It’s not always easy to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, but Norah O’Donnell managed to do just that at a pivotal time in politics. Taking a leap of faith and moving from the safety of NBC to take on new challenges at CBS opened up new opportunities that ultimately led to becoming managing editor and anchor of the storied CBS Evening News. Read on to learn how Norah got nudged out of her comfort zone and found the strength to make bold moves.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
Covering the biggest story of my lifetime! As anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, it’s great to have the show broadcast out of Washington, D.C. now as we embark on this historic coverage. I also think 2020 is the most important election I’ve ever covered and we have to make sure that voters have all the facts to make an informed decision at the ballot box.
How did you get to where you are today?
I think I was always meant to be a journalist. I’ve always had a deep curiosity about people and the news, and I think that’s what led me into this field. I had no idea I would be anchoring the CBS Evening News one day but I do think many years of hard work and traveling the globe has led me to this leadership position and I’m deeply humbled by it.
What pivotal moments did you face along the way?
About a dozen years ago, I had the opportunity to stay with NBC or make the jump to CBS News. CBS was offering me the opportunity to be the Chief White House Correspondent and cover the Obama Administration. It was a risk leaving my family at NBC to join a new network, but it was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made. Not only was I able to cover the first year of Obama’s second term in office and his historic presidency, but I was also able to join a network with a storied tradition. A year after joining CBS News, they offered me the position to anchor CBS This Morning and my life changed forever after that.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
"...let doubt and fear drive you into stepping outside your comfort zone."
I always felt that self-doubt was one of the biggest challenges that women face—we doubt that we are smart enough or have enough experience to take on a role. I’ve always tried to encourage myself to look beyond my doubt. I also realized that doubt is very important to one’s success as it can drive you. I always say to let doubt and fear drive you into stepping outside your comfort zone.
Who helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your thinking?
Gayle King has been an incredible friend. I think that the word “mentor” suggests that you enlist someone who is an executive, but sometimes a mentor should be a peer. In this case, Gayle has been an incredible mentor who helped me move outside of my comfort zone. My expertise was mostly politics, but Gayle helped me to become an expert in authors and movies and entertainment. She taught me to be comfortable on television and to ask different types of questions.
How do you think about the balance between your personal life and career?
"It’s less about existing in balance than it is about listening to your gut..."
I’ve said that the word “balance” sets up this idea in women’s minds like the scales of justice. There’s this idea that work is on one side and family on the other, and that they sit in perfect balance. That doesn’t exist, and it makes women feel guilty—sometimes you will spend more time on your career than your personal life, and sometimes you pull back and focus on family over your career. It’s less about existing in balance than it is about listening to your gut and working as hard as you can at each. The most important thing that I’ve learned is to take care of myself through diet, exercise and surrounding myself with positive, optimistic people which makes a lot of leading a busy life easier.
Knowing what you know today, what one thing would you have done differently early in your career?
I would have kept a daily diary of all my experiences. I’ve been to more than 60 countries around the globe; I’ve covered presidents, princes, prime ministers and prisoners. I wish I had kept better notes and I am doing that now with a daily log of everything that happens. This is one of the great privileges of this job; having a front-row seat to history through some incredible moments. Someday it will make its way into a book.
What's one piece of advice you can share?
Outwork the competition. Hard work always makes up for any lack of confidence or experience. There is no doubt if you outwork the competition, you’ll succeed.