Jennifer Romolini: ‘I Feel the Most Energized When I’m Flexing All My Brain-Muscles’

The Chief Content Officer of Shondaland on the book that changed her life and why it’s always better to be short and sweet over email.

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.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?Jennifer Romolini: I would love to say “a half hour of yoga”. I would also love to say “the NYT crossword puzzle” or “a French lesson on Duolingo” or even “sitting quietly beneath a tree in my backyard, sipping a warm cup of tea and feeling grateful for all of life’s blessings.” Unfortunately none of these is the slightest bit true. Mostly I just groan a lot and check my emails and Slack notifications.

TG: What gives you energy?
JR: I’m energized by interesting people — especially offbeat, ambitious women with Big Important Projects that need a little guidance. I feel the most energized when I’m flexing all my brain-muscles, and I love knowing that I’m helping to create the next generation of strong female leaders. When I see a woman I’ve been mentoring spread her wings and take off like a tenacious business pterodactyl… that’s an excellent feeling.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
JR: To me, life hacks are like magic beans. People invent them because life is difficult and disappointing and sometimes boring as hell, and we want to imagine that these problems would disappear if we could just, like, learn how to pour stuff from Jar A into Jar B without spilling it all over the kitchen floor, or whatever. And don’t get me wrong, I’m 100 percent in favor of more-efficient methods of pouring stuff. But I’m kinda skeptical that they make you a better person or a more successful person or even a happier person, which is a very long way of saying: I don’t have any magic beans, or life hacks. My only hack is that I basically suck at many things until one day I don’t or don’t care to stress myself out about it anymore.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
JR: “The Edible Woman” by Margaret Atwood. I read it in my early 20s when I was in a laughably ill-thought-out marriage, living in mundane places, feeling trapped and hopeless and very alone. It’s ferociously weird and raw and spot on about a particular type of gender expectation and dynamic and it was vital to me at the time.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?JR: It sleeps adjacent to me? On a little shelf, basically a pedestal, and plugged into the wall and in my reach at all times. I use my phone for all the usual things like posting too-much-information about my life/looking for attention on Instagram, along with the more businessy stuff that grown-ass adults are forced to do. I also read the news on it and listen to podcasts on it and monitor my sleep on it and check my “steps a day” (lol) on it. I’m on my phone too much. It’s a pre-existing condition, really. But I can’t deal with the problem right now.

TG: How do you deal with email?
JR: I do my best emailing early in the morning, when I don’t have a kajillion other things competing for my attention. Since I only have an hour or so before my eyes start burning and/or I need to get my kid to school, it forces me to keep my emails short and direct. Nobody’s ever complained about this, and it’s something I wish I’d learned much, much sooner in my career. This isn’t Victorian England, for fuck’s sake — you don’t need 500 words to invite someone to a meeting.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?JR: I’m finding the nearest kitten and petting it until it bites me.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
JR: The day after I returned from maternity leave, the boss at my old company resigned. I was named interim editor-in-chief, which was basically a fancy way of telling me “you’re going to do ten times more work with twenty times more stress for exactly the same amount of dollars.” Which would’ve been OK, I guess, except for the whole just-had-a-baby thing. Later that month my husband and I were kicked out of our rent-controlled apartment and forced to move to a new place that was twice as expensive (but hey, at least it was much further from both work and daycare). That was also right around the time my husband took a new job that came with a “flexible pay schedule”, which meant I was essentially the sole breadwinner for our family. Oh, and then I slipped and shattered my elbow on the pavement, providing the icing on this particular shit-sundae. Somehow we survived it all, but I’m still not quite sure how.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
JR: Um, how about every-ten-seconds-during-the-whole-fucking-time-I-was-writing-my-book? I’ve edited and/or written literally thousands of things that people have read and liked and shared, and I still found myself thinking, “Oh my god I am totally unqualified to do this and when everyone finds out they will throw rotten cantaloupes at me and I will have to go live under a bridge somewhere far, far away.” But after a while I’d remember that nobody in the outside world could tell how dumb and useless I felt inside my head. So I kept writing, and people kept saying, “Hey, that’s not the worst!” I don’t know if I’ll ever really overcome my fear of failure, but I’ve become a pro at occasionally smothering it.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
JR: Quotes have become such a social media trope and their context is often problematic and their origin dubious (was it Mother Teresa or Shirley Maclaine? The Buddha or my grandma? IS THIS EVEN A PROVERB), that said, I find the writer Elisa Albert exhilarating, thrilling, scary, feral, divine. I want to quote everything she says — particularly, recently, from her big, beautiful, wild essay on ambition and especially this passage:

“What kind of person are you? What kind of craft have you honed? What is my experience of looking into your eyes, being around you? Are you at home in your body? Can you sit still? Do you make me laugh? Can you give and receive affection? Do you know yourself? How sophisticated is your sense of humor, how finely tuned your understanding of life’s absurdities? How thoughtfully do you interact with others? How honest are you with yourself? How do you deal with your various addictive tendencies? How do you face your darkness? How broad and deep is your perspective? How willing are you to be quiet? How do you care for yourself? How do you treat people you deem unimportant?”

I realize this is not a quote so much as a series of questions. But I think about these questions almost every single day and hope I’m heading toward the right answers.


Jennifer Romolini is the chief content officer of Shondaland. In past work lives, she’s been the editor in chief of HelloGiggles and Yahoo Shine. Her new book, Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures, comes out June 6th.