What I Learned Breaking Into Television

02/11/2014 04:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2014


People often ask me how I got into television.

The reason why they ask is because I got into television mid-career. I made the switch at the worst possible time, when I had left my job to have children. Not only was I leaving my current job but I was also attempting to get into a new, competitive career.

During this transition, I met a television coach who taught me something that had nothing to do with television.

Let me explain.

A television agent said to me that if I had any serious thoughts about trying my hand at on-air work, I would need to hire a talent coach. So on her recommendation, I found one in New York. It was just a one-day session held at this person's office. Or at least, I think it was her office. It may have been one of those rented spaces that give small businesses the air of a real office.

She walked over and led me into a little white room where several newspapers were laid out. Over the next hour or so, she had me read the newspapers as if they were television scripts.

"More energy and emphasis!" she guided.

After dozens of reads, I was starting to tune out. How many different ways can I read these paragraphs? Where I thought I was conveying energy, she was telling me I sounded flat. What was I really trying to accomplish? I just wanted to report good stories; I kept asking myself, why did I need to "learn" to read?

She started getting on my nerves. I started not to like her hair. I wondered if her methods worked. I began to think about her fee. Everything else entered my head except that I needed to focus on being better to get a job.

Sensing my animosity, she suddenly sat down.

"I know this is frustrating," she said. "I'm trying to help you find a job. You 're getting mad at me but you're really mad at the process. It's scary out there. Everyone wants to do the same thing you 're doing."

She got up and grabbed a black marker and scribbled on the whiteboard.

Opportunity + Preparation = Luck

"Betty, do you understand what this means?"

"Yes, I do," I said flatly.

"No, do you really understand what this means?"

I stared at her for a moment.

"People see other's successes and they think, oh, they 're just lucky. Nobody is ever lucky, trust me. Sure, things happen to people. There's stories everywhere of people who've been toiling away and all of a sudden, they get the dream job they've always wanted; or their business idea suddenly takes off and they make millions. We look at that and think, they're lucky. No honey, they 're not lucky. They were prepared.

"Opportunities are everywhere for people. But if you're not prepared, then you won't be able to capitalize on that opportunity. It's not luck, it's being prepared. It's doing the really hard work of being prepared for the one day when you get that opportunity. It may only come once so you have to be prepared. Your job is to prepare your whole life for that opportunity. Do you understand what I 'm saying?"

She leaned in. "Do you understand?"

I hadn't thought I was buying a life lesson but there it was, staring me in the face.

At that point, it really did sink in.

And it has ever since.


Adapted from Work Smarts: What CEOs Say You Need to Know to Get Ahead. Get your copy now at Amazon or a signed copy at Betty is the Anchor and Editor-at-Large at Bloomberg Television.