For my team.
I used to be the youngest person on my team at CNN. And while there were endless discussions about the work ethic of millennials with my older, more seasoned colleagues, I considered it a great privilege to work with journalists who had years of experience covering some of the biggest stories in history.
The Gulf War. Bosnia. The fall of the Berlin Wall. Katrina.
Every day, I was immersed in a world of stories. And each day was a brilliant learning experience. My colleagues were generous with their time and their knowledge. Some of them were what we called “CNN originals.” They started with the company, when 24 hour news was just Ted Turner’s crazy idea. As a young journalist, I was hungry to learn. What was journalism like back then? What was CNN like in the old days? What advice could you share? I had questions, and I didn’t hesitate to ask.
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately, as the dynamics of my career have changed. While I am lucky enough to work in another place brimming with energy and passion, I’m no longer the youngest on my team. I work with an amazing team, many of which are younger than me. They’re vibrant and full of energy. They work tirelessly. They demand to be heard. They think before they speak. They stir things up. They are creative, and resourceful. They energize me, inspire me.
Although I’m just a few years older than many of them, I’ve found myself in a new place, where for the first time in my career, I’m the one being asked for advice. And because I’ve been so fortunate to have had others graciously guide me along the way, I fell both obliged and humbled to share what little experience I have.
At 24, I was busy making big plans for my future with CNN. Most of my life, I’d dreamt of working there, and when I made it there, I had no plans to slow down.
But that all changed when my health took a turn for the worst in 2011. After months of hospital stays, dozens of doctor visits, and countless days confined to illness, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder.
It turned my world upside down.
And yet today, it has become both the best and worst experience of my life. It’s taught me a lot about many different areas of my life. If I had to boil it all down, this is what I’d share with my team.
1. Know your worth.
You know the value that you bring to any relationship (both professional and personal), but sometimes others don’t always recognize it. You know your strengths and talents better than anyone. Don’t stay in a relationship in which you are not valued. It takes courage to walk away from those situations. You have to be your greatest advocate. The next few years of your life will be a critical time for you to figure out what you want in a career and in your significant other. But don’t ever lose sight of your own value along the way.
2. Learn to Listen.
As a journalist, I listen to people for a living. I’ve always been a listener by nature. As the youngest of four siblings, I realized very early on that I could learn so much more by listening and observing. I listened to conversations (some I wish I hadn’t heard). Some of my best story ideas and have come from days spent in coffee shops just listening. As you continue your careers, you will find that most people talk a lot more than they listen. They are eager to be heard, but not always eager to listen. Every time I do an interview, I learn something new. I’m always in awe of the way people open up and share their thoughts, fears, and experiences with me. It is a constant learning experience. Master the skill of listening, and you will learn so much about the world.
3. Never say no to traveling.
Rarely will you hear yourself say, “I shouldn’t have taken that trip.” Traveling opens up your eyes and your mind to different ways of living and being. It shifts your perspective. It makes loss feel more manageable. It allows you to see that great things came before you. Traveling is healing. There’s nothing like a spectacular view of a foreign land to help heal a broken heart. You won’t regret it. The time when you were lost, and didn’t speak a lick of the native language. The time when you were exhausted and all the hotels were booked. The time when you were way too hungry and couldn’t find an open restaurant. Even the trips with unpleasant experiences become great memories. When I left CNN, I used the money that I’d saved while I was working to travel, and it was worth every dollar. If you have the opportunity to travel, do it. You will not regret it.
4. Learn to practice gratitude.
I lived most of my life with an undiagnosed disease and battled recurring, excruciating episodes of pain every month. I’ve had more hospital stays than I can count. One thing that got me through some of my darkest, lowest moments was gratitude. I always believed my situation could have been worse. I was grateful that I had family and friends to take care of me, grateful that I had access to the medical care that I needed, grateful that I had an extended family at CNN who fully supported me. There is always something to be grateful for. A friend of mine, whose mother lives with MS once told this is the greatest lesson he learned from her: Find the good in everything. I try to shape my life around those words.
5. Honor your health.
Health is like so many other things in life– you never appreciate it until it’s gone. I didn’t value my health, until I was fighting to get it back. It’s easier to maintain the health you have, rather than to lose it and try to restore it. Don’t wait to make your health a priority until you’re forced to. With a lot of work, I regained my health. But some people never do. Take time to honor your health. Walk, run, play, be active. Nourish your body. Eat well. Rest properly. Drink moderately. Nothing is more important than your health. You can’t do all the things you enjoy if you are not healthy. Take care of it.
6. Work through the tough issues.
We all have life experiences that shape who we are, and who we become. Our parents, siblings, relationships, and childhood experiences influence who we are. And so, inevitably, we all have our own issues and insecurities. And that’s okay. Sometimes we carry those issues into our careers, our relationships, our lives. Life moves fast, and before you know it, for many people, they’ve graduated (or not), have a job (or started a company), get married, and have kids. We don’t always have the time or opportunity to delve into those deep issues that keep us from living fully. But I think one of the greatest things you can do for yourself as a young adult is get therapy or counseling, especially if you’ve experienced some difficult or life-altering experience. Counseling can help foster self-awareness and give you a better understanding of who you are. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling to unravel the knots, or work through the tough issues in your life.
7. Take time off.
It’s hard to figure out what you really want out of life when you’re busy studying, working, or committed to some big thing in your life. School and work will take up so much of your time and energy. Take time off to read, travel, take a class, join a group, give your time. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Do something you’ve never done. When you take time to really live, you will find what makes you come alive. A brilliant producer at CNN once told me that you have to find work that makes you feel like every day is Friday. You will spend most of your life working. It’s worth the investment to take some time off to figure out exactly what you want to spend the rest of your life doing. Find something that makes you feel like you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.
8. Pay attention to that little voice inside of you.
Intuition is something that is inherent in all of us, but we don’t always pay attention to it. When I think back to big decisions that I’ve made in my life, including the one to step back from my career, I realize that I was internally guided. Despite how much I contemplated leaving CNN, and regardless of how many people’s advice I sought, deep in my core, I knew the answer. Pay attention to that voice inside of you. As one of my dearest friends and mentors told me, listen to that little voice, it will become louder and louder. Which brings me to my next lesson.
9. Don’t be afraid to be who you really are.
It takes time to figure out who you are, what you believe in and value, and which of those things can’t be compromised. It’s not always easy. I’m still learning. Sometimes your beliefs and values will be at odds with others, even those who you are closest to. You have to dig deep to find the courage to be who you really are. The people who matter in your life will celebrate you for who you are. Don’t be afraid to be who you really are.
“It takes great courage to grow up and become who you really are.” –E.E Cummings
10. Cultivate mindfulness.
Life moves fast. Especially nowadays with so many different things vying for our attention. Sometimes, the busyness of life can put us into auto-pilot. Losing my health forced me to slow down everything. It made me reevaluate my priorities. After I was diagnosed, I started practicing meditation, and it changed my health and my life. Creating time to be still each day has given me a sense of clarity and peace of mind that I haven’t found anywhere else. It has helped me to develop mindfulness in a way that makes even the most ordinary, mundane things seem spectacular. Meditation comes in different forms for people. Some people run, walk, practice yoga, play music, cook. It helps me recognize and appreciate the moments, both big and small. It helps me see the beauty in simple things: A walk, a smile from a stranger, a home-cooked meal, a friendly grocery store clerk. My life has so much more color because of it. Whatever it is for you, find something that creates space and stillness in your life, and watch your world open up because of it.
11. Find faith.
12. Ask questions.
As a journalist, it is my job to ask questions. How do things work? Why do things work the way they do? What makes people feel and react the way they do? Who says you can’t do things differently? Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. That goes for both professional and personal life. You will never know what is possible unless you ask. My oldest sister gave me this advice when I first started my career: Ask for what you want, because the worst that can happen is the answer no. And if you don’t ask, the answer is already no. Although it takes time and some experience, learn to ask for what you want. And question the way things are.
13. Take pride in your work.
My first job with CNN was a video journalist. Part of that included getting water, coffee and scripts for our news anchors during live television broadcasts. Many of my peers often griped about this task, and I never quite understood it. That was our role in the show, and I was thrilled to be a part of it. I observed, and listened and memorized how each anchor liked their coffee. I would happily ask them each day if there was anything I could do to help them. As far as I was concerned, that was my job, and I wanted to do it to the best of my ability. In turn, those anchors took me under their wings, taught me how to write and story-tell, shared their expertise with me, and recommended me for other jobs. I still keep in touch with many of them. One of my all time favorite quotes is by Martin Luther King Jr.
“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets as Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry… ” --Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s something I have guided my life principles by. You will have jobs throughout your career that may not be your dream job. But whatever it may be, do your best work, and people will value you for that, and want to help you. It’s all a part of the grand journey that will ultimately get you where you want to be.
14. Determine Your Own Destiny.
After I was diagnosed, I was forced to face who I was in a way that I never imagined. No matter how much I wanted to, this disease was quite literally a part of who I was. You can’t change your DNA. And a part of healing was accepting that. But what I wouldn’t accept was that this disease would dictate my life. So I did everything in my power to live healthier. . I read, learned, and practiced everything I could about managing my illness. I changed my lifestyle. I took time off to fully commit all of my energy and efforts to living healthier and happier. And I’ve never felt more full of life. You will find that in life, so often, there are things that are out of our control. But we always have the will to choose how we respond to those things. Don’t wait for a big thing to happen in your life to live. Don’t wait for a new year. Every single day you get to decide what you want to your life to look like. Determine your own destiny.
“….I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” –William Ernest Henley