Simmons Leadership Blog

NPR host Michele Norris explains why you should write your future in pencil

As co-host of NPR's "All Things Considered" for ten years, Michele Norris is recognized as one of the most trusted voices in broadcast journalism.

She talks about her deep friendship with PBS News anchor and Simmons College graduate Gwen Ifill, how to be prepared for the future, and how her recent decision to temporarily step down from co-hosting "All Things Considered" led her to create The Race Card Project, a national campaign for Americans to share their thoughts on race and identity in just six words.  

What do you like most about your job?

It allows me to be curious, which means I have an opportunity every day to be a vessel for knowledge and growth.

What's the best piece of career advice you've gotten along the way?

Write your future in pencil. I share that advice with young people all the time. Be prepared. Plan for the future. But also be ready to pivot if a new opportunity comes your way, or if you discover something that was not part of the master plan-- makes your heart sing and your mind buzz with possibilities.

Was there a mentor who made a difference in your career, and can you share his/her guidance?

I have been fortunate to have had wonderful mentors along the way: Carole Simpson, Cokie Roberts, and Peter Jennings. I have also been lucky because one of my strongest mentors also happens to be my best friend... and she also happens to be a Simmons graduate. I would not be where I am today without the constant support, advice, tough love, and graceful friendship from my pal Gwen Ifill. We have kept each other sane and we have done that in part by deciding long ago that we were stronger if we locked arms than if we tried to compete with each other.

Were there any turning points in your career where you had to make a pivotal decision that changed the course of your career? What did you learn from that experience?

I faced a turning point when my husband went to work as a senior advisor for the Barack Obama re-election campaign. I love hosting NPR. I always look forward to covering Presidential politics every four years. But with my husband working in that capacity for the incumbent candidate, I knew what I had to do. I had to temporarily step away from hosting the show. It was not an easy decision. As it turned out, it was another example of a "doors close-windows open" opportunity. If I were hosting "All Things Considered" full time, I would never have enough time to fully develop The Race Card Project, a wonderful and rich journalistic experiment where I have collected thousands of submissions from people all over the word who share their thoughts on race and identity in just six words.

Any tips for work/life balance?

First, take care of yourself so you have the stamina to lift up the work/life barbells. When someone asks "Can I help" swallow the urge to respond by saying "I've got it covered" and listen to that little voice inside you that wants to say "yes!" Give yourself permission to laugh when situations seem surreal. And finally, remember to breathe.

Fill in the blank. People would be surprised to know that I ______

...was once a hockey cheerleader. White Skates. Gigantic Afro. There are pictures.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Since I am now mentioning it again you can guess how important it is to my world view: "Always write your future in pencil." That, and "No one can ever make you feel inferior without your consent."

Michele Norris is a keynote speaker at the 2012 Simmons Leadership Conference, the premier professional event for women, on April 5 at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. You can follow the conference live on Twitter @SimmonsConf and #SLC12.

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