How looking back at family history inspired Elaine Welteroth to go forward in her career

Elaine Welteroth first made a name for herself in the magazine industry, becoming the youngest and first African American editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue, all before the age of 30. She left the magazine industry in 2017 to pursue a career in television, writing episodes of Freeform’s “Grownish” and serving as a judge on Bravo’s “Project Runway.” In June, she published her first book, “More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say).” 

We recently met up with Welteroth at an event hosted by Ancestry, the global leader in family history and consumer genomics, to talk about how looking back at her family history has made an impact on her and her career. 

While Welteroth’s book is partly a memoir that takes you back from the very beginning of her life (back to day when she was born, even) to coming into herself and finding her true potential, her family tree shows an even deeper story.

“I think it’s more emotional than I expected,” she said, referring to her genealogy results. “I think learning that I came from hard working people who defied the odds, who are extraordinarily resilient, gave me a sense of pride that I think was unexpected.”

Through her family tree, Welteroth was able to find photos of her great-great-great-grandfather and learn even more about her 100-year-old grandmother, who recently passed away.

“I’m a storyteller and I’m a journalist, so I’m also seeking truth in answers, and this process is just like filling the blanks,” she said. 

Like many millennials and Generation Z-ers, their parents and especially grandparents didn’t always have the opportunities. Traditional life goals included getting married, having children and getting a job that one could work in for the rest of their life — all things to take pride in, but aren't necessarily the norm today. Today’s generation tends to change jobs at a more rapid pace than their parents. 

“[Back then], success was prescribed, whereas I feel like our generation has the incredible luxury of defining success for ourselves. And so we better take hold of that, and not miss the opportunity to rewrite the rules for what it means to be successful and happy and fulfilled. That’s a true privilege,” Welteroth said.

Welteroth said she always knew she wanted to go into television and have a book at some point, but took the leap of faith from her magazine job earlier than expected. When you’ve accomplished your dream, you have to give yourself permission to chase the next one she explained.

“My mom has always raised me with this idea that my job in life is to go farther than any woman in our lineage ever could," she said. "She’s encouraged me to think about success not as a selfish endeavor or as a selfish pursuit, but one that is almost in service of all of the dreams deferred, for the women that came before us. They didn’t have the access, the opportunity, the freedom to pursue their passions. So it feels like the ultimate luxury, and now responsibility, to take those liberties that we have and exploit them, and take it as far as I can.

“My mom always says, there’s this amazing artist that has this quote, ‘I am my ancestors wildest dreams,’ and I think about that a lot.”

 

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NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: Elaine Welteroth, Mari Andrew, Katie Couric, Halima Alden, Maluca and Sophia Amoruso attend the premiere of the New Global Docu-Series - "Timelines" with SK-II And Katie Couric at Crosby Street Hotel on July 10, 2019 in New York City. Visit SK-II.com to watch the #Timelines films. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for SK-II)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 05: Elaine Marie Welteroth, editor in chief of Teen Vogue speaks during the 25th Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 05, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Josh Brasted/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 14: Elaine Welteroth and actress/singer Zendaya attend the New York screening of HBO's "Euphoria" on June 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for HBO)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1078 -- Pictured: (l-r) Journalist Elaine Welteroth during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on June 11, 2019 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 11: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Elaine Welteroth visits Build Studio on June 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 11: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Elaine Welteroth visits Build Studio on June 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 03: Aurora James and Elaine Welteroth attend the 2019 CFDA Fashion Awards- Arrivals at Brooklyn Museum on June 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
PROJECT RUNWAY -- Episode 1714 -- Pictured: (l-r) Diane von Fürstenberg, Elaine Welteroth, Nina Garcia, Brandon Maxwell, Karlie Kloss -- (Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
PROJECT RUNWAY -- "One Elle of a Day" Episode 1713 -- Pictured: (l-r) Elaine Welteroth, Nina Garcia -- (Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 13: Elaine Welteroth speaks on stage at The 23rd Annual Webby Awards on May 13, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Webby Awards)
Teen Vogue editor in chief Elaine Welteroth attends The Hollywood Reporter's Empowerment In Entertainment Event 2019 at Milk Studios on April 30, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Elaine Welteroth speaks onstage at the 10th Annual DVF Awards at Brooklyn Museum on April 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for DVF Awards)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Elaine Welteroth speaks onstage during the 10th Annual DVF Awards at Brooklyn Museum on April 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DVF Awards)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Elaine Welteroth speaks onstage at the 10th Anniversary Women In The World Summit - Day 2 at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on April 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Elaine Welteroth (C) speaks on stage at Beautycon Festival New York 2019 at Jacob Javits Center on April 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Beautycon)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 07: Elaine Welteroth attends Bravo's "Project Runway" New York Premiere at Vandal on March 07, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Journalist Elaine Welteroth attends The 2019 Biden Courage Awards at Russian Tea Room on March 26, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for It's On Us)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Elaine Welteroth attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Dan MacMedan/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Elaine Welteroth attends the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
THE OSCARS® - The 91st Oscars® broadcasts live on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood and will be televised live on The Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Television Network at 8:00 p.m. EST/5:00 p.m. PST. (Eric McCandless via Getty Images) ELAINE WELTEROTH
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 21: (L-R) Honoree Regina Hall, Sean 'Diddy' Combs, honoree KiKi Layne, honoree Amandla Stenberg, Sanaa Lathan, and Elaine Welteroth attend the 2019 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards Luncheon at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on February 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Essence)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 21: Elaine Welteroth speaks onstage during the 2019 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards Luncheon at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on February 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Essence)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 12: Elaine Welteroth is seen wearing a fur coat, yellow sweater, black pants and Marc Jacobs bag outside the Coach 1941 show during New York Fashion Week: Fall/Winter 2019 on February 12, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: (L-R) Lauren Santo Domingo, Huma Abedin, Tarana Burke, a guest and Elaine Welteroth attend the Prabal Gurung front row during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery I at Spring Studios on February 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 09: Elaine Welteroth (R) attends the Brandon Maxwell front row during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Penn Plaza Pavilion on February 9, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) Cipriana Quann, TK Wonder, Elena Matei, Bella Harris, Elaine Welteroth and Tess Holliday attend the Tadashi Shoji FW'19 Fashion Show front row during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery I at Spring Studios on February 7, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Tadashi Shoji)
ASPEN, CO - FEBRUARY 04: Elaine Welteroth and Olivia Munn attend the Frame and Bumble dinner at Caribou Club on February 4, 2019 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images for Frame Denim)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23: Journalist Elaine Welteroth attends HBO's "I Be Knowin'" NYC Screening with Amanda Seales at The Roxy Hotel Cinema on January 23, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for HBO)
PROJECT RUNWAY -- "The Art of Fashion" Episode 1712 -- Pictured: (l-r) Linda Fargo, Elaine Welteroth, Nina Garcia, Brandon Maxwell, Karlie Kloss -- (Photo by: Karolina Wojtasik/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MASPETH, NY - NOVEMBER 17: Elaine Welteroth and Jerico Mandybur speak onstage at Girlboss Rally NYC 2018 at Knockdown Center on November 17, 2018 in Maspeth, New York. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images for Girlboss Rally NYC 2018)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: DJs Coco & Breezy (L) and Elaine Welteroth attend the BumbleSpot #attheMoxy launch at Moxy NYC Downtown on November 13, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Bumble)
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