Hoda Kotb Wants You To Flex Your Risk Muscle

Photo courtesy of Julie Dennis.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 65, everyone has times when they feel like they’ve lost the path. But Today Show anchor Hoda Kotb wants people to know that you can make sweeping changes — and it doesn’t even need to be scary. In her new book, Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us The Way (Simon & Schuster), Kotb with her co-author Jane Lorenzini, share seven stories of people who have completely upended their lives and will inspire you to take the same risks.

We sat down with Kotb to talk about her new book, the advice she would give her younger self, and the importance of women knowing their worth. No there wasn’t any wine, but there was lots of laughter, and more than a few inspiring ideas that could help you make big changes in 2016.

What inspired you to write this book?
"I knew the idea for this book would resonate, because we all are searching, you’re searching, I’m searching. But last night, we had a book signing, and I was stunned by the number of people who stopped and wanted to talk about how either they felt lost and they were trying to find their way, or they just redirected their life and they wanted to find others who did it too, so they felt like they were in good company. I feel like there’s something about [this idea] that’s making people nod their head and say wow, I think I want to take a second look to see if I’m where I’m supposed to be in my life."

You have such an amazing job, but have you ever felt like you don’t belong, and you needed to make a big change?
"I think professionally, right now, I’m where I belong. Years ago, when I was doing hard news, I thought I was in the right lane. But you know when you feel like you’re always fighting, somehow, you’re swimming upstream, you’re not riding a wave? That’s what I felt like doing news. I felt like it was a little bit — I don’t want to say unnatural, because I did it for so long — but I don’t think it was a great fit for me. But I didn’t realize that. I just thought I needed to try harder, and it would get better."

"And then one day I started working with Kathie Lee, and instead of doing stories that made people either depressed or, you know, feel bad, our stuff lifted people up. I remember thinking, wait, we get to do something that helps and doesn’t hurt? Often, when you’re covering a story — I felt this way sometimes — you wish you’re the Red Cross and not a journalist. You can’t believe what’s happening around you, and all you can do is tell people, ‘It’s happening! Somebody do something!’"

"I think the good thing about our show — which makes me feel that I’m at home — is that someone will walk up to us and say, ‘My grandmother was in the hospital, and we had the show on and she laughed.’ And I’m like, Oh my god, I can’t believe that I get the privilege of doing that."
Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Is there a story that stands out that might inspire twentysomething women who pick up the book looking for some advice on how to change their lives?
"Michelle Hauser, who came from a blue-collar background and had little parental support, but ended up going to Harvard Medical School."

Her story was incredible.
"Right? If you were to look at [her story] on paper and, if someone from Vegas were to say, 'What are the odds?' What are the odds this girl, who had this difficult, really tough upbringing, who didn’t really have someone in her corner who was rooting for her, who even had counselors telling her to go work in the factory, would have the stamina, the wherewithal, the willpower to push through and get that Harvard degree. It’s astonishing."

"Someone else said something interesting the other day, she said, ‘Taking a risk is like working a muscle.’ It’s like your risk muscle."

That’s so true.
"Right? And once you do it once, you’re like, Okay that wasn’t so scary. And you can do it again! You almost work it. But if you’ve never tried it, you stay paralyzed, right? "

It’s hard when you’re in your 20s, because you haven’t flexed that muscle much yet.
"Yes. And it’s terrifying, because you’re like, what if i do it and it doesn’t work?

The great thing about being in your 30s — and beyond that — is that it’s less scary because you’ve done it and…
"And you realize, Oh, I do get up when I do a belly flop. It’s not the end of the world."

So, looking back over your career, do you have any advice that you’d give yourself if you were 25?
"One thing I never did that I think helped me a lot is that I never tried to calibrate the odds. Because the odds of me ever working at 30 Rockefeller Plaza were, I’m sure, almost like, a million to one. Why would that ever happen? I didn’t know anybody in the business. I went to a school that wasn’t know for communications. There are all these reasons it shouldn’t work. And I think that the reason people trip up sometimes is because they think, well look, there are a lot of people who want a few jobs so I’m not going to be one of those people. So they move past it. You really have to imagine what your life would be like if it was happening to you."

"[I would also tell my younger self to] make love a priority. I think that’s important. I think sometimes that gets put on the back burner because you’re so busy making a living. I think spending more time in that lane is very important."

I think that’s great advice.
"I really never knew my value anywhere I worked. I didn’t really want to know what anyone was making because I knew I was underpaid. Please don’t tell me, I’m not interested. But I think, and it’s like the risk muscle — there’s a negotiation muscle. You can walk in and try to figure out what you’re worth. I was talking with someone, and she was saying the best way to do it is by figuring out your company’s bottom line and figuring out how you contribute to that. Like, what do I give to this company? It doesn’t matter if you’re just the receptionist. How am I helping them? They’re making $8 million dollars a year, okay, and if you can go in and say, ‘Here’s how I’m saving you money every single day, I do A, B, C, D, whatever.’"

"She called it knowing your price tag. When I was younger, every time I would want a raise, I would walk in and say, 'I know it’s a terrible time, I’m sorry,' and they would say, 'No.' Somehow I apologized my way out of a raise. I wish I would know my value a little bit more and not been afraid to ask for things because it’s scary. You can do it."
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