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Hoda Kotb: Greeting Fear With Confidence
By Sarah Lynch
You can’t scare Hoda Kotb.
The TODAY co-anchor, breast cancer survivor and mother of two has spent a career cultivating confidence. Kotb honed her broadcast chops from Mississippi to Louisiana before landing a correspondent role at Dateline NBC in 1998. But a cancer diagnosis in 2007 prompted a career inflection point. The words “You can’t scare me” came to Kotb like an epiphany. She marched up to the 52nd floor and pitched herself for the 10 a.m. hour of TODAY. Now, she’s the main co-anchor for TODAY, joining Savannah Guthrie to form the first female anchor duo in the show’s history. Kotb is also the co-host of TODAY with Hoda & Jenna, an author and, most recently, a podcast host, after launching Making Space with Hoda Kotb in September.
For Kotb, confidence comprises the wherewithal to ask for what you want but also the discernment to establish priorities. Every morning at 3, she chooses to give herself 30 minutes of peace. She devotes herself to motherhood and work and directs her remaining energy with intention.
She has the job “you don’t even write down in your journal with a heart around it” and made history at the anchor desk. But the beauty of the accomplishment for Kotb is how commonplace it has started to feel. When she and Guthrie speak to local affiliates in the morning, female duos often greet them.
“I feel like [Savannah and I] are puzzle pieces that fit, and when you find that, no matter what gender, it works,” Kotb said. “The bonus is that we happen to be two women who cheer each other on, who root for each other, who want the other to succeed, and now we get the privilege of showing little girls that of course you can do that. They won’t even think twice.”
Kotb spoke with New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) to talk about how she’s living and working fearlessly and what winning a NYWICI Matrix Award this year means to her.
In 2018, you became co-anchor for TODAY joining Savannah to form the first female co-anchor team for the show. What did that achievement mean to you when you first got the job, and what does it mean to you now?
We were all in such a state of shock at the time that I don’t think the impact was immediately clear to me. But then I remember I walked into a SoulCycle class and everyone broke out into applause. They were cheering because there were now two women on the TODAY show. I looked around and was like, “Oh my god.” I didn’t realize until that moment how much it meant.
I just think of Savannah and I as partners letting people know what’s going on in the world. I do think women have a way of telling you the truth without using a mallet; even if it’s bleak, we’re here to hold your hand and walk you through it. We aim to be straightforward, while also understanding many of our viewers are moms and dads at home with little kids who have a lot going on.
In every market I’ve ever worked in, I’ve always picked the best writer or reporter and said, “What are they doing? How did they get that interview with the aunt who no one else could get?” So, I’d just ask them. And because of that, I’ve had many mentors throughout my career.
Most recently, Maria Shriver gave me some really special advice about prioritizing. She said to write all of the things that require your love, attention and focus (i.e. your spouse, kids, job, volunteering, exercising, etc.) on separate pieces of paper. The size of each piece of paper should correspond with the amount of time, love and support it requires. Then, put all the pieces of paper on a platter or plate, right on your dining room table. Now, you can literally look at your life and see if your priorities are straight. You might say your spouse is your priority, but when you look at the platter, you realize you are giving them the same amount of time as volunteering. So, you have to reevaluate—add some things on, move some things off, make some things bigger and make some things smaller. It’s also a great reminder that if your plate is overflowing, you’re drowning.
Yes, it has. I know where my North Star is now. It’s easier for me to say “yes” and “no” and I’m choosier with what I decide to do outside of my home. I make sure my girls know that they are always my number one priority. I also want them to know how much I enjoy work; I want them to know that it’s not a thing that keeps mommy away, it’s a thing she enjoys. The other night, I had a work phone call and [my daughter] started crying. I said, “One day, you’re going to find something you love to do so much, and you’re going to love your family like I love you. But you’re also going to enjoy work. It’s important. Mom likes going to work!”
The only quiet time I get is the morning and I treasure it. My alarm goes off at 3 a.m., and by 3:30 a.m, I’m sitting downstairs at my kitchen table. I do the exact same thing almost every day: I write my kids a note and then I leave them clues to find it. I light a candle. I make some tea. I listen to an app that has different prayers and things, and I scribble in my journal. I actually love that time, because I think it might be the only 30 minutes that I get. Even when everything’s crummy and I barely write the note and I can’t even read what I scribbled in my journal, I enjoy sitting there and putting it all out on the table.
I have been in the audience at the Matrix Awards many times. Looking around the room is always a “pinch me” moment. I remember seeing all of these women who are at the tip-top of their game—Oprah, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and the list goes on. I would say to myself, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m witnessing this.” To watch them give speeches moved me to my core because they spoke to me. I mean, I’m in my career, I’m 57 years old and I’m having another “pinch me” moment. Imagine how cool that is to be able to get an award like this and to think to yourself, “I don’t know if I’m worthy of this, but thank you.”
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Sarah Lynch is a production assistant at NBC New York.