Hoda Kotb, fourth hour co-host of Today, came home to her roots in New Orleans on Friday. (Kotb worked as a reporter and anchor of WWL-TV, a CBS affiliate, before landing a job at Dateline in 1998.)
Kotb was the keynote speaker during the Festigals‘ luncheon, an annual empowering women’s getaway weekend in the Big Easy, amidst a banquet room bursting with energy and buzz.
As she took the podium to the Commodores’ hit, “Brick House,” and raised a wine glass (red, not white) to toast the audience, Kotb doled out several tips about life, careers, mojo and a whole lot of moxie.
Although she mentioned she had three tips to share, we jotted down four in between her colorful illustrations for each one:
1. “Hold on tight to the things you love and get rid of the things you don’t.” Simply stated, she also alluded to her former marriage but then said with a smile, “It’s true.”
2. “You can’t scare me.” After describing the moment when she learned she was diagnosed with breast cancer to the stoic doctor on the other end of the phone, her intern sitting across from her desk hadn’t heard a single word of her part of the conversation.
After all, Kotb had done most of the listening, not talking.
At that moment when the phone conversation ended, the intern wanted to dismiss herself but first offered the seasoned journalist a hug.
Pointing out there are things in life that are right when and where we need it, Kotb also added that breast cancer diagnosis and surgery made her power through. It made her more bold; it gave her moxie.
Kotb recalled the decision to schedule a meeting with Jeff Zucker, head of NBC at the time: “I’m not going to sit at my desk and wait. I’m finally going to ask for something. What am I afraid of?”
She decided to march into his office several years ago to ask for what she wanted: To co-host the fourth hour of Today. Joking that she went into his office thinking the mantra, “You can’t scare me,” to the point he thought she may have been a bit crazy. On a more serious note, the Dateline journalist and media personality pointed out she felt extremely calm “because it seemed so nothing to ask for that.”
3. “You can be stronger in the broken places.” This one, too is just what you think it is. Hoda recalled sitting on an airplane wanting to disregard an unrelenting seatmate who kept poking her to ask questions about herself as she was still healing after surgery. Finally, Kotb answered his questions one-by-one, removing her headphones each time, and told the stranger she had breast cancer and was still recovering from reconstructive surgery.
Saying she didn’t want to be a woman defined as having breast cancer, he pointed out it’s part of her story now just like which college she graduated from or which employer she used to work for.
Dishing an important lesson she learned from her seatmate during that return trip from Ireland, Kotb recalled his sage advice: “Don’t hog your journey. It’s not just for you.” Other people could have been uplifted by hearing her survivor story and gained strength from her tenacity.
4. “The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life. Make a change.” Advising to make a small change on Monday and then make another one again on Tuesday, all you need is “a baby step to make a big, big change.”
On that note, Kotb cued the sound technician to play Natalie Merchant’s hit, “Kind and Generous” (a.k.a. the “Thank You Song”), as she sang lyrics along with the festive audience.