There are few public figures we love as wholeheartedly as “Today Show” Co-Host Hoda Kotb. Her energy, intelligence, and good humor are always welcome as we start the day. We jumped at the chance to talk to her about her inspiring new book “Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us The Way.” It explores the lives of people who have taken an unexpected fork in the road, yet ended up exactly where they are meant to be.
Q: This book is about the fascinating paths of a few individuals. How did you figure out that these people were the subjects you wanted to focus on for the book?
We cast a wide net. We wanted people who fit in certain categories: someone who wasn’t in the right place where they wanted to be professionally, someone who wasn’t in the right place where they wanted to be physically. Sometimes it’s spiritually, other times it’s personally. In all of our lives we wonder at some point, “Am I in the right spot, here?” You’re not always sure. Sometimes you wind up somewhere just by circumstance. You know, you grew up in a city so you go to the college nearby, you meet the guy who happened to be across the street. Everything just happens in a way because it’s around you, and maybe you’re not quite sure you are in your sweet spot.
This is about people who took a risk and found their sweet spot. They weren’t forced to make hard choices, through illness or natural disaster or something like that. They just chose. That’s what inspired me about the people in our book.
For instance, everything in Michelle’s background suggested she was not going to have a great life. Her own guidance counselors told her that basically she’s a loser and won’t amount to anything. This kid pushes through and winds up at Harvard. How does that happen and what is she made of that’s different? How did she find her spot and pursue a seemingly impossible dream? When you read these stories you might say to yourself, “Wait, if they can do it then I can do this too.” Whatever your “this” is, you feel like you can achieve it.
How did each of these people relate to you personally, and where are you in relationship to where you thought you would be?
Each story has its own little connect. I really related to Craig and Kathy, the couple who felt like they had it all. Look, they’re skiing the slopes in Aspen, money is not an object, and they can do whatever they want for the rest of their lives and not worry. Most people say, “If I could just have that, my life would be perfect.” I think they didn’t know what they didn’t know; they didn’t have what they didn’t have. That they adopted all those children late in life was heartening. Sometimes you think, “That’s not in the cards for me,” for whatever reason. For me it was through illness, divorce and just life. When you meet them you realize, well, it can be in the cards for me too.
Sometimes when you strive for a carefree life, you discover your life is not be as rich as it could be. You found your place and didn’t think you had room, and now you can’t imagine your life without children or whatever it is that enriched it. I think for Michelle, look, if you’ve been rejected a number of times you sort of feel her pain. Not to the degree that she felt it obviously, because she had the odds stacked against her, but when I was looking for a job, 27 news directors told me no to my face. Like, “Hi, you’re not good. Move on.”
Hearing these stories, you understand what they must feel like and you also know how sweet it is at the end. If I had gotten the first job I applied for, then maybe I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I don’t think I would’ve had the appreciation of it all, but because I was beaten back a bunch of times, I’ve become more grateful. You feel lucky and blessed to be somewhere, as opposed to, “Of course I deserve this; I studied hard.” So did everybody, big deal.
On your hard days, the days you feel far from your path, what do you do to get yourself back in a good place?
Usually if I get off track, it’s because I’m forgetting how blessed and lucky I feel. First thing in the morning, I try to scribble in a journal real quick, literally for 10 minutes or less. I write three things I’m grateful for and one great thing that happened in the last 24 hours. The one great thing can be small, or it can be big, and I think that helps me right the ship. For example, I had a meaningful conversation with a stranger on the street. Or I’m running in the park and I’m about to stop, when an old guy throws his fists up and yells, “Keep going, keep going.” You go, “Oh my God, yes, I’m going to keep going.”
If I go to bed in a bad mood, instead of going, “Oh God” when I wake up and remember the argument at work or some unpleasant thing or the demotion or whatever, literally if you write down those three things your brain starts to change. That way, you start thinking about the positive. You start looking for the good things in the course of your day. That usually works for me. That and wine … and good music. Good music works too.
What were your three things this morning?
My three things today … My sister called me and she was in the best mood. Whenever she’s in a good mood, I get in a good one too. She called to talk about how Mom felt great and she felt great; I remember that changed my day. And I spoke to my best friend Karen, and we had this long spontaneous discussion just about life. What was the next… Oh! I don’t know if I should tell you this…
Please do then…
Well… I was looking for an apartment with my boyfriend yesterday, and it was really fun! I wasn’t sure if it was going to feel fun or feel like uh-oh, but it felt fun. So that was on the list.
What was the one great thing that happened?
I can’t even remember now. I know it was something small. It’s always the little things that make you feel really good, like “Okay! Yes!” You know?
Hoda’s new book, “Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us The Way“, is out January 5th. See more of her on the “Today Show.”