In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month, we spoke to Joanna Goddard, former magazine editor and founder of beloved lifestyle blog, Cup of Jo, which she launched back in 2007. Today, Cup of Jo brings in 4.2 million page views per month and stands as a bastion of an older, more intimate internet—one where Goddard and her readers still chat and bond in the comments, discussing everything from the realities of postpartum depression to this season’s trendy tights. Now, Goddard is expanding her domain with Big Salad, a Substack newsletter where she plans to share details about her newly single life post-divorce. “We have, knock on wood, such a big readership now, which is so great,” she says. “But there are some things that are nice to share a little bit more quietly, especially around dating and sex. You don’t always want your upstairs neighbor to read it, or your ex, right?” Below, Goddard shares how she approaches her site and community after 17 years—plus that one time she invited a reader’s boyfriend to her Thanksgiving dinner.
My first job
I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and I always loved working, almost more than making money—although I did need the money. I babysat from when I was 12, including infant twins. I had a paper route. I started a snow shoveling business and put flyers in people’s mailboxes. I worked at an Italian restaurant and a coffee shop. I had a million jobs, always. One thing I learned is that you have to do everything well. You can’t scrimp on any part of it. In my life, I feel like I’ve seen a lot of people who roll their eyes at making copies or stamping envelopes, but it’s all part of it, and I just got over that really quickly.
My worst job
It paid the best of all my jobs, but I was working for an English professor, and she wanted me to organize her filing system. I had to take each file and put them in chronological order. It took just enough thought where you can’t have daydreams, but you’re also bored. I worked alone for hours at a time in this quiet academic building; I would literally feel like I was going to fall asleep. I’ve realized I really thrive on short deadlines, fast-paced work. I don’t think I could ever write a novel. I just don’t think I have the stamina to have a far-away deadline and keep doing it.
Why I decided to work in magazines
When I was little, I’d write a lot of stories. My dad still has a bunch. They’re so wacky, but I actually really like them. I’m like, wow, dang, a POV. Weirdly, when I started college I couldn’t decide if I should major in physics or English, but I chose English. It’s probably really different these days, but when I was in college, I wasn’t thinking about what my job would be. My boyfriend at the time was like, “You should go to New York and try to write for magazines, because you love it so much.” I was always doing that kind of stuff in school. I was like, oh my gosh, maybe I could. Maybe there’s a way I could figure that out. It was the first time it had even occurred to me that could be an option.
How I think about Cup of Jo now vs. when I started
Obviously, there have been growth strategies and editorial approaches and new series, but when it comes to how I feel about the site and our readers, that has stayed very consistent. It’s sort of like having a friendship. Your relationship with your friend is the same even though you’ve gone through all these things together. Maybe you knew each other in college, and then when you had babies, and then when you’re getting divorced, but it’s still your same friend. It kind of feels like that.
One thing that has changed is the landscape of web. When I had my first baby in 2010, no one online was really talking about how hard motherhood was or postpartum depression. There were shifts through the years where I would be like, should I start writing about these things? Would people find it interesting, or would they just think I was a mess? Now I’m as used to it as everybody else, because I’ve been living online all of these years. I would never be nervous to write about something now in that same way that I was before.
How I approach the writing style on the site
My basic approach is if you really, really, really concentrate on saying what you mean, then it won’t come through as annoying. Even if you’re saying something outlandish, you can believe it. It’s like with Breaking Bad; he can do crazy stuff, but because you understood where he was coming from, you were sort of along for the ride. As soon as you start trying to pitch something you don’t really believe in or sound cutesy or something, people see through that so quickly. People are smart readers, so you have to really, really trim it down and not make it sound written. If one of our writers is struggling, I’ll be like, “Just read it out loud, and pretend you’re reading it to a friend, or read it to me. Which parts do you feel like a little awkward saying? Cut those.” Honestly, I do think group texts help, because sometimes if something happens, and I tell it to a group text or two, then naturally I’ll see what the funny part is. Then you can write it more easily.
On my relationship with our readers
One time, I got this email from a woman. This was so incredible; it makes me cry. She was like, “I’ve been reading your site for so long. I lost my mother when I was young, and you’ve been a guidepost as I’ve been growing up. I read it every day. I just had my first child, and I named her Joanna.” I couldn’t believe it. I was in tears when I read that. I just feel really proud that all these smart, funny, cool women are part of this community.
Becoming real-life friends with them
We go to this restaurant a lot in our neighborhood called Frankies Spuntino. I went in at the beginning of November with my son, Toby, and I was like, “We don’t have a reservation. Is there any way we can squeeze in?” The guy was like, “No, we have a wedding in the back. We just can’t do it.” So we leave, and I get this DM right away: “I’m breaking up with my boyfriend. He’s the manager of Frankies Spuntino. He just told me he turned you away.” I was laughing so much. I go back a few weeks later with a friend of mine, and I was laughing with the same guy, like, “How funny, I got this DM from your girlfriend.” We were chatting, and I was like, “Are you going to work on Thanksgiving? It’s really nice here.” He said no, and I was like, “You should come to ours.” So he ended up coming! My dad was like, “Did you just invite a strange man to your Thanksgiving?” and I was like, “No, he dates a Cup of Jo reader. He’s going to be really nice.” And he was. He wore a suit. He was great.
On sharing the news my marriage ended
I worried maybe a year before that if something did happen in our marriage that I would feel shame writing about it or be worried people would think about it negatively. But when it actually came time to share, I felt really confident in the decision itself and that it was right for our whole family. People came up to me a lot that week. If I would go walk to the bank, I would get hugs on the street. It was really nice, but also intense, because sometimes you’re distracting yourself or something, and then you’re like, oh, wait. I actually ended up going out of town to clear my head. Then online, it felt amazing; I was flooded with people who said such beautiful things or talked about how their parents had gotten divorced and they grew up really well or that they were also going through divorce and were up for commiserating. It is true that if you’re going through something, somebody else will also be going through it.
The best career advice I’ve ever heard
Emily Henderson said this: People, especially women, will really love doing something, and so they’ll be like, “You don’t have to pay me, I loved it,” or not really fight for their rate. But if you love something, you are better at it. You’re more valuable. You’re faster. You think about it on your off time, you bring a lot of energy to it. If you love it, you should charge more, not less.
The worst career advice I’ve ever heard
Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “Just say yes, and you’ll figure it out. Just take the opportunity.” I’m like, “No. You can say no. Maybe you should say no a lot.” I’ve said no so many times. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have a job. So many people ask you for things constantly. Just find a kind and gracious way to say no, and say it over and over and over until there’s something you feel will really bring you value or there’s a real reason for doing it. But definitely don’t say yes to everything. That’s bananas advice. Get good at saying no.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison is the digital deputy editor at ELLE, where she also covers news, politics, and culture. If she’s not online, she’s probably napping or trying not to fall while rock climbing.