When you think of Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop, you immediately think of style, substance and boundary-pushing content, and the same can be said for the website's former chief content officer, Elise Loehnen...
As Gwyneth’s former right-hand woman, Elise brought her past magazine experience (she was at Conde Nast Traveller and Lucky magazine pre-Goop) to deliver all the thought-provoking stories that have made you re-think, re-visit or re-imagine your own life path – from the frivolous to the serious and everything in between.
“One of the things that we hear is that we give women the option to get off the trend ferris wheel—there comes a point in all women’s lives when you just want to find what works for you and stick with it…no more test-driving!—but I think we’re all typically interested in those subtle tweaks, those small paradigm shifts, those cutting edge things that might not have broken into the mainstream yet but carry a lot of value.”
Like many working mothers, Elise is juggling a demanding career with raising two small boys, and she’s realistic about the balance it takes to merge the two worlds efficiently. “I do the mornings, and my husband does the nights. So he does the bedtime routine, which he really treasures, while I catch up on email before bed, and then I have the house to myself in the morning.”
We’re big fans of Elise’s work (particularly her conversations on the beloved Goop Podcast) and know you’ll find a lot of wisdom in today’s interview, just as we did. Ready?
Growing up, your mother didn’t believe in boredom. Is this an approach you take with your own children?
I wish! My kids are still little, and they’re also city dwellers, and so I can’t yet turn them outside and let them run wild, which is what my parents did. (Growing up in Montana she would send us out to pasture, literally, and then ring a bell when it was time for dinner.) Once Max learns how to read (soon!), and they have a little bit of autonomy, I’m going to try the same thing in Brentwood. Boredom is the birthplace of creativity…and there are a lot of boring moments in life, even armed with Smartphones, so this feels like an essential life skill!
You’ve said you thought working at magazines was a rich kids’ club – how did this assumption change once you actually started working in magazines?
It did and it didn’t. Condé definitely attracted and retained people who could afford to exist in NYC on $22,000, which is nearly impossible if you don’t have parents who can pitch in (or a second job). I had a few friends who managed to pull it off with roommates and a lot of ramen. What I also found is that really talented people could and would climb quickly, and get to a point where they could function on their salary…just not live like kings and queens. If you could pay your dues back in the day, like really put your back into some of the drudgery, you would soon be lifted out of it. I think, in part because there’s a certain exhaustive quality to being a good editor—you have to turn over every stone, etc.—if you could prove that you could be trusted with returning samples and answering emails and managing a calendar well, you could be trusted with more intensive work.
You’re a compulsive organiser – how do you stay organised with the addition of kids?
It’s a struggle. I have to sort of catch a fever—if you’ve watched or experienced Marie Kondo, then you know what I’m talking about. It sort of builds in my gut until I can’t handle the clutter anymore and then I’m a hurricane through the house tossing papers and sorting and putting things away. I can’t do it every day, there’s just no way to have that sort of discipline and stay on things without just dumping them into junk drawers, so I wait until it hits me and I have to deal. Kids are beautiful, weird, wonderful things, but they are also full of chaos and mess—and they bring a lot of “accessories” with them. It is just so much stuff. I find, though, that I have become even more obsessive about what I, myself, bring into the house—I shop for myself far less, if only because I imagine the day when I will have to pack it up and cart it out.
Lucky taught women that “you can be intelligent and still be interested in shopping and we can write about things that are supposedly light but still relevant”. What goes GOOP teach women?
I think something in a similar vein: That we can accept ourselves for being interested in all sorts of things, from the mundane to the frivolous, to the profound. That you can be a serious person and still like shopping for face cream. Or want to look like you did before you had babies. And read something fun on the beach. GP talks about wanting to take the shame away—that’s why we’re always asking questions, sometimes about things that are prickly, or awkward, or embarrassing. Not because women need permission to be curious about those things, too, but simply because it’s tedious to live in a state of judgment and hyper-self-consciousness.
You’ve said that at GOOP, you’re giving your audience what they want, but you’re also giving them what they don’t know that they want yet. Tell us about how you approach content/editorial – does it come very organically to you?
It’s funny, it’s a really fine line between familiarity and consistency and not giving readers whiplash, and also continually serving up things that they might not have thought about, or might be curious about, or new ways to metabolize something that might be going on in their lives. One of the things that we hear is that we give women the option to get off the trend ferris wheel—there comes a point in all women’s lives when you just want to find what works for you and stick with it…no more test-driving!—but I think we’re all typically interested in those subtle tweaks, those small paradigm shifts, those cutting edge things that might not have broken into the mainstream yet but carry a lot of value.
You’ve said an interesting misconception about Goop is that it’s like “Everyone needs to be perfect.” What is the goal of GOOP?
I honestly think it’s about the self-acceptance that comes from the gruelling process of working on yourself. That’s a type of self-acceptance that can’t be bought. And it’s certainly not something that we can sell. It just comes from putting yourself first, making good choices, examining your triggers, your motivations, your wants and desires. I think we do a good job of putting the spotlight on that, of giving our readers permission to get in there and figure it out, in their own way.
How do you think content consumption will shift over the next 10 years? Will we still be reading stories or will podcasts take over? Is there space for both or are our attention spans becoming too short for long form articles?
We honestly haven’t seen that—our readers are still putting in the time, and they’re certainly still buying books (and reading them!). I do think, though, that people who are creating content are getting much more savvy about platforms. Not everything needs to be a video, for example. We’re very specific about what should be a story on the site—with lots of deep links and bits that you want to follow up on, and what can be a more wide-ranging conversation. The reality is that people are consuming way more content than ever before, it’s just very platform and behaviour specific. When they’re driving, they’re in a different state than when they’re standing in line at the coffee shop, or when they’re doing research. We’re just trying to reach people where they are.
What do you think it is that holds women back from running more companies?
In America, I truly believe that it’s our lack of paid family leave and overall support for parents in general. I think there’s sort of a whirlwind of unfortunate moments: People do bad, in-the-moment math where they feel like their income is being outstripped by the cost of childcare (temporary!); often parenthood comes right at that in-between moment where your job is not yet a career, and you don’t know if you want your job to become a career because you might not like it (move laterally, then have a baby!); and there is a lot of mythologizing about bad mothers, neglected children, etc. I think it makes some women wary about leaning in too hard before they have children, and it certainly makes some women wary about leaning in really hard after. There is no doubt that those early years are tough, and you will be filled with raging self-doubt. But if you can find good help at home, and you have a supportive partner, then you will get through it and you will find a strange, liquid rhythm. And you will also discover that the universe meets you where you are and helps out in indelible ways so that everyone thrives. It is not perfect, but it’s the new paradigm of life, which includes home life, and work life, and friend life, and being-by-yourself-sometimes-life.
Honestly, I think if more women can just knock down those hurdles and push through, there will be more examples and role models of women who are getting it done and then more women who can model their own path on that.
You’ve said you like operating behind the scenes – how does it feel stepping into the spotlight through things such as hosting the GOOP podcast?
Honestly, it’s a little awkward! I never wanted to be a celebrity editor, I’ve never been particularly good or active on social media, and I’ve always gravitated toward ghostwriting. But the podcast has been immensely gratifying, simply because it really seems to resonate with the listener. I try hard to be a good proxy and to ask the questions that I think they would ask if they got the chance.
Having children means redefining what works means for many women. How did having children change the way you approached your own career?
I think there’s something about pregnancy and the process that actually sets you up nicely. I felt terrible, and very tired at the beginning of both of my pregnancies, and it was the emergency brake that I needed to just slow down. I tempered my pace a bit at the office when I was pregnant with both boys, though you have surges of energy, particularly in the second trimester, when you really feel like yourself and like you can conquer the world! Those are very reassuring and life-affirming. My experience was that by the time I had the baby and wasn’t pregnant anymore I was twiddling my thumbs and really ready to get back into it and to exercise my brain a bit. The pace is just a little more unpredictable. I think having kids trains you to seize the opportunity—it works in all ways. If your kid is digging broccoli, then you seize the opportunity and get as much broccoli into them as possible. Likewise, if you’re in your flow state with work, you shut your bedroom door and just power through it. My husband and I are pretty respectful of each other’s power working periods.
As a busy mother, how do you kick start your day (love your tips such as Why Am I So Effing Tired vitamins)? What does your morning look like?
I do the mornings, and my husband does the nights. So he does the bedtime routine, which he really treasures, while I catch up on email before bed, and then I have the house to myself in the morning. I TRY to get up before my kids. Sometimes they sneak attack, but if I can, it’s nice to just have 10 minutes to lay in bed and wake up gently. I get Max out of bed at 7 (his little brother is typically up before that and in bed with his dad with a bottle and some cartoons), make him breakfast and pack his lunch and then ferry him to school. Then I either head home to shower, or I go to the gym before heading to work. It all requires a lot of coffee! And Effing Tired vitamins!
Fatigue is a huge issue for many mothers- what are your tips for combating it (other than trying to get as much sleep as possible!)
It’s important to note when your fatigue is NOT NORMAL. Dr Oscar Serrallach wrote a whole book for us about it on our imprint called the Post Natal Depletion Cure. Pregnancy is very taxing, and it can leave you feeling like a shell, in many ways. Demand that your doctor check your labs after—you need to make sure that you’re not anaemic, that you have enough ferritin (stored iron) and that your hormones are not completely out of whack. You also want to check your Vitamin B, your D, etc. These things can make you feel desperately worse.
Conde Nast announced they’re putting up paywalls on all their publications by the end of 2019 – what are your thoughts on paywalls. Is it something GOOP would ever try?
Honestly, I don’t think so, simply because we have an e-commerce shop and we’ve developed our own product lines, and we have other ways to keep the lights on. It’s also important to us that wellness be as democratic as it should be, and making content free and widely accessible is part of that.
GOOP has multiple revenue streams. Can a publisher survive if they’re just relying on a content-only business/revenue from advertisers only? Or do we publishers need platforms such as e-commerce?
Honestly, I think it depends on the quality of the content, the steadfastness of the brand, and the cost of that content to produce. People will certainly pay to support the arts, to support journalism, to support companies that are making the world a bit more beautiful. So if you’re The New York Times, or The Paris Review, or The New Yorker, there are a lot of devoted readers who will not let those brands falter, who feel a civic duty to ensure that they survive. I think if you’re creating content that is not driving a ton of value, or is indistinguishable from dozens of other options out there, the future might be problematic.
What experts have you interviewed who’ve had the biggest impact on your life?
Oh man, so many. I’ve learned a ton from Barry Michels, from the many mediums, intuitives, and energy healers who have touched my soul and helped me divine a greater purpose, and also from all the functional doctors who have encouraged me to keep asking questions.
How do you handle criticism?
Anytime I personally feel criticized, that little girl who is terrified of doing something wrong stings. I’ve been working really hard to tuck her in and get past that initial reaction. And then, it’s pretty simple—if the criticism feels valid, I look at it and try to do better. If it feels like a projection of someone else’s pain, I just let it go.
Staff management is often one of the most challenging parts of running a business – what’s your managerial style?
This might be a cop-out but I try to hire people who need minimal oversight. I’m always happy to step in and help, or troubleshoot, or coach, or get people more resources, but if someone needs help figuring out how to add basic value, then they’re not right for my team. We are a driven, deeply curious, self-motivated bunch.
Do you ever experience self-doubt?
Honestly, not really. There are some moments where I feel like I can be shitty (particularly at home, when I’m grumpy and stressed), but for the most part, I know who I am, and what I’m trying to do, and that I have a pretty strong intuitive compass. When I listen to myself, I’m typically pretty accurate.
How do you stay inspired/connected? What media do you consume?
I listen to a lot of NPR—that’s my commute mainstay, both ways. It brings me back to my childhood and feels comforting and nourishing, even when the daily news is not! I also like to watch late night TV—Colbert, Fallon, John Oliver. I just want to end the day with a laugh.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by managing a full-time job and two kids? How do you make work, work?
Not really, because I trust the process. When I was in college, I noticed that I had a pattern that’s probably not atypical. I did better when I took more course credits. When I don’t have a super full plate, I have trouble getting much of anything done. I need to be very busy to tip into a hyper-productive mode and then I just power work. I’ve worked with that cadence through my life…there are days when I don’t get that much done, and I just don’t sweat it. I know I can compensate in a couple of good hours over the following day or two. I think we have all been trained to believe that it’s consistent and steady effort and I don’t think that’s how we work. The unconscious mind is about a million times more powerful than the conscious mind—sometimes you just need to step back and let things happen.
What are your all-time top time management tips?
See above! Seize the moment; when there’s no magic happening, take a walk instead.
What has working for Gwyneth Paltrow taught you?
She’s taught me a lot about how to take, or not take, criticism. And how to resist the urge to allow criticism make you play small. It cripples far too many women, and honestly people in general who are taking chances. You will never please everyone. Women need to stop thinking that’s either achievable or the goal.
What does 2019 hold for GOOP?
You’ll have to stay tuned to find out!