of the unknown and decided to MAKE IT HAPPEN. Now, it is time to dream even bigger.
In a matter of five years, we saw Elaine achieve the pinnacle of success. She gave a magazine a deeper purpose by offering more than pop culture, beauty, and fashion stories to their young demographic. She envisioned a publication that mirrored the complexity and the issues of her readership and expanded it to make way for coverage of topics like social justice, politics, and feminism. She also elevated her personal brand tremendously and recently signed with top talent agency CAA with plans to venture into more speaking engagements, TV, film and endorsement opportunities.
Her moving on in pursuit of goals that surpass her wildest dreams is encouraging to other young black women to do the same. She rounded out her farewell post on Instagram with this gem we can all live by:
What I know now that I didn't know at 21 is that life is a series of dreams realized. There is no destination, but there will be breakthrough after breakthrough along the way. Our greatest obligation is to keep reaching, to continue growing, to push beyond what seems possible, to live outside the boxes created for us. That is exactly what 2018 is about for me, and for all of us. I'm beyond excited for what the future holds—if 2017 taught us anything, it's to never underestimate the power of a black woman.
When I think about my own journey, I've done a lot of settling out of fear. And it wasn't necessarily the fear of failure, as it was the fear of how great I could be.
When I think about it, that's what the detours are. The safety net that we convince ourselves that we need by staying at a job or two that no longer serves where we want to go and who we want to be.
It's time to give ourselves permission to be greater than what's expected.
As a young journalist well on her way to making incredible moves of my own in this world, it's an honor to be led by women like Elaine who show me the magnitude of my wildest dreams come to life. It's also a reminder that at the end of the day, we define what our lives look like.
And although the presence of a destination is obsolete in my definition of success these days, I own and welcome the prospect of living my best life. A life that serves me. A career that drives me. A passion that fuels me. Completely absent of settling. The world is ours for the taking.