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Tips From The Top: One On One With Asha Blake

I spoke to former national TV news anchor, daytime talk show host and Emmy winner Asha Blake about her journey and her best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your development and success?

Asha: Great question! Setbacks and challenges have made me who I am, probably more than my successes! My favorite saying is: “Why did this happen for me, and not to me”. I believe that difficult and deep soulful moments give you the motivation needed to reach that next level work wise, and also personally. Bad things can be good things if looked at different way.

Challenge 1: The television news landscape when I finished college, did not have many women who looked like me. I couldn’t get an entry-level news reporter job, not even in the tiniest news markets across the country. I had to believe in myself and develop a “Never take no for an answer” mentality, which helped propel me to become a local, and eventually a national news reporter and anchor. When things didn’t go my way, my mantra became:  “I’m just being saved for something better”. Believe it or not, something better usually comes along.

Challenge 2: When I was passed over for a local news anchor job early in my career, I didn’t complain, I just went out and found an agent who believed in me. Two weeks later, I was offered  a new job in in a bigger city for more money…and it was an anchor job!  I didn’t let another person’s  opinion of me determine my future. Three years later I ended up at ABC News as a national news anchor.   

Adam: In your experience, what are the common qualities among those who have been able to enjoy success in media and broadcasting?

Asha: A desire to really know and understand people is what first comes to mind. After that, most journalists I know are passionate about sharing their expertise and passion, whether it be information about justice, social change, or entertainment. Passion is the life-blood of success! Also, I’ve been fortunate to work with many peers who have integrity, ethics and principles. I feel journalists who  embody those ideals last the longest. Finally, it helps if you know where to get a good cup of coffee during those late night or early morning news shifts!

Adam: The TV news business has changed significantly since your co-host days on The Today Show and national news anchor days on Good Morning America. What changes do you foresee in the next five to ten years?

Asha: There have already been so many changes. One major change has been the explosion of citizen journalism. It has developed because almost everyone has a smartphone and can shoot the news outside their window. Not only that, but they can get their content out via Instagram, Facebook, Periscope or other platforms. The networks and news stations don’t have a monopoly anymore on what gets on the air. More diverse voices are being heard. I believe that’s a good thing. In the next decade, I also think that regular news hours might not exist anymore. People will be able to watch the news whenever and wherever they want on demand. We are now in an attention economy for users. Everyone is battling for eyeballs, these shifts  will keep happening.

Adam: What are the best lessons you have learned throughout your career that are applicable to those who will never earn a living in front of or behind the camera?

Asha: Hustle! Arrive early to work. Stay late. Everything you think – good or bad – will determine your reality. Be humble and gracious. Be kind and generous. Share credit. Share laughs with co-workers. Don’t let anyone steal your light or sparkle. Do more than is expected. Give to those less fortunate. Be a rising step to those behind you. Always remember who you are, what you’ll accept, and what you won’t tolerate — try to keep your sense of self strong so that no emotional or business wave can knock you over. Look at problems as gifts from the universe that help you improve something about yourself that needs work instead of thinking of yourself as a victim.

Adam: What are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Asha: Integrity, honesty, flexibility, self-awareness, adaptability, and enthusiasm.

After college, during my second year as a news reporter/anchor, I was tasked with being a leader in the newsroom, and quite frankly, I was in over my head. Okay…in WAY over my head. The staff sensed that I was hesitant when making decision,s and brought it my attention, which wasn’t fun. I discovered what they wanted from me was confidence. I thought long and hard about that meeting. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence, I just wasn’t experienced and didn’t know how to show it. I shook off my hesitancy over the next few weeks, and my natural positivity along with my “we can do this” attitude helped  the crew feel like they weren’t going to drown with me at the helm.Things immediately improved. It was smooth sailing from there on out, and I moved on to captain a few more ships.

Adam: Who have been the biggest influences in your life and why?

Asha: I know a lot of people say “my parents,”and I’m going to be one of them. My parents were the hardest working people I knew. Our family moved from the edge of the rainforest in Guyana, South America to Canada with no connections or family in North America. We brought only what we could carry. My parents were solid, kind, smart, honest and generous people who never complained about their circumstances in life They just provided the best platform they could and expected their six kids to jump from it.  Aside from my family, I always admired the bravery and strength of Rosa Parks who stood up in the face of adversity. Meeting her one day inside an elevator in Detroit was one of the highlights of my life. I also took pointers in life from the views of Mahatma Gandhi (victory with nonviolence, and proving one person CAN make a difference). My news mentor along the way, Carole Simpson, was the first black female to anchor a major network newscast, and was a role model for me when I went to work with her at ABC News. From Carole, I saw how to navigate the news world at the highest level.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Asha: It’d like to say that it came from my childhood minister or some other spiritually minded individual I’ve met, but in reality it came from my agent back when I was a novice reporter. I must have been stewing about someone getting a better job than me when he said to me, “Asha, pretend you are a horse with blinders on. Horses wear blinders so they only focus on what’s ahead, not what’s beside them or behind them, and are not distracted while they run”.

In other words, look straight ahead and run your own race. In this age of skyrocketing opioid addictions, suicides and overall anxiety, I think a key factor in staying happy and centered is to focus on your own race. Take a break from social media once in a while. Write down your own goals. Create a workable weekly schedule (mine is color-coded and on the fridge) and keep your eye on whatever your prize is. I have been known to put up goals on the bathroom mirror to keep them front and center in my mind everyday. I have a whole list of “ways to win”, I’m sure my family is tired of hearing them, but I’m always happy to put them out to anyone who will listen.

Adam: You are adding to your resume a few new skills and jobs. What are they and why the shift?

Asha: I like the saying, “Times change and so do I”. I’ve loved every minute of my news career, and it isn’t over yet. Right now I’m adding a few new skills, so I get to do more of what I like to do: teaching, public speaking, interviewing and helping others.

I love to mentor young journalists, so I’m writing a book about the lessons I’ve learned climbing the slippery ladder of success. That’s been fun, and I hope it’s inspirational and helpful to those facing adversity, and who want to know how to win no matter what their circumstances are in life. I made sure to include a lot of wild, funny and strange newsroom stories as well.

I’m also launching a podcast in the same vein where I interview people of note with amazing stories about how to deal with winning and losing. My recent volunteer work as a counselor with the Suicide Prevention Center Crisis Line has been eye opening. I’m really hearing what people in deep despair feel, and I am compelled as a journalist to explore the world of mental health and how best to help everyone do better and feel better. I want them to know they can overcome life’s curve balls. Emergency work seems to be where I end up. I’ve covered hundreds of disaster stories as a news person, started an emergency planning website after 9-11, and had a few big ones of my own – so it is a natural fit for me.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Asha: I love to read…and I read very fast, so I can devour books quickly. My interests are wide, so I learn new things every week.  I am a word nerd and have always wanted to create a show to interview authors. I also love to be healthy, so staying active is a top priority for me. Healthy body, healthy spirit, and healthy mind are what I strive to achieve. I try to workout at least three times a week, eat well (mostly successful ) and make time for meditation (partially successful) and other spiritual moments. My dad gave me a camera when I was 12, and that sparked my love for photography. Since I can’t draw, it’s another way for me to express myself. I still have the very first picture I ever took with that simple Kodak camera.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Asha: It’s wonderful when individuals and corporations make large philanthropic donations to worthy causes. They are all to be admired and celebrated! However, not all of us have the resources to do that, but we can all do one small thing. Every one of us has the opportunity during the day to perform one small act of kindness for someone else. Getting someone a coffee, sparing extra change if someone is short, or even just smiling at a stranger. These small and simple exchanges are quick acts of kindnesses that take no time to do, and could mean the world to someone else. Recently, I helped a friend who wanted to improve her life, so I asked her to commit to doing five small acts of kindnesses for someone else each day for a week. On the third day, she called me to say that she was was blown away by how shifting her actions had spurred happy vibes in the people around her, who then in turn spread the joy. Imagine if we all did five nice things a day for others.  What a wonderful world this would be (to steal a phrase from a very good song) if we all did five nice simple things a day for others.

One person can make a difference.

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