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Lessons from the Heart

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As the first Black coanchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, Robin Roberts is making the show a serious contender in the a.m. ratings war. YLONDA GAULT CAVINESS caught up with the former sportscaster to talk about her inspiring new book, From the Heart, in which Roberts shares seven key lessons for living your best life. Watch our exclusive essence.com video of Robin Roberts below for more.  

I can’t fake the funk this early,” says Robin Roberts, coanchor of ABC’s Good Morning America. She doesn’t have to. Chatting high above the throngs of midtown Manhattan, the 46-year-old single broadcaster—the only Black woman holding down an anchor seat on a.m. network television—comes across with the warmth of a beloved cousin. It’s this easy confidence that helps rouse viewers from their beds and into the day ahead. It may also explain why, since Roberts assumed the coanchor chair in 2005, GMA has once again made a serious run for ratings as the show positions itself to topple NBC’s Today show from its No. 1 perch.

The executives responsible for recruiting her likely saw what GMA’s nearly 5 million viewers see every day: Roberts is real in a way that can’t be feigned, rehearsed or painted on. Her current success, including a multimillion-dollar contract, is the result of a 20-year-plus journey. As a neophyte broadcaster, she leaped at the chance to gain maximum exposure to the business at a small Hattiesburg, Mississippi, television station for $5.50 an hour, while the rest of her Southeastern Louisiana University graduating class naively sought the limelight in larger markets. And though it may seem to some that she came out of nowhere, Roberts—who first joined GMA as an occasional contributor after more than five years as an ESPN sportscaster—has been quietly inching toward her current high-profile position for nearly two decades.

The Pass Christian, Mississippi, native is grateful for her accomplishments but hardly astonished by them. In fact, she’s convinced that anyone can move forward with the help of the three D’s: “discipline, determination and da Lord.” That’s why she wrote From the Heart: Seven Rules to Live By (Hyperion, $19.95). Part memoir, part self-help book, it’s built on those three D’s. She adds other universal truths, examining each with powerful and personal details. On these pages Roberts shares words of wisdom to help motivate you and get you moving toward your own success journey.

1. TAKE IT ONE STEP AT A TIME

I think it’s easier to break a big dream into tiny attainable goals. I practically stalked the owner of a small radio station near the SLU (Southeastern Louisiana University) campus because I wanted to host a sports show. I knew I needed practical experience, and a small station seemed perfect. He finally gave me a shot as an early-morning DJ. But this was a country-and-western station—it’s not like I was spinning Earth Wind & Fire records. Still, every day I got to that station at 6:00 a.m. Then after that shift I’d head to class at 8:00 a.m. I came back to the station at noon to write copy. I scratched a lot of good ole Merle Haggard records before the station let me host a sports show.

2. DON’T SKIMP ON SKILL

You have doubts. Everyone does. But nothing will help you overcome them—or really help you build your confidence—like skill and knowledge. Sports was my passion, so I made sure that not too many people could challenge me on that. I was like, “Whatcha got? Come on wit’ it.” I was superconfident because I knew my stuff.

Without being “on it,” self-doubt can take over. Then you’re stuck. I remember early on I was working in the Gulf Coast, and I knew I was ready for a bigger market. But I couldn’t get any stations to give me the time of day. After rejection upon rejection, I was frustrated, but I knew I had to get creative. I hitched a ride to Nashville—home to an impressive station—with my parents, who were traveling there for church. It didn’t cost the news director a dime to see me. And I didn’t plan to ask for a job, just a critique of my tape. But all the while, I knew that if I got a chance to meet him in person I’d get a foot in the door.

Sure enough, I got a job offer. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted. It was doing lifestyle-type stuff—cooking segments and fashion. But eventually I won a spot in the sports department. I always tell myself, God’s delays are not denials.

3. STAY FOCUSED

My parents, who came up in the 1930’s, knew what prejudice tasted like. When we were kids and had to move wherever Dad was stationed in the military, Mommy would show up with us kids and find there was no housing on base for Black families. But my mom is a strong woman; even in her eighties with health problems, she still is. She knew the officers’ wives didn’t want her at their coffee klatches. She showed up anyway—in a quiet way, asserting her right to be there. My parents never let us use race as an excuse.

One time I didn’t get a particular job and I was fired up. I told my parents, “I know I didn’t get it because I’m Black.” They looked at each other and Mommy said—without missing a beat—“Humph. Maybe you just weren’t good enough.” You know that stung. But what she was saying is that, yes, there is racism, sexism and all kinds of -isms out there. But stay focused on what you can do. Then there’s no time to get pulled down by it.

4. EMBRACE CHANGE

I’ve been blessed with an outstanding career, such as hosting the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and Wide World of Sports and becoming an ESPN anchor. In the mid-1990’s Good Morning America asked me to file occasional sports segments for its weekend edition. I thought, No big deal. Then in 1999 I had to face a moment of truth: I was offered the cohost spot for the weekend show. I agonized over the decision. Sports was my dream job; it was what I’d worked toward. I thought, I can’t do news. It took a lot of solitude and prayer for me to see that I was afraid to step out of my comfort zone. Then when I dug even deeper, I was forced to see it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t do the job; I was scared of what people would say about me for trying. You know, things like, “Who does she think she is?”

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