In 1999 I was in TV news nirvana. After several years of anchoring ABC's Good Morning America on Sundays, I was happily anchoring two prime-time news programs at CNN Newsstand. The Newsstand unit was innovative and creative, yet came with a refreshingly old-school mandate to produce substantive, long-form reporting. I adored my boss and colleagues, along with the work.
And then came the call: Jeff Gralnick, the head of CNNfn (now CNN Money), was on the phone, telling me that the legendary financial reporter, Lou Dobbs, was about to resign from the program he'd created, The Moneyline News Hour. They wanted to pair me with a veteran financial news anchor to be Dobbs' replacement.
I felt the fear in my gut take hold. The litany of "why I can't”s began flowing from my mouth: I had anchored an hour-long program live on the weekends, but never a live daily news show. I have an MBA and was covering business news, but I'd never covered the stock market. For good measure, I added, “I have a baby at home and I'm not sure I can manage the demands of a daily show.”
Seeing all the reasons why not has always been my initial reaction when presented with a challenge. I do it quite convincingly, with compelling details as to why I am unable, ill-equipped or just not up to the job.
On the phone, Jeff cut me off. “Willow, you can do this,” he said calmly. “Think about it, but I need a decision in an hour. We need to send out a press release by the close of business today.”
I took a breath and called my husband, who didn't hesitate. “Of course you can do this. It's a tremendous opportunity,” he said, adding, "You should ask for parity. Make sure you are getting paid the same amount as your co-anchor.”
My head was spinning, and I was still filled with self-doubt. I loved my job and was just hitting my stride. The learning curve would be a sharp and a very public uphill climb. It's rough acquiring skills on the job when the job is live television.
So I asked myself what I always do after I go through all the reasons why not: Will you regret it if you say no? That answer was clear from the beginning, so I took my husband's advice on both counts.
My fear of regret is stronger than my fear of failure. To this day, my lean in strategy hinges on the answer to the question: Will I regret my decision if I turn down this opportunity? There have been times when that answer kept me out of the wrong job. In this case, it propelled me toward the right one.
It was a risky move, and I made plenty of mistakes on air. But it would have taken me years to gain the skills, experience and contacts that I built at Moneyline. It was an assignment that changed the course of my career.