Soledad O’Brien is a master juggler. In front of the lens, the award-winning reporter has pushed out stellar docu-series like Black In America and Latino In America. When the cameras stop rolling, O’Brien is balancing motherhood (she has four kids) with multiple hosting gigs (currently HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Al Jazeera America and formerly, CNN from 2003 to 2013) and her production company, Starfish Media Group. Ask her how she found her niche and the answer will include lots of coffee runs.
“I didn’t know that I wanted to be in journalism,” she told VIBE. “I had been pre-med in college and decided not to go to medical school. I started working at a TV station [for internship credit] as an undergraduate, and I loved it. I was good at it. A lot of the work was, ‘Go and grab this, go get this coffee, get lunch, answer this phone call,’ but I just felt like I could juggle a lot.”
While she doesn’t miss the early wake-up calls that anchoring morning shows entails, O’Brien still gets work done by 8:30am. Rethink your daily itinerary and pick up a gem or three from Soledad below.—Adelle Platon with additional reporting from Iyana Robertson
Describe what you do in one sentence:
I am the CEO of a production company which means that I have about 10 jobs — I am a reporter, a boss, an organizer, a pitcher, a creative, and I’m a business woman — and I’m a mother of four.
The key to balancing work and life (as a mom):
Be very flexible. One of the biggest skills I’ve developed over time is if my plan A doesn’t work, my plan B is next and if my plan B doesn’t work, I go to plan C. I really think that’s critical for being a mom. Some days you can’t do what you thought you were going to do. Some days, you run late and someone needs a nap. You just have to be able to pivot and figure something out, and make it work. It also works in journalism. In a lot of the breaking news stories I cover, even the documentaries and series I’m doing today, they don’t always go as planned and you don’t have a lot of time. You can’t waste energy trying to figure out what went wrong.
When you’re talking about four kids on the train or trying to line up an interview when somebody just cancels on you and you’re on-air in seven minutes, you have to use the same mindset. “What can I do to make it work?” That mindset is really critical because I’ve worked with a lot of people who freak out and they melt down. It’s just not helpful. It doesn’t do anything for you. The most successful people can smack a smile on their face and figure out how to make it work.
My morning routine:
Most of the time that I’m not anchoring a morning show, I get up early around 5:30 and go to the gym for about an hour. Come home, get my kids ready for school, drop them off at school which is 7:25 in the morning and then I head back to my office, which is not too far. I feel really accomplished by 8:30 in the morning. I’ve gotten a workout in and really had a fair amount of quality time with the kids. That’s mostly my schedule but when I’m traveling that changes a little bit, but I try to do that as often as possible.
My antidote for a crappy day:
It kind of depends if it’s a crappy work day. I try to get myself to a different scenario. I just try to leave the office early or if it’s a crappy kid day (where all my kids are having meltdowns like when they were younger), I just tell them that all four of them cannot go down at once.
I try to manage a crappy day by instituting some kind of control. I’m a Virgo and we have a very controlled center, so I think what you do is just say, “Okay, well, this is not going well but I’m going to put myself in a position where I can control this.”
Tips for creating a strong and successful brand:
For me, it really was about holding everyone to a high level of quality, and it was something that I benefited from tremendously. When judging the quality of my work, even by the people who didn’t really like me or those who didn’t agree with me, they would never argue that my work was poor. They might say ‘I disagreed with her’ but they would never say that it was a half-ass job. Ever.
When I left CNN and started a company, most of the meetings that I would take were with people assuming that that’s the level of work that we do. I just transferred from what I was doing at CNN and NBC to the level of running Starfish Media Group. I think that was incredibly valuable and it makes you a pain in the ass honestly. You have to constantly push back on people. If not, that’s pushing back on yourself. What do I need to do to raise my game? You have to hold everyone to a higher standard. That doesn’t exactly gain friends or influence people but it definitely gives you a reputation of high-quality work.
What do I need to do to raise my game? You have to hold everyone to a higher standard. That doesn’t exactly gain friends or influence people but it definitely gives you a reputation of high-quality work.
My guilty food pleasure:
I will name my breakfast this morning, which was Reese’s peanut butter cups. They can’t be good for you, but I love them. I once had a boyfriend who gave me a clear garbage bag full of Reese’s peanut butter cups. I ate about a third of the bag and for two years, could not eat another.
My signature dish:
I can only make about four things but I would say that I make amazing beef stew. I make very good chili. My mother is Cuban so I make very terrific rice, and I am the one asked to make the gravy every Thanksgiving. That is all I can make. And since they all go together, I can make a full course meal.
My dating philosophy:
I’ve been married 20 years and have not being in the dating realm for a long time so you can take this advice with a grain of salt. What I have found incredibly helpful is having someone supportive. You need to look for clues in the people in your life, whether you’re talking about your romantic partner, a friend, or even your parents. I’ve had to fire friends and I think that you have to be very attentive to those red flags. When you’re dating, you really have to pay attention to the signs that maybe some people don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s for anybody in your life. We all have a girl friend that, at some point, is just not worth the effort and you have to say “Go with God.”
Something my mom told me then that I tell myself now:
My mom used to say, “You can quit your job tomorrow,” which I thought was great advice, right after I had my first kid. Don’t make important decisions because you’re frustrated, and pissed off, and angry. Make important decisions because they’re good decisions you make.
Last thing my kid said to me that made me smile:
I’ve been home a lot because I’ve been working on this project so I would say I helped my son glue gun the stage coach together for a project in his 4th grade class. He said he thought that I was a genius because I was good with the glue gun. I fear he has a low bar, but I will take it.