Cosmo’s Editor-In-Chief on Why Failing Every Day is a Good Thing

And the crucial conversation that saved her from burnout.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Jessica Pels is the newly named editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, the largest young women’s media brand in the world. In her hybrid role, she oversees the content and editorial operations for the magazine, web, social, video, and editorial innovation projects.

Most recently, Pels served as the digital director of Cosmopolitan, where she led the site to its highest readership of all time. She has also held roles at Marie Claire, Teen Vogue and Glamour. She hails from Atlanta, and now lives in Brooklyn.

In her Thrive Questionnaire, she shares the lessons she’s learned about failure, burnout and pushing her boundaries.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Jessica Pels: Stretch! I used to be a serious ballet dancer, so I do a big stretch every morning to wake my body up. (I’m also NOT a morning person, and caffeine doesn’t affect me, sadly, so I need all the get-up-and-go energy I can get.)

TG: What gives you energy?
JP: Excitement and enthusiasm about what I’m doing—whether it’s my own excitement or my staff’s. I’m most inspired by the energy we all feel about the projects we’re focusing on. I feed off it.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
JP: Cultured butter. It tastes 10x better than regular butter.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
JP: Infinite Jest. It took about a year to get through and felt I had fully absorbed, but I’ll never be the same.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
JP: I owe a personal apology to Arianna about this, because I was Cindi Leive’s assistant when they did the Sleep Challenge together in 2010, and Iknow, I know!!, how bad it is to look at your phone last thing before you go to sleep and first thing when you wake up. But I do it anyway, just because I have to know what’s going on!

TG: How do you deal with email?
JP: I’m an inbox zero person. I wish I could maintain that every day, but at least every week, I level out and respond to every email I haven’t seen yet.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
JP: I read. Any of the thousands of digital stories I’ve Pocketed over the recent weeks, or the print stories I’ve been dying to devour. When I’m at my loftiest, I’ll even just grab one of the books in my To Read pile.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
JP: In December 2014, when I had first started working at Hearst as the digital director at Marie Claire—my first big boss job— my supervisor Kate Lewis wisely sat me down and said, “I can see that you’re going to burn out if you continue at this pace.” We had a candid chat about where I was putting my energy and what was worth it, and that one conversation has guided me ever since.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
JP: Bear with me here: I feel like, in a way, I fail every day, but I also feel like I should. If I’m not taking risks and pushing boundaries, I’m not leading my brand to new places and I’m not learning about how we should proceed. Leading both print and digital at Cosmo means that I oversee hundreds of pieces of content every day, and some of them are more experimental than others—the point of the most experimental of them is to learn from our audience and what resonates with her now.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
JP: If you’re not in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?

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