A malteser is the British version of a whopper. I first met the chocolate malt ball when I presented a box to the President of NBC News. "How did you know I love these?" She asked. "A birdie told me," I said, coolly. I had done my research. After reading somewhere about her favorite snack, I tracked it down at a West Village confectionary called Tea and Sympathy. I was interviewing to be a reporter for the Today show and the NBC Nightly News. What better way to show my investigative techniques than to hone in on the details? The details make the story.
When I first applied for network correspondent jobs, with just four years of reporting experience, I didn't expect to land any interviews. A few months later, I sat in front of CNN's Vice President of News. A month later, I was back at NBC, discussing auto parts with Brian Williams. One of my relatives sells them and Brian was on the hunt for a custom grille for his All-American truck. Was this really happening? It felt surreal.
For the past ten years, I had worked virtually every job in television news. I buried my brain in law books for three years, hoping an advanced degree would give me an edge as a reporter. It helped me land my first job at News 12 the Bronx, where I worked with a skeleton crew: me, myself and I. The technical term is "one-man band," which festively translates to mean lug fifty pounds of equipment, report, write, shoot, edit and drive around in shoddy cars with questionable breaks while rushing to make deadlines. Some days I was so busy making sure my head was in frame, I had no time to absorb the sight of blood trickling down the street at those murder scenes. When it snowed, I was up at the stroke of midnight, for a two o'clock in time to go live every fifteen minutes for eight hours. Often times, the frostbite on my fingers was more visually appealing than the vacant streets. Notwithstanding all my hard work, go figure that my most memorable story was about a man making out with a chicken on the subway.
I was lucky to be starting out in the number one television market in the country. I found a way to differentiate myself at News 12 by chasing down exclusives. Two and a half years later, I was hired by WCBS in New York City. I remember the first time I walked into the building. A man pointed me down a long hallway toward the newsroom and told me it was where I could find gourmet cheese. With each step, I had to reluctantly unglue my eyes from the posters of my icons on the walls: Scott Pelley, Lesley Stahl, Bob Schieffer, among others. Was I really working here? As a petite girl, working alongside television giants, I always felt the need to measure up. So, I worked twelve to fourteen hour days. I happily accepted the early morning shifts. At home, the work continued, researching stories to pitch for the following day. On my days off, I worked. I followed up on exclusive interviews, developed new contacts and met old sources to get new leads. In less than two years, I earned five Emmy nominations and won two. But, I was exhausted and burning out.
The days were draining. From hours on hair and makeup (that's right we reporters do it ourselves), to hours in traffic on my way to a story, only to be told to turn around and head in the opposite direction toward breaking news. When Hurricane Sandy slammed New York, I gladly accepted my assignment in a flooded evacuation zone. From standing on top of loose, bubbling manhole covers, ready to suck me into the ground, to reporting waist deep in sewage water just feet from exploding transformers, I had an angel on my shoulder that day. As I sat in Brian Williams' office looking at his vast collection of challenge coins, I couldn't help but think that all of my hard work had culminated in this moment before me. There it was, my dream job at my fingertips.
Then, something life changing happened. I found out I was pregnant. Suddenly, those early morning wake up calls, those seemingly never-ending days, those red-eye flights to cover national news, didn't seem realistic. I always throw myself one hundred percent into every task. I wasn't going to put less than one hundred percent into my child. At the same time, I couldn't help but replay the past ten years. "Here I am," I thought, "at the peak of my career and at a complete crossroads." A few months later, I heard back from the networks. I had said early on that I wasn't willing to relocate and there were no immediate openings in New York. I thought I would be disappointed, but I had never felt more relieved in my life. Fortunately, the CBS News show 48 Hours gave me the opportunity to join the team and work on a story I had been pursuing. I worked there as a consulting producer during my pregnancy.
When I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, I was just mom and it was an adjustment. Being mom was more tiring than being a television reporter! But, it was and continues to be the most blessed and joyful experience of my life. More fulfilling than any professional achievement could ever be. The transition was anything but easy. I went from running and gunning to sleepless nights with a crying baby and the monotony of changing diapers. My daughter's smiles and laughs made it all worthwhile. But, there were so many days when I wondered, "will I ever reclaim my career?" Pursuing my passion, succeeding and then leaving it all behind, left me feeling like I had failed.
After several months at home, I attempted to return to work. But, the people who had helped me in the past weren't as helpful now. I was a mom, looking for part-time work in an industry where thousands of young hopefuls are willing to be on call and travel to the ends of the earth, place themselves smack in the middle of devastation, war and riots to report the news of the day. My once fearless gusto was now tempered by the reality that my daughter needed me. I couldn't travel too far. I couldn't go anywhere too dangerous. I couldn't leave my daughter. My priorities had changed.
So, thank goodness for inspiring women like Arianna Huffington. When I was reporting for WCBS, I had reached out to Arianna on a whim, looking to write more extensively about cases I was covering. She wrote back the same day and gave me an opportunity. Little did I know, that opportunity would help redefine my career during a critical time. I was so busy reporting for WCBS, that I only wrote for the Huffington Post blog infrequently. Now, with more time on my hands, I began writing more. I cannot tell you how good it felt to harness my brainpower and creativity and accomplish something for myself.
Around this time, Arianna published her book Thrive and posted her personal anecdotes on social media. Her message was simple: slow down and create balance in your life. Don't get so busy on a quest for money and power that life passes you by. Unplug once in a while and experience the richness of relationships. Don't just tag and post pictures, build memories. Her inspiring message gave me that little bit of support that I needed on those hard days.
Soon I got my go-getter mojo back and started sending out my Huffington Post legal articles. Before long, I was invited on CBS Sports Radio as a legal analyst. A few weeks later, I provided legal commentary on another show. I loved it! The role combined my legal knowledge with my television background. Something else happened. I started setting my own standards and working on my own terms and guess what, people not only understood, they accommodated me. I always feared that mentioning my daughter, would make me less desirable to employers. When I proudly claimed ownership of my circumstances, I became more valuable. The same principle goes for any working mom, know your worth and others will too.
I reached out to Arianna recently, to expand my role at the Huffington Post. Again, she responded a few hours later with enthusiasm. My husband said, "that's why she's Arianna Huffington." It's true. A genuine sign of success is when you are willing to devote the time to inspire and help others, no matter how busy you are. Taking a few seconds to offer advice, opportunity or words of support makes all the difference. Arianna is not the only person who has helped me. Luckily, I can name a few. Trust me, no one gets anywhere in life without a little help. Hundreds of doors slammed in my face, but I kept knocking. Only a handful of generous people helped me accomplish what I did. Sometimes, it only takes one person to believe in you and give you a shot.
It's especially important for women to help women. We are often underpaid, underpromoted, objectified and belittled. We frequently apologize, tiptoe, accept less and work twice as hard. At the same time, we struggle to balance career and family and so often our efforts go underappreciated. I know plenty of accomplished moms, who have sacrificed their careers to care for their children. Similarly, there are moms who desperately want to be home but cannot afford to be. We need to support one another. Realize this: life takes turns you don't expect. But, if you choose fearlessly and from your heart, you may find yourself on a more fitting path. You can have it all, but leave room for your definition of having it all to change. I made the choice to make my daughter my priority, rather than jump back into the rat race of television news, and I will never regret it.
When I think back on those meetings at NBC and remember how uncertain the future seemed, I had no idea my best moments were ahead. I'm proud that I reached that point so early in my career. The lesson is: if I succeeded once, I can succeed again...only this time, it will be under a new metric of success. The same is true for anyone reading this. Looking back, I should've taken the time to taste one of those maltesers. Maybe tomorrow, I will.