Introduction: From the Heart
I had no idea that one day I would write a book. I also had no idea that one day I would be the coanchor of Good Morning America. Isn't it wonderful how life can surprise you?
I remember my first morning as coanchor. The announcer said: "This is Good Morning America with Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer, and Robin Roberts." All of a sudden I was on camera sitting next to Charlie and Diane. I wanted to shout to the TV audience, "I don't know how I got here either!"
Some part of me was thinking: Why would people listen to what I had to say? What had I experienced and learned in my life that I could impart to viewers? Then Hurricane Katrina hit right in my hometown, and I was thrust into the heart of it. GMA became a way for me to reach out and make a difference. I found my voice, and the viewers responded.
I have to admit, though, when my editor at Hyperion, Gretchen Young, told me they wanted to frame this book as my "rules to live by," I laughed.
"Right," I said, "Roberts's Rules of Order." As if I could give people rules for life. That wasn't me. I always felt like a person who had broken all the rules -- and the mold they came in too. I was a woman, I was black, and I didn't care if people said I didn't belong in sports or broadcasting. I pushed my way in. So the idea of writing rules tickled me.
But as I thought about it, I realized that in another sense rules were a big part of my life -- before I broke them.
When I was young I was totally focused on being an athlete, and I was the type of athlete who always played by the rules. Maybe the fact that my father was in the Air Force for more than thirty years has something to do with that. You don't retire as a full colonel in the United States Air Force without playing by the rules. My father instilled those values in his four children. (I'm the baby of the family.)
It wasn't just rules for the sake of rules. We learned that rules have a purpose. They teach us invaluable lessons. Lessons that we may not even be aware of at the time, like discipline. It's not always easy to do what is expected of us, especially when others aren't holding up their end of the bargain. But my parents never let us get away with measuring ourselves against other people's performance or blaming someone else's failure for our own. Our house was a no-whine zone. We were taught to take responsibility for our own actions.
When I was a freshman basketball player at Southeastern Louisiana University, my coach, Linda Puckett, devised a challenging drill. She instructed the team to stay in a crouched position as we slid all the way around the court. We were not to stand up until we reached a certain point. I was in the middle of the pack as we did the drill. When we were finished, Coach Puckett got right in my face and said, "Hon, you are going places in life." It turned out that I was the only one who remained in the crouched position for the entire time.
I could have easily been like everyone else on my team and come out of the uncomfortable position before I was supposed to. It took discipline, determination, and stamina to stay put. Traits that come in handy in life, whether you're on the basketball court, on the job, or raising a family.
When I was a child watching Good Morning America, I could never have imagined sitting in that anchor chair. A life in broadcasting wasn't even on my radar. My total focus was on becoming a professional athlete. But looking back, I am convinced that I would have been successful at anything I pursued, because of my sports background. For as long as I can remember, I've loved sports. I am always fascinated by how fast I can run, how far I can throw a ball, how high I can jump. That was especially true when I was younger. When I was twelve years old, I was the state bowling champ in Mississippi. I still remember the headline in the local paper: PETITE BOWLER TAKES STATE TITLE. I think it was the one and only time I have ever been called petite.
Growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I loved all sports, but tennis was my first true passion. Oh, how I would daydream about one day taking center court at Wimbledon! I imagined myself curtsying to the queen and eating strawberries and cream. But even though my heart belonged to tennis, my body was more suited for basketball. When you're 5'10" in the eighth grade, people expect you to play hoops, so that's what I did. I put my heart into the game and loved it. And although I didn't realize my dream of becoming a professional athlete, those experiences on the court never left me. In fact, they became an integral part of me.
The principles I learned through sports prepared me for success. They taught me certain rules that I live by to this day:
1. Position yourself to take the shot. I learned how to put myself in position for good things to happen to me. Even when I felt outmatched or afraid, I made sure I was ready to grab the ball when it came my way.
2. Dream big, but focus small. When I was young I had big dreams, and my parents, teachers, and coaches encouraged me. But they also helped me to see that I had to have my feet planted in reality. Dreams are vague and far away. Goals are tangible and achievable. I learned that being true to myself meant figuring out what was right for me, then pursuing it.
3. If at first you don't succeed, dive back in. Here's a secret. It isn't always the smartest, most talented, prettiest, or most charismatic person who has the most success. That's true whether you're talking about a great job, a great achievement, or a great marriage. More often, the people who succeed are those who don't let setbacks and rejections stop them cold.
4. Never play the race, gender, or any other card. The most valuable lesson my parents taught me was that there is no excuse for not being the best you can be. When you fail, don't look for fault in others; find the areas you need to improve in yourself. And don't be too thin-skinned. Learn to laugh at your frailties. We all have them.
5. Venture outside your comfort zone. To stop growing is to stop living. My parents taught me this lesson by taking new chances late in their lives. When you look at your life as a work in progress every day, nothing is impossible.
6. Focus on the solution, not the problem. We all have problems, and it's easy to let them drag you down. The key to lifting yourself up is to focus on what action you can take to solve them. You may be taking baby steps, but they move you forward.
7. Keep faith, family, and friends close to your heart. My life has been filled with blessings -- a deep faith, strong family ties, and a core group of friends who support and challenge me. My faith, family, and friends are the foundation upon which everything else rests. True success cannot be measured by the fleeting façades of fame and money, but only by the underlying security of a life well lived.
After I deliver a speech I am often asked for a copy of it. The problem is I never write my speeches. I just talk. That is my hope for this book. It's just me talking to you. Talking about the things I have learned that have helped me find joy in my life and fulfillment in my work.
Trust me when I tell you that I am not the brightest person in the world. And trust me, my friends would wholeheartedly agree! There is no magical reason why I am where I am. And there is absolutely no reason why you can't be where you want to be. If it can happen for me, it can happen for you, too. And it would be a privilege for me to help you get there.