Read an Excerpt
Morning Sunshine!How to Radiate Confidence and Feel It Too
By Meade, Robin
Center StreetCopyright © 2009 Meade, Robin
All right reserved.
THREE… TWO… ONE: MELTDOWN!
Where Did My Confidence Go?
“Thirty seconds to showtime,” the floor director barked in a tone of voice that said, “Let’s get this show in the bag so I can go hang on State and Division streets.” I had just slid into my chair at the anchor desk for the 10 p.m. newscast in Chicago, cutting it close as usual. I squinted, trying to adjust to the bright studio lights. My eyes were dry from the long day that had started at 4 a.m., and my contacts were tugging against the insides of my eyelids.
The smell of microwave popcorn regularly wafted through the air at this time of night, as I plugged in my earpiece and threaded the microphone through my suit jacket with one swift motion. The popcorn aroma would make my mouth water. Yummy! My mind floated to Saturday nights as a kid when my parents would pop gargantuan bowlfuls of the stuff and we’d settle in for a night of The Muppet Show, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. Now that’s a weekend! (Friday nights were different. We were at the viewing mercy of my mother, who loved Dallas. If my father saw us kids gawking at the adulterous ways of J. R. Ewing, he would chastise Mom: “Don’t be letting those kids watch that smut!”)
If you’ve ever worked weekends, no matter what field you’re in, you know the schedule has its ups and downs. On the upside, you get your errands done during the week when the stores aren’t as crowded. On the downside—well, you’re working the weekends!
The weekend shift was trying for most people in the newsroom, too. Most of us were happy to be staffing the widely watched shows. But the other side of the coin was that it usually felt as if we were working the grind, while the rest of the population was off soaking up what the city had to offer.
You could imagine the city’s scenes: husbands and wives out on a date night, scarfing down Italian dishes on Taylor Street. Young singles, dressed in layers of Lycra, jogging along Oak Street Beach against the cutting wind from Lake Michigan. Packs of friends clustered in the United Center watching a Bulls game… in the lead-up to one of the team’s many championships at that time. The theater district was humming with shows this time of night. Do-it-yourselfers were knee-deep in their weekend house projects.
… And I was nearly halfway through my grueling weekend shift. Frankly, I was looking forward to my head hitting the pillow that night.
WE HAVE INCOMING!
“Breaking story!” chirped a youngish crew member, jolting my mind back to the present. She breezed by with the scripts of the story that would lead the newscast. It was so late-breaking that the paper it was on was warm from the printer. Yes, ladies and gents: it was hot off the presses!
I silently fumed. Why didn’t someone come back to the edit bays where I was before the show and tell me we had a breaking story?
Usually I could tell we had incoming stories by the crackling activity on the police scanners. My lowly cubicle was near the assignment desk. It was a drag to sit so close to the traffic of the newsroom when you were trying to block out the drone of inane banter or chattering police scanners. But the upside was that when there were breaking stories, I was this close, so I could listen in and soak up the information as a story developed.
Most of the time someone would find you, give you a heads-up that a story was developing, and get your input on how you thought it should be covered or whether it was worthy of being the top story on that newscast. You get the idea. But for some reason that hadn’t happened this night. And this story I was about to deliver was news to me, too. Oh well, maybe they got too busy.
So there I sat. I was feeling guilty I hadn’t shown up earlier on the set or been a part of the discussions about this story.
“Fifteen seconds,” announced the floor director.
All right, let’s see what we’re dealing with.
I glanced through the script. First rule of thumb for presenting something on air you haven’t previously seen or researched: make sure there are no “gotcha” names, pronunciations, or phrases that will trip your tongue before you even get started. (For example, you try saying “Russian president Demitri Medvedev” for the first time on air without a heads-up!)
On this Saturday night, instead of the facts of the story or the names of the victims, what I noticed ten seconds before the 10 p.m. newscast was the length of that story: Wowza! That’s a long-ass read!
THE BAD THOUGHT THAT ATE ME
That news story was so long and layered that a Ginsu knife couldn’t have chopped through it. With four seconds to go, I had a pessimistic thought: It’s too late for you to tighten this up, Robin. And you have no time to rewrite it in your own voice. Wouldn’t it suck if you ran out of breath and couldn’t make it to the sound bite?
What kind of thought is that?
That’s a worrywart thought. That’s what that is.
Talking for four hours straight is no big deal to me today. I have to talk so much every morning I sometimes even get tired of hearing my own voice. (Kidding.) Actually, the show is so long I get an entire day’s worth of talking in by the time it ends. I don’t say a whole lot the rest of the day. Friends might think I’m not much of a Chatty Cathy because I don’t yammer on and on about my feelings when they call. Truth is, I’m talked out! My personal phone calls resemble most people’s business calls (just the facts, ma’am) because on the show, I talk and talk and talk.
But that weekend… so many years ago… something was different.
With my body.
With my brain.
Hubby Tim had noticed it earlier that day.
I was sprawled out on the couch at home, wrapped in a robe while on a break between two of the eight shows I anchored every weekend. (What a crazy schedule. It looked good on paper. And I loved it when I was off four days a week to make up for the marathon work schedule. But during the weekend, wow, that was a stinker!) Instead of taking the nap I needed, I was going over transcripts for a special report I was working on for the big “sweeps” month coming up, when the ratings would be measured.
I was assigned to find out which skin lotion worked the best at protecting the ol’ epidermis in the Chicago winter. (I swear I didn’t make this up.) It took me weeks to find a lab (in Montana of all places) that tested such products and could give me a quantifiable outcome.
Funny how, the entire time I was doing that story, people we tried to interview mostly wanted to share their “tried-and-true” home remedies to guard against dry cracked skin: “Crisco on the elbows might do it,” a dermatologist told me. “My granny swears olive oil does wonders,” one woman claimed. But would I smell like pasta? Did it not have an aroma?
Meanwhile, my husband was noticing my sluggish state there on the sofa: “Why are you sighing so much and breathing so heavily? You’re just sitting on the couch!”
“I dunno. I’m just tired,” I replied.
“No, there’s something else. You’re not tired, you’re exhausted! You need to call in and have someone else do the show.”
“I can’t just call in!” I shot back. “There’s no way they’ll be able to find someone on a Saturday afternoon to fill in for me!” Wouldn’t one of my coworkers curse me under her breath if she had to interrupt her weekend plans because I called in sick?
As I said, I was a worrywart and regularly fretted over what other people thought of me. Never mind that back when I was on the Monday-through-Friday shift, there were plenty of random weekends where I’d be knuckle-deep into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, get the call, and haul off to work to fill in for whoever was off the weekend anchor schedule.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: If you never speak up for yourself, you cannot blame your superiors when suddenly, burdened with too much to do or something you don’t know how to do, you fail. You have only yourself to blame.
CONFIDENCE BOOSTER: Speak up for yourself. You can’t assume that anyone else will notice how hard you’re working—or that you can’t possibly take on any more responsibilities—if you sweetly smile and say, “Okay!”
“Just tell them you’re not feeling well,” Tim implored.
“No, I can’t!” I whined. Tim knew I didn’t fib well. So why didn’t I just tell the truth? Well, let’s think about it. How do you call in “exhausted”?
Such an excuse was run-of-the-mill in Hollywood. You hear of starlets getting hospitalized for exhaustion. But in a real-life setting that excuse was flimsy at best. Being “exhausted” was simply not acceptable. Not in my family. Not in the newsroom. Not in my mind. I would worry endlessly what my bosses thought of me if I called in saying I was too tired to work.
What if you get nervous and can’t make it to the sound bite? The thought was still lurking in my head. Suddenly, it was as if it had invaded my body, too. As the familiar introduction music played, I may as well have been hearing the music to a horror flick, something like the DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH from Jaws. My brain raced away with this new idea that I wouldn’t be able to make it through the lead story, let alone the entire newscast.
See how my bad thought just kept growing and growing?
PLEASE EXCUSE ME WHILE I HAVE A FREAK-OUT
That night I looked down at the copy of the news story. My stomach clenched. My heart started palpitating. I think I held my breath without realizing it.
The floor director gave me the cue, pointing at me as the camera came up on my face.
I felt sweaty. Just as I opened my mouth to speak, the set seemed to fade into a gauzy haze. My breathing was jagged. The words came, but my voice was quivering so much it sounded like a kid singing into a big box fan on a humid summer day: “Bray-ay-ay-ay-king new-ew-ew-ews tonigh-igh-ight.”
My hands shook uncontrollably, and I was huffing and puffing as if I were running mile twenty-five of the Chicago Marathon. These were not the controlled, measured tones of someone who had been doing this for a living for years. My heart pounded in my ears, and my face flushed. I was losing it, right there with who knows how many thousands of people watching.
What the hell is happening? As I delivered the facts of the story, I didn’t hear a thing that came out of my mouth. All I heard were my own thoughts.
Oh, no, you’re screwing up!
Oh, no, your bosses are probably watching!
You’re going to get fired!
How will you pay your mortgage?
What will people think of you?
And then, of course, Holy crapola, where is that sound bite?
Can you see how the cause-and-effect relationship of my thoughts just engulfed me in doom and gloom? I couldn’t keep my mind on the story. I totally slipped into imagining the future and the horrible repercussions of my screwup.
Because I’m writing this today, you can tell that somehow I lived to see the sound bite that evening. The whole looking-like-I-was-hopped-up-on-six-energy-drinks episode lasted only seconds. But it seemed like an eternity.
Now Josh, the I’m-going-to-be-a-reporter-someday crew member, and Michael, the I-really-want-to-be-a-rock-star prompter operator, were around me, wearing the same expression you’d have after witnessing a car wreck. “Robin, are you okay? Do you need a glass of water?” Josh’s eyes were wide open, as if he really wanted to shout, “Dude!” He didn’t know what to make of this.
“Yeah, please,” I croaked. My mouth was cotton. I wished I had a trough to douse my head in instead of a tiny Dixie cup of water.
“Everything okay out there?” the producer chimed in on my IFB, the earpiece through which the producer and director talk to anchors during the show without the folks at home hearing it.
What to say, what to say? “Oh, sorry about that. Wow, that was weird! I lost my breath or something.” I faked a half-laugh at the end of that statement for their benefit.
When Josh handed me the glass of water, I was surprised to see my hands were still trembling. I noticed how incredibly weak I felt, and I noisily gulped down the water the way my dog does at his water bowl after he’s been chasing squirrels for an hour.
Get it together, Robin!
Miraculously, by the time we came out of the video and I had to speak again, it was as if nothing had happened. Except for feeling wiped out, I was back to sounding authoritative and in control, even tilting my head and smirking sheepishly as if to say, You’ll forgive me for that little freak-out I just had.
THIS IS EMBARRASSING
The truth was, I was morbidly embarrassed—the kind of embarrassed where you’d rather crawl under a rock than face people. It wasn’t the kind of embarrassment you can laugh off, as I could so easily when I was in high school show choir.
As the student body filed in for the Christmas assembly, I started jumping rope with a holiday garland. I was standing out on the gymnasium floor, and with each leap over the garland I felt a swish! After a few times, I realized the garland was catching my knee-length choir dress in the back and flicking the skirt hem waist-high, exposing my bum for the entire eighth grade seated behind me.
And laugh I did! Wouldn’t you know it? The school photographer caught the moment: there I am in the 1987 yearbook laughing with my mouth wide open, my eyes as big as saucers, and my hands behind me, having just pushed my skirt back down.
I have no problem laughing at myself in situations like that. Take, for instance, my recent Humpty Dumpty moment at a parade in my hometown.
It was the one hundredth anniversary of the Labor Day Festival, and the organizers wanted me to come back to Ohio to be the grand marshal. The parade wrangler said they wanted me back not only because of my role in the public eye, but because I’d also been the Labor Day Festival queen way back when. “What an honor!” I said. “Of course I’ll do it!”
Anyway, the day of the parade, there I was riding along at the front of the procession in a pretty convertible. Just then I spotted an elderly man who used to be my school bus driver. Back in school, I was his pet. He let me choose the music he played over the bus radio speakers, and he tried to take the bumps slowly if I’d conked out for a nap against the bus window on the long ride home. He even came to my wedding years later!
So I swung my legs out over the open top of the car, Dukes of Hazzard style, and ran over to where he was sitting on his lawn chair holding a cane. I then gave him a big bear hug, right in front of the crowd. Problem was, the next thing that happened was also in front of the crowd: I skipped back to the car in my fitted polka-dot dress, hoisted my hiney up over the side, and started to swing my legs over the top, as I had to get out. Except this time I fell back into the car, with the length of my back landing on the seat cushion and my feet flailing in the air. I must have looked like a fish flopping around on dry land! Every parade viewer on that block saw it. Not a proud moment.
How do you recover from that? I’ll tell you what I did. I swung my legs back down to the floorboard, sending my head and torso upright again, and popped right back up on the back of the car, lickety-split. Just seconds earlier the crowd had let out a gasp. But now, as they saw me laughing with my hands in the air and my shoulders shrugged in that “What are you going to do?” position, they laughed and applauded, too.
You just know it’s going to show up on YouTube someday. Oh well. At least I was wearing my Spanx. Ha!
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Laugh at yourself before anyone else can.
CONFIDENCE BOOSTER: Become the ringleader, and signal that it’s okay to laugh at your faux pas by laughing first. You immediately relax the tension and take away any ammo anyone else may have to make fun of you. Suddenly they laugh with you, not at you.
IT AIN’T FUNNY WHEN IT’S YOUR JOB
My point in telling you these embarrassing stories is that you can see I don’t have trouble laughing off most situations. But my job? That was another matter.
No, I was not going to be able to shrug off the “breathing problem,” as I had called it, trying to minimize its impact, even though it had completely bamboozled me on the air. It was all I thought about after the show, driving down the darkened streets of Chicago’s Streeterville to our condo, still gripped with humiliation.
I felt as though every tourist lugging her shopping bags from the Magnificent Mile back to her hotel, every vagrant panhandling for handouts, and every pedestrian who called the city home knew I had just made a complete fool of myself. My brain should have been full of concussions, I was beating myself up so much.
How badly was I cursing myself? I didn’t care to stop for my usual Cheesecake Factory late-night treat, let’s put it that way. My stomach was still in knots. I didn’t turn my eyes to gawk at the car pumping the thump-thitty-thump-thump bass at the stoplight, and I barely noticed anything around me on the drive home. I couldn’t even feign a smile for the friendly doorman as I entered our high-rise building.
The ride to the thirty-seventh floor seemed to take forever. Every time the elevator halted and the door opened I held my breath, afraid the person joining me on the ride had seen the screwup and would ply me with questions.
Tim met me at the door. He had seen the “breathing problem” on TV for himself. I learned later it bolted him upright from his viewing perch on the couch.
“Did you watch me?” I asked, hoping he’d say, “Oh, I sensed a little glitch on your part.”
Instead he just nodded, and I saw the worried look on his face. He didn’t say much. He was waiting for me to go first.
Finally, in the kind of voice you’d use to soothe a colicky baby, he asked, “Honey, what happened? Are you okay?”
I didn’t know the answer. Maybe it was a mild heart attack. Was it a stroke of some sort? Maybe I’m allergic and that was some kind of lung reaction.
I was trying to kid myself. But mostly, I was mortified. I wanted to explain how I was feeling when it happened. I wanted to tell Tim nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I wanted to tell him I should have stayed home from work that day. I wanted to forget that it ever happened!
But there was no use talking. Bring on the tears, baby! And there they came. This was not the dainty boo-hoo of someone who feels a pang of emotion. We’re talking bawling-so-hard-you’re-funny ugly. It was like my favorite scene out of There’s Something About Mary, where Ben Stiller’s character walks down the street, snot running down his face because he’s crying so hard, after losing his girl to Brett Favre.
What was poor Tim supposed to do with this blubbering mess of a wife? He took me in his arms, and I muffled my crying against his chest. Then I rested my chin on Tim’s big shoulder and looked out at the expansive view from our apartment. If you had been there you’d have seen a direct shot of Lake Michigan, dotted intermittently with other high-rises. The lights from the windows of thousands of other condos took on a starburst effect through my moist eyes.
Look at all those homes… with all those TVs on… and all those witnesses to my demise.
What if it happens again? I asked myself, mascara streaking down my face. I’m so afraid it’ll happen on the air again tomorrow morning! I felt defeated, fatigued, and confused. What’s wrong with me?
I hauled myself to the bathroom and chiseled off my thick TV makeup. I’d anchored so many shows that it was the third faceful I’d applied that day. With my face finally clean and free to breathe again, I hung up the muted lavender suit I had worn that night (and never wore again—the association with that disastrous evening was just too strong). Then I dragged myself to bed.
It was past eleven o’clock, and I needed to wake up at 4 a.m. for the Sunday morning show. I may as well have just stayed up, because sleep didn’t come easily that night. The “breathing problem” just played over and over in my head, like an out-of-body experience.
What if it happens again? What if I can’t do my job? What if I can’t get up in front of people ever again? What will my hometown think of me? The people I went to high school with are going to point and say, “She failed!” Are Tim and I going to lose our home? Will Tim love me just as much if I lose my prestigious job? I wish I could think my way out of this!
The thoughts gave me no peace. They invaded my every moment, waking or sleeping.
It wouldn’t be long before I’d learn I wasn’t just having a “breathing problem.” I was having a confidence problem.
You’ve seen news video of a tornado that seems to be coming straight for the person holding the camera. Yet he seems frozen in place, unable to move or respond in a logical way. There will be days that leave you in a paralyzing emotional storm, like the person mumbling “Oh my Gawd” as the twister approaches. Just like the newschopper video that shows the scene from above hours later, time is the lens that eventually can give you a realistic perspective on your emotional turmoil. I’ve learned not to make drastic decisions about fallout from an unexpected event until a good chunk of time has passed. Like the objects in your rearview mirror, they get smaller the further away you are from them.
Someone has to “make it.” It may as well be you! You’ve beaten tougher odds before now. You can certainly do it again!
MY NAME IS ROBIN AND I’M A SHAPE-SHIFTER
Losing the Real You
If you’ve lost your confidence—or feel as if you never had any to start with—then I firmly believe that you’ve lost touch with the real you.
Let me share a little of my experience.
Climb, climb, climb. Move, move, move. That was generally the way the broadcasting game was played. You start small in tiny towns, make big mistakes, and learn your craft before moving on to a bigger market for better pay. I started in Mansfield, Ohio. Little town. Low-powered TV station at the time. I toted around my own video camera, shot the stuff myself, edited the tape myself, and also delivered the stories on the company’s FM and AM radio stations. Nobody was getting rich at that station. You did it for the love of the job.
Schlepping around equipment while toddling on my high heels was worth the effort: it was the single best learning experience of my career as far as the mechanics of what being a broadcast journalist require. I have thanked the general manager of that station many times for giving me my first chance.
Next up was Cleveland, long before any of us knew Drew Carey. “Hi. My name is Robin Meade, and I’m Miss Ohio. I’d like to have an information-gathering interview with the general manager.” I really was Miss Ohio at the time I made that phone call. But can you believe I was so gutsy?
Fortunately the general manager was generous with his time, saw potential during my interview with him, and gave me an audition. Voilà! It was a big leap in market sizes to the city on Lake Erie with an economy built on manufacturing. This was the TV market I grew up watching, dreaming of being on the air someday with weatherman Dick Goddard and local news goddess Robin Swoboda.
I eventually left Cleveland for a better position in Columbus. It was a midsize city that seemed to sprout from the cornfields of middle Ohio. There were no local big-time pro football, baseball, or basketball teams to cover during the newscast, but you’d never have noticed. The town was so steeped in the scarlet and gray of Ohio State that an impersonator could fill his calendar during the party season if he could do a good impression of Woody Hayes, Ohio State’s legendary football coach from 1951 until 1978.
By this time Tim and I were married. And we were there only six months, as I anchored the Monday-through-Friday morning and noon shows, wearing conservative suits that made me look twice my age.
And then there was Miami.
Wow! We didn’t know what to think when we arrived. Miami had the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of the nation when we country bumpkins decided to settle in Aventura, north of Miami Beach.
Too often, the newscasts I anchored led with stories of gunmen targeting tourists. At the time, the trend was for thieves to stop tourists in rental cars, steal their money, and take more sinister steps if they didn’t cooperate.
Our apartment complex featured weekly pool parties and seemed to be filled with parking valets and married men who kept their mistresses there. It was a pretty hip place, and we stretched our budget to live there. Picture it: by day we de-stressed in the hot tub, looking cool in our shades. By night we were eating rolled-up bologna to make ends meet. The silly decisions you make when you’re younger, right?
You know what, though? I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world. They taught me that Tim and I can be resourceful if we ever need to be.
Miami’s culture, its mix of people, and the sexiness that we thought pervaded the lifestyle fascinated us. Yep, every new city was a learning experience.
MY KIND OF TOWN, CHICAGO IS
After Miami, I arrived in Chicago at age twenty-six to anchor the weekday morning shows at a network affiliate and do some reporting. Heck, yeah—I’m ready for this!
But when I look back now, I think, Wow, what a kid I was! The photo on my ID pass to cover the 1996 Olympics looks more like the picture of an intern than of a woman who would cover the Centennial Park bombing from those games. To me, my eyes look naïvely wide open. What I notice is that my hair is parted haphazardly and is messy from the Chicago wind. There’s not a wrinkle to be found on my face. (A few days after that picture I got bangs cut into my hair, thinking it would allow me a more fuss-free ’do for covering the games. Wrong. They just curled up sausage-style in the Atlanta heat. Nice.)
Even though I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I did possess the emotional maturity to recognize how fortunate I was to get a job in Chicago that early in my career. It was the third-largest market in the country, for Pete’s sake!
In Chicago, I was about to learn more about myself than about anything else.
CONFIDENCE-CRUNCHERS AT WORK
You can probably tell that the news business is by nature a nomadic profession. And at the same pace with which I had moved from city to city, my bosses moved in and moved out, elevating their careers but forever leaving their stamps on the lives of the people who worked for them.
The nameplate on the news director’s door seemed to change every time I turned around. It’s not unusual. Chances are the same thing goes on behind the scenes at the station that broadcasts your local news.
Between news directors, interim news directors, assistant news directors, vice presidents of news, and general managers, I counted eight news honchos in the six years I worked in Chicago.
Each person had been hired to put his or her stamp on the newsroom, improve ratings, and do things a new way. So I tried to please each and every one of them to ensure my job and advance my career.
Every news head who walked through that revolving door was a different person with a different experience, and a different vision for what he or she wanted from the newsroom.
One might prefer a “run-and-gun” style of news operation. That might mean I spent long days of gathering news on the street after doing the morning show, to help make sure the story count was high for the afternoon shows.
Another boss might be into the “happy talk” on air that makes viewers feel they can relate to you. So I’d polish up my charm.
One boss wanted new videotape all the time. He banned replaying any tape on the morning show that had played the night before. Nice goal, but do you know how unrealistic that is? A very important story may have only one piece of tape. For example, in a convenience store robbery, police may release only a still photo of the suspect, taken from the security camera tape. It would be important for the community to see, no matter when they watched, to help police identify the perpetrator. Yet this boss wanted no tape repeated.
One vice president seemed obsessed with the hairstyles of the on-air folks. “We can’t have you on the 10 p.m. news,” she allegedly told my reporter friend. “Your hair is too blonde.” So away my dumbfounded friend went, dyeing and darkening her Swedish blonde hair until, she says, it turned an icky green. Five hundred dollars later she was able to restore it to… wait for it… blonde.
The same VP also regularly corralled me for a verbal beat-down about my then-chunky caramel highlights. Never mind that one of the big local papers had just done a positive feature story about my hair, picture and all, and even interviewed my colorist! Fine, then!
By no means were these the only things the news leaders strove for. They all tried to make sure the newsroom delivered good journalism that mattered to the community. But you get the gist: every time someone new came through, I wanted to prove myself again and win him or her over. They’d each make decisions with what felt like the wave of a hand. Then soon they’d leave. The rest of us had to deal with the long-term effects of what sometimes felt like whims.
ARE YOU A SHAPE-SHIFTER?
Remember those X-Files characters who could shape-shift whenever they wanted? Yeah, I had become a shape-shifter, trying to morph into whatever was the going order of the day. I took every single piece of advice to heart, whether it worked for me or not.
Behind the scenes of the news biz are consultants whose job is to help you with your on-air image and delivery. And in trying to please other people, somewhere along the line I lost my own image. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin because I wasn’t even acting as if I was in my own skin. I could adapt, and I did, yet I was just selling whatever role needed to be filled. At least that’s how it felt.
Between bosses, consultants, and viewers, it got to where my head started to spin:
“Cut your hair.”
“Grow it out!”
“Never wear red lipstick!”
“Your face needs some color.”
“Give me more personality, razzamatazz!”
“I want you straitlaced.”
“Talk slower than normal.”
“Show me more energy!”
I would fill whatever prescription they wrote that was supposed to make me a good broadcast journalist. But I was losing the real me along the way. I was not being authentic to my true being.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: One possible sign of low self-esteem is suppressing parts of yourself so you can fill someone else’s expectations of what you should be. You try to fill someone else’s (or your own) prescription of perfection, instead of being yourself and embracing your originality.
CONFIDENCE BOOSTER: Take pride in the things that make you stand out. Realize that you’re better served by being authentic to yourself than by seeking out short-term praise from someone else.
THE MOTHER TERESA INCIDENT
Just this morning I watched an old blooper reel from my former station in Chicago. I looked at myself and thought, Who is that person? (I also thought, Look how skinny I used to be! But that’s another subject.)
This clip is memorable for something I did and something I did not do on a newscast. It started like this: my coanchor announced, “And this just coming into the… newsroom.” The camera was on a two shot, you could see both of us on the set. He continued, “Apparently Mother Teresa has died. This according to the news agencies in India.” My reaction, clearly visible on camera, was to first look over at his notes. Had the producers forgotten to tell me about a breaking story? Damn it! How am I supposed to ad-lib with him if no one tells me?
On the tape you can see me peering at his computer to see if the info was blinking across his screen but not mine. This can’t be right. I don’t see it on the wire services.
My coanchor droned on, “The Nobel Peace Prize winner was to turn eighty-six today.” No producers piped up in our ears to tell us he was wrong, so I let him continue as I searched the set for this elusive info that he was pumping through the airwaves for all of Chicago to hear.
Suddenly my mind flashed to the world’s media, in town that week for the Democratic National Convention. I imagined wire service reporters, print journalists, and network anchors in their jammies, watching our local show from their hotel rooms. In my mind’s eye I saw them jumping on the phone to their home bases and sending the info from this momentous report up the line for checking. I imagined what it would look like on the wires:
(Chicago) A Chicago television station reports Mother Teresa is dead. We cannot confirm. The source of the station’s information is not known. World reports say she just celebrated her birthday. We are working to confirm the information.
Then my expression changed with the suddenness of a breezy day flashing into a windstorm. I realized what might be the problem: my coanchor misunderstood the producer’s instructions to “kill” the story about Mother Teresa’s birthday, along with some other pieces, because we were short on time.
“So to repeat,” I remembered the producer had said, “Mother Teresa is dead,” and she had gone on to list the other stories that were killed, too. Poor coanchor man must have heard only the “Mother Teresa is dead” part. And on he went, with a grim expression of concern and a voice full of sympathy, ending with “She has apparently died on the day of her birth.”
If he had misunderstood the producer, I could not let him go on and impale his career. I could not let this happen to our show or our station, either. So I took a leap of faith and a deep breath and interrupted him on air, saying, “Actually I have a correction on that. I believe they are getting ready to celebrate her birthday… and that she is doing well.”
I paused. Still nothing from the folks in the control room. They were probably too incapacitated—rolling around on the floor laughing—to reach the IFB button to pipe in.
I continued cautiously, not wanting to make my sweet coanchor look bad. He is a close friend to this day! “Can someone help us upstairs?” I asked for the world to see, wanting confirmation of what I had already announced. (Watching at home, Tim said it looked as if I were consulting with God when I said I needed to check “upstairs.”) “Is that correct?”
Finally one lonely voice sounded through my IFB like a beacon in the night: “Correct.”
I continued the cleanup. “She’s in the hospital and improving. So we have a correction on that.”
My coanchor kindly and humbly apologized to the viewers, and we quickly went to a commercial break to gather our composure.
Yet when I look at the reel today, my surprise isn’t so much about my coworker’s flub (it’s easy to understand how directions get mixed up and misunderstood) as it is about my own demeanor. What I notice is how stiff and robotic I looked. I could have helped him so much more if I had felt comfortable in my own skin, and if I’d understood the value of letting you, the viewer, in on what is happening behind the scenes. Today I would just explain how that mistake happened—that we misunderstood the producer. But at that point in my career I was losing the real Robin to a cookie-cutter news anchor. I was trying to be something I was not: perfect.
ARE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN SKIN?
“Don’t furrow your brow!” I remember one viewer saying on my voice mail. “It’ll leave you with a big, deep wrinkle before your time!” But I thought of my youth as a handicap; therefore, I tried to compensate for it. My brow was constantly pinched because I thought it gave me gravitas. Problem was, the audience knew better. I’m sure they watched me and thought, Hey, you’re twenty-seven. Shouldn’t you act like a twenty-seven-year-old? So I wasn’t doing anybody any good when I wasn’t confident enough to be my true self. And I had no one to blame but myself.
But up until my career hit HLN, where I now work, I didn’t comprehend the value in being my authentic self. There’s a Sheryl Crow song with the line “You’re an original baby/Like we’ve never seen before.” Yet I was anything but original. I wore typical fitted anchor suits and had typical reactions to stories on air (“Wow, that’s amazing!” or “Isn’t that interesting?”) After the consultants got done with me and I tried so hard to please them, I felt like the real hook of that Sheryl Crow song: “Turn around and you’re looking at a hundred more.”
When I look back now, I don’t think I was wise enough or experienced enough to balance the advice I got with the real me. Now I can do that. If someone says, “Oh, golly, that shirt didn’t look very good on the air,” I can take that advice and not go through my entire closet and throw away everything that’s the same color.
Can you do the same—balance other people’s statements with your own opinion and what you innately know to be right for you?
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Wisdom is learning to balance other people’s advice with your own opinions until you come up with an amount of each that works for you.
CONFIDENCE BOOSTER: Put the advice you receive through a strainer of sorts. Ask yourself whether the advice will benefit you or whether you’re adopting it because it will please the advice-giver. Being confident means never second-guessing the advice you accept or the advice you toss out with the trash.
DO YOU ROMANTICIZE THE PAST?
Have you noticed “time travelers” where you work or in your circle of friends? You can usually identify them by their moaning and groaning. They harp about the changes the new guy wants to put into place, or they’ll romanticize the way things used to be. In short, they live in the past and fail to recognize what the present has to offer. I saw time travelers again and again in the office, resisting change and slowing down progress with negative attitudes. It’s a futile effort, friend. And it could signal a slip in self-confidence if you can’t embrace the present, and your present self.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Change is a constant, and it is teaching us constantly if we are willing to look for the lesson.
CONFIDENCE BOOSTER: Love the one you’re with. Don’t pine for the way things used to be. There is something to be gained and learned in your current job or social situation, even if it’s only how you react to adversity or change. Likewise, don’t be so busy trying to take your next step up that you overlook opportunities to learn at your current position.
That last point is similar to something I heard the then–executive producer of our morning show at HLN tell an intern. The intern was applying to stations for paying jobs, yet she hadn’t even mastered how to write a factually correct story. She was so hung up on getting it written in a way that clipped along in a catchy manner that she forgot to make sure it was true. There’s a sarcastic saying in the news biz: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Maybe she heard it and took it to heart.
“Suck it up. Hard work will pay off.”
In my cub reporter days I’d tell myself this, and Tim would remind me of it whenever I was at my wits’ end from working long hours. Oh, I had ways around the fatigue. Breakfast was usually two Diet Mountain Dews and a Bit-O-Honey candy bar before the show started. (How’s that for that caffeine and sugar jolt?)
Recently I ran into Jon Kelley, who used to be a sports anchor in Chicago and went on to work on the television show Extra in Hollywood. Jon asked, “Do you still keep a twenty-four pack of Diet Mountain Dew in your trunk?” The answer is no. But I used to, so I could grab one when I needed it during the day and to help me stay awake on the long drive home.
I had tunnel vision when it came to my goals. Come hell or high water, I was going to work like a mule if I had to!
For example, during my time in Miami I anchored the morning show and the noon show, and then I went out on the street and did health reports on things like encephalitis, virtual reality therapy, and little-known side effects of prescription drugs.
When I got to Chicago my station didn’t have a noon show, so I would go out and do general assignment reporting after I finished anchoring the morning. Well, that’s where you really get stuck, because my duties on the anchor desk ended each day just in time for the dayside people to start coming in and assigning stories. They’d look around, needing a warm body to go cover some story, not realizing how long I’d already been working that day. Some days I would work sixteen hours.
DO YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE A DOORMAT?
Why is it we feel the need to qualify the word no?
Think about it. When someone asks you to head up the silent auction committee for the school fund-raiser on behalf of the PTO, you might answer yes. Period. “Yes” is your complete answer. It needs no “because x, y, or z.” But when we have to decline, most of us feel we have to give an excuse. I got it! I’ll tell ’em my Aunt LuLu just got out of the hospital after gastric bypass surgery, and it’s my turn to watch her lose weight!
Then we spend precious time fretting over how the excuse, lame or not, will be received.
My coanchor on the Monday-through-Friday morning shift in Chicago used to say, “Robin, ‘No’ is a complete sentence. You just need to say no.” Here’s why he would tell me that: I was honored to get numerous requests for public appearances around town. Everybody from big organizations to little neighborhood clubs would ask, “Could you emcee our event this Friday night?” or “Could you do the starting lineup for our little run on Saturday morning?” And I always said yes. I wanted to be liked, and I didn’t value my own needs enough to say no.
As a result, I would be booked from Friday night to Sunday afternoon and never truly think about the impact on my marriage or my energy level. I couldn’t say no to viewers, and I couldn’t say no to people in the newsroom.
In other words, I didn’t have the confidence it took to say no. Instead, I shape-shifted at will.
THE INFAMOUS FRIDAY VAN INCIDENT
Take the Infamous Friday Van Incident, for example. On Fridays the a.m. anchors usually got to go home after the broadcast. But one woman had homed in on me to do a story she wanted covered. It was some promotional piece for a friend of hers. I’m not even sure what position this woman held in the newsroom.
“You’re going to do this for me, right?” She had this way of peering over her reading glasses that made me feel like a kid in detention. Her eyes were like daggers. Frankly, she didn’t treat me very well. So I wondered why she thought I should do this for her at all.
On the day of the van incident I should have been pulling out every excuse in the book to not do that stupid fluff piece. Any excuse! Like, “I have an appointment.” Or the one that no one will question: “I have Montezuma’s Revenge.”
But there was that “Like me!” devil sitting on my shoulder. So I said to myself, Self, this is a simple story. It will not take very long to shoot and write.
Famous last words.
On the South Side of Chicago, our news truck started to spit and sputter. Cha-boom chic-chic SHHHHHHH. Finally, it gave up the ghost. That lump of metal refused to roll another mile. The other news trucks were out covering stories, so they weren’t able to break away to come haul our butts back to the station. So we had to wait. And it was an all-day affair.
Finally, with my makeup melting off my face, I still had to go do the story once we got the replacement vehicle. It was a nightmare, and I said to myself, Never again!
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: You have to set boundaries. You must stake out parts of your day or week for things that truly matter to you. You cannot say yes to everyone’s needs or requests. By doing so, you are saying your needs are not worthy of your attention.
CONFIDENCE BOOSTER: “No” is a complete sentence. But if you are prone to keep talking after saying no to a request, end your sentence with “but maybe next time.” It allows you to feel as if you just offered a qualifier, even though you didn’t. And it leaves the other person with an optimistic outlook about future requests. Let’s be clear: I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to help people. We all should. But you do have to draw limits for the protection of your own sanity and health.
I let things like the Infamous Friday Van Incident happen to me for three long years in that newsroom. And I felt obliged to work however many shifts I was asked to. True, that mind-set helped me garner more on-air experience, and a reputation for solid anchoring during breaking news. Yet why would anyone bend over backward to stay at work for hours on end?
It was like a drug to me. I loved the fulfillment it offered emotionally. On top of that, my thinking was: I can hang in there, I’m young, and it’s going to pay off in the long run, and perhaps I’ll be promoted to anchor the afternoon shows, Monday through Friday, and finally get to sleep like a regular person!
WARNING: CURVEBALL AHEAD
But then the station threw me what felt like a demotion: the weekend would be my new shift. Maybe it wasn’t a demotion in other shops, or to the viewers. But to me it wasn’t a reward.
The weekend shift was one of three problems that left me feeling pressured at that time:
1) Clashing Schedules
Working weekends meant Tim and I would rarely be on the same wavelength, let alone together. As he powered down to relax on the weekends, I powered up for a grueling two days of shows. I did the Saturday 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. news, the Saturday 5 p.m. news, then the Saturday 10 p.m. newscast. Then I’d anchor Sunday morning at six o’clock, Sunday morning at eight o’clock, Sunday afternoon at five o’clock, and Sunday night at ten o’clock. (I know, I know, what was I thinking?)
2) Economic Downturns
The weekend shift came along just as Tim left his job at the Chicago Board of Trade, where he had started as a clerk and moved up to being a trader on the soybean floor. Being a trader just wasn’t a good fit for him. So he packed it up, came home, and started his own wireless wholesaling biz—right in the living room of our home. (If you’ve ever started your own business, you know nobody’s getting rich for a long while. You’re lucky to be able to keep the business phone line hooked up!)
Thankfully, Tim’s intelligence and willingness to wear out the elbow grease resulted in his company’s expanding many times over and being successful to this day. But at the beginning I was suddenly the sole breadwinner and felt the future squeezing in around me.
3) Cramped Quarters
We moved back to the city from the ’burbs and rented a cramped condo while we looked around for the perfect residence to buy. Our little rental place had bad energy, in my opinion. Or maybe it was just because we had two people, two cats, and two schedules all wedged into an abbreviated space. Duh!
But the biggest problem I had with my new assignment was that working the weekends felt like a step backward. I conjured up some ideal of where I thought my career should be… and the weekends weren’t it. So I wasn’t in touch with reality about myself.
Between the work schedule, the tensions at home, the pressures of bringing home the bacon, and my constant shape-shifting because I so wanted to be liked, is it any wonder I worked myself into a “breathing problem” on air?
GOT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS ABOUT YOURSELF? YOU’LL ATTRACT MORE
The morning after my on-air disaster, dawn came early, as usual. I had spent most of the night sleepless, gripped with fear, worrying the “breathing problem” would strike again. I prayed it wouldn’t. I prayed hard. And I again pleaded with my subconscious, thinking, Oh, my gosh, please don’t have another.
The law of attraction plagued me after that. Again and again, at the start of shows, I had “breathing problems.” They happened like clockwork, identical to the episode that had rocked my entire being the previous night.
The show would start, my heart would start to race, I’d begin to breathe hard, and my brain would say, I can’t get through the stories. I even tapped my coanchor’s leg a few times and motioned for her to take over where I had to leave off.
I tried breathing deeply, as you do in yoga, to relax myself beforehand. But even my hands tingled, the problem was so biologically all-encompassing.
One day a twist of fate saved me from certain collapse on air before a news cut-in. I was feeling especially fearful and thinking very intensely about not being able to get through it. In what seemed like a gift from God, the elevator stopped working, and the crew couldn’t get from the newsroom up to the control room, so they canceled the cut-in altogether.
Wow, that was a close one! I had been just sure I was not going to make it. I thanked God for the reprieve. Isn’t that awful? I was praying that I wouldn’t have to do my job!
And the law of attraction was hard at work. The more I feared not being able to speak at the start of a show, the more I could not. And with each one, my fear grew more intense and less rational.
It became completely terrifying and debilitating. Before long I began thinking thoughts I had never imagined would enter my head. I believed that after years of hard work and proving myself and moving around the country, maybe I had lost my talent. I had definitely lost my confidence. One day I looked in the mirror and said something that’s hard to imagine now: “I don’t know if I can do this for a living anymore.”
Little did I know the hard work was only beginning.
If you lack self-confidence you are telling yourself false stories about yourself and believing them! You’ve diminished your own worth in your mind’s eye. The reality is, you have many abilities and many things to feel good about. But you’ve got to make yourself aware of what those things are. In other words, honey, you’ve got to take a good look in the mirror and see the fierce being that you are! The how-to is the hard part, I know.
I like what the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying when it comes to self-confidence:
Human potential is the same for all. Your feeling, “I am no value,” is wrong. Absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought, so what are you lacking? If you have willpower, then you can change anything.
Remember, big jewelry is gaudy only on other women.
Excerpted from Morning Sunshine! by Meade, Robin Copyright © 2009 by Meade, Robin. Excerpted by permission.
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