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Meredith Vieira on Balancing Career and Family: Commencement Season (Part 2)

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This is the second part of the commencement address Meredith Vieira delivered at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts on Sunday, May 18, 2008:

I grew up in Providence so I went home to my family home and I’m in my bedroom crying. My dad comes in and he says, “What’s the matter?” I told him and he said, “Well, do you think you have what it takes?” Even though I didn’t, I said, “Yeah. I think I do. And he said, “Why do you care what anybody’s going to say to you that would conflict with that feeling? You’re going to have naysayers, and I’ll tell you, you will throughout your life have people who will tell you not good enough. Maybe they’re jealous. Maybe they think you aren’t. Maybe they’ve had a bad day. But ultimately you have to believe in yourself.” Based on that pep talk or maybe serious PMS, I did go in that Monday. I basically pinned him to the wall. You know and I think back on it and I said, “I don’t care what you think. I am going to make it.” I might have freaked him out, but he gave me a second chance. Since then, we have become very good friends. But I did learn a lesson about believing in yourself.

After that I was sort of on a fast track. I went from Providence directly to New York City at WCBS television and then onto network news. Some of you are going to find yourselves with that same trajectory because of the kind of students that you are. You’re going to move very fast and you’ll find that there isn’t a lot of time to pause and reflect. And I would urge you to do that. Sometimes you get on this high speed train and you never stop to think, “Well, where am I going and who am I? What am I really doing?” That’s when you’re tested at your core. Probably my biggest test came with 60 Minutes that Larry referred to.

Again, I was on this fast track and I was in West 57th, the magazine. I was also married but had several miscarriages and finally was pregnant with my first child after trying for quite a few years. I was leaving on maternity leave to have Ben, and I was brought into office of president of CBS News and he said to me, “How would you like to be a co-anchor, a co-editor at 60 Minutes”? And without thinking, I said yes, because it truly was the only job in the business that I ever really coveted. It was the perfect job for a reporter, the height of success.

I went home that night and I had a really bad stomachache and I figured, well I am going to have a baby so maybe that’s what’s causing it. The following week I had Ben but I never got rid of the stomachache, it kept getting worse and worse. Six months later I’m at 60 Minutes and I find that every time I’m on the road for a story, I’m having that pain thinking about my family and every time I’m with my family, I’m feeling guilty about my job and confused. Meanwhile, I became the media darling. There were all these stories, “Meredith Vieira, the woman who has it all. She’s got a husband, she’s got a kid, she’s got one of the best jobs in the business.” I just went along smiling and the whole thing even though inside I was churning.

Then I got pregnant with second child, Gabriel, and I was brought into Don Hewitt’s office who was the head of 60 Minutes at the time and he said, “You know what? You’re going to have to make a choice here. What matters more to you? You going to go full-time with this and really commit to it or are you going to leave?” In that moment, I did what I urge all of you to do later than I should have. I listened to my gut and I said, “You know what, I’m out of here.” And I said it in a nice way. And that night for the first night in years, I really slept well.

A few days later I was at an event and a woman cornered me and she said, “You know what, I can’t believe that you’re doing this. This sends such a wrong message to women everywhere who really believe you can have it all. If you leave this job, you’re going to fail us all.” And I thought, “You know what, what is failure?” If I stayed, that would be failure. That would be sending out a message to people that is dishonest. I had to be true to myself, as hard as that was and as scary as that was, you’ve got to listen to the voice in your gut. It is individual. It is unique. It is yours. It’s called being authentic. There’s only one of you and maybe you’re not going to follow the path that other people would like to put you on, but that’s okay. You’re going to find the path that’s right for you.

Since 60 Minutes, I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff. People are looking at my career and going, “She’s schizoid.” I went from 60, then I did documentary work, then I did the talk show, The View. Then I did Millionaire. Now I’m on the Today show and Millionaire. I’ve got a combination of both. But I feel comfortable in my shoes. And what I find and I find it a lot now at this show, when I talk to people out on the plaza, I’ve learned that as much as you reach forward for your dream, it’s important to never forget to reach out to those around you.

I can’t tell you the number of people who stop me and humble me by saying, “Thank you for doing what you do, thank you for being there every morning for me. Thank you for informing me, thank you for getting me through a sickness in my family when maybe you brought a smile to my face. Thank you for touching me. That is the greatest gift you can give anybody. That is so humbling to do that and so important.

Ultimately, I’ve interviewed presidents and I’ve interviewed poor people just trying to make it—I actually prefer the latter group, to be honest with you—what I’ve found is that all of us need to connect, we need to reach out to each other. It is the greatest gift that you can give to anybody and ultimately the most important gift of all.

You’re very special kids to be graduating from this school. I hope you know it. You’re here because you are leaders. You have a mission. You also have an internal compass in each and every one of you and I would urge you to listen to it. Follow that voice.

Someone much smarter than me once said, “Don’t go with the flow. You are the flow.” I think back to that streaking incident and about being out there naked and alone and the way all leaders will be but that’s when you’re tested. That’s when you find out who you really are. As for Barbara Walters and Star Jones, you want to know the truth? If you think I’m going to tell you, you have a lot more to learn than I thought, okay? But then that’s what life’s about, it’s about learning. Good luck, get out of here, and may you truly live every day of your life. Thank you.

Photo courtesy of Tufts Journal

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