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The Cold Call I Made That Got Me A Network TV Job....Eventually

The Cold Call I Made That Got Me A Network TV Job....Eventually

Sh*t I Wish I Knew In My Twenties (SIWIKIMT) is a podcast dedicated to helping 20-somethings thrive in their twenties, not just survive.

Host Debra Alfarone knows how tough being in your twenties can be. As a high-school dropout turned-network-TV-correspondent, she learned most of life’s lessons the hard way. She overcame the odds and now covers the White House for CBS News nationally. She’s also a confidence coach for young women in the TV news industry.


Debra Alfarone:

Hello. Hello. Welcome to this week's Beep, I wish I knew in my twenties, has been the most incredible experience putting together this podcast. I mean, I just can't even say enough about it. I spoken to so many people who I've really cemented friendships with. After you sit for 45 minutes and talk to someone about their life and ask them, well, what kind of dumb ass mistakes did you make in your 20s. Did you learn from it? You really do get to know someone.

I like to tell you the mess behind my success. And when I do that, it really does open up a door for guests to share what they've been through. And I've also gotten amazing guests to be on the podcast who were all about opening up about divorce, opening up about having Tourette's, opening up about being pregnant. I really, really honor that they went there with me. They did that for you, dear listener. It was all for you because we want you to be as powerful as you can be. So with that being said, I just got to tell you, this will be the last episode of this season. But don't you worry.

We're going to be back in January. And because it's the last episode, I really want to tell you a story. And it goes a little like this one thing about me. No, just kidding. I want to tell you a little bit about my story and some of the beep that I wish I knew growing up, not knowing that I could be anything I wanted to be. I thought that when you grew up, you just worked in a store near your house, because that's what I saw. People doing college was not a foregone conclusion for me. Even though I was a pretty smart kid.

My parents didn't know anyone in tv, so I figured that out on my own, but I just did not know. And so that's number one. If you see it, you can be it. If you see it, you can be it. Well, let me tell you something. I did not see it. My parents split up when I was about 13 or so, and nobody was watching me. I ended up dropping out of high school because I was left to my own devices.

Teenagers shouldn't raise themselves right at 13. You don't make great life decisions. And I started hanging out with people who really didn't have great futures ahead of them. Some of them aren't here anymore. Some of them have died of drug overdoses. I drop out of high school, and then I do what people do. I got a job at the store down the block. I got a job in the office down the block.

Later on, I would end up taking a couple classes at Nassau Community College because I had a wonderful friend who I grew up with, John, who went to Nassau Community College. And I saw he was having fun. And I ended up going there until I kind of caught the bug. And I ended up transferring to university, where, you know, it took me a while to get through it, but I put myself through school, and in five years, I had my degree. Then I started getting jobs in New York City. And I'm from Long Island. Yeah, strong island. And then I ended up going after my dream of working in television.

No one ever told me growing up that I could be anything I wanted to be. So why am I telling you all this? Because I can't believe sometimes when I look back how far I've come, but I get to tell stories at the network level. I get to fly around the country talking to journalists about how important they are and how important the work is that they do. And I get to tell you right now about all the things that you may not know, that you don't know, like asking. You got to ask for things that you want. And I know that sounds so simple and easy. So here's my story about the power of the ask. So I'm in my 20s, I'm working on Wall Street, but I really, truly, in my heart, I want to work in television, and I want to tell stories, and I want to work in news.

I'm watching 48 Hours one night, and I see the credits roll at the end of it. And it was good. I don't remember the episode, but it was good. And I pick up the phone and I call the executive producer because I was so energized and maybe a little bit naive, let's be real. And I call up this executive producer, and I say, I just watched 48 Hours, and it was excellent. And I saw you had a correspondent, and I really would love to become a correspondent. How can I become a correspondent? And this person takes pity on naive, excited Debra and invites me to CBS News. I'd never been in a station before.

I'd never been in a news station. I was like, what? This was like Christmas and New Year's rolled up into one. I will be honest with you. I did not leave that station visit with a correspondent role, as you might imagine. But we did keep in touch. It was not easy to get that first job. I went from working in Staten Island. Yeah, to News Twelve in Connecticut. Then after that, I went to the NBC station in Hartford, Connecticut, which was incredible. And then from there, I ended up going to New York City to PIX11. And this took years and years and years. This wasn't like a quick thing at all. And then I went to Washington, DC, and everything is great. I get a promotion. I'm now the weekend anchor.

And I'm anchoring with a living legend, just a wonderful human, my mentor, Bruce Johnson, may he rest in peace. He has passed recently, and it's a terrible loss to not just the journalism community, but the world. Then the next news director comes in, and this guy doesn't like me, and I leave, because that's what happens in tv news. It's subjective. And if they don't like you and they want someone else in there, they'll do that. I am hurt. I am upset. I am devastated.

My career is over. So I'm thinking, there's something wrong with me. I'm not good at this. And I start my business, and I'm coaching young reporters, and I'm standing for them. And you know what? I'm also going out and speaking. Everybody is giving me the most incredible feedback. Oh, my God. Thank you.

You don't understand. You changed my life. And I'm thinking, what? I'm good at something? Because I really was devastated and thought that I wasn't good anymore. One day, I wake up and I see a headline that executive producer of 48 Hours is now the head of CBS News, and her name is Susan Zarinsky. Many people know her as Z. I kept in touch with Z over the years, and I was so excited, so excited for her. And I sent her an emoji laden email. I was so thrilled.

Yeah, girl power. I'm so thrilled. And later on that day, I'm coaching one of my reporters who I'm helping to get her reel together and go after a job. And I'm telling her, okay, great, now you got to call this person. And she's like, what? I don't want to do that. I don't want to call anyone. Ask them for a job. What if they just say no? Or is that too pushy? And I'm telling her, listen, if you call, call someone and you let them know that you're available and that these are your credentials and you would love to be part of the network, you're helping them.

You're saving them from looking through all of these resumes. You're doing them a favor. And it hit me. I was scared to ask Z for a job. And I thought, if I'm going to be talking the talk, I'd better walk the walk. So I got that phone out again, and I wrote her another email. I said, I forgot to mention this. If you want a soldier in your army, I am ready to go to war for you.

And a couple of months and a couple of interviews and a couple of phone calls, and a couple of emails later, I was hired to freelance report at CBS Newspaper. And that has led me to be able to put stories on CBS News, on the Morning Show, on Saturday morning, on weekend evening news. And remember all those years ago, I called Z and I said, oh, my gosh, I'd love to be a correspondent. How can I do that? It all came from one ask, and it was an improbable ask. And so I want to ask you to ask for something. And when you do ask for something, ask with the knowledge that you are worth it. You can have an unshakable belief in yourself, and it will open up doors for you. It will part the water for you.

Be specific in your ask. I can't tell you how many people say to me, hey, Debra, I'd love to talk to you. Have time for a phone call? About what? My ask to Z was specific. How can I become a correspondent? Lo and behold, years and years later, I got that answer. So ask now, the other part of asking is, you've got to own it as you ask. Now, what does that mean exactly? Okay, well, I have to believe that I'm worth it. And believe me when I tell you this, when I asked Z all those years ago if I could just talk to her and find out how to become a correspondent, there was no doubt. There was no doubt in my mind that I deserved that.

Now, I could have been naive. And if you doubt yourself while asking, you are setting yourself up for failure. Because doubt is like throwing pebbles along your path to wherever you want to go. You're going to stumble. So you get to create your life one ask at a time. I'm hoping that this inspires you to create your life. That's all I want for you. That's all I want for you.

20 somethings. I want you to create your life. I want you to ask for things. I want you to go out there and own it. Think about when you ask for something. Own it. What would Oprah do? What would insert name of person you look up to do? They would own it. I want to thank everybody who's been listening to the podcast.

I hear from so many of you saying the nicest things. The last episode about imposter syndrome, I got a text from Alyssa, one of my favorite people in the world, saying, hey, did you know that I needed to hear about imposter syndrome? So let me know what you want to hear about. I got lots of stuff to tell you. This will be the end of this season, but next season is going to be incredible. And if you're a tv news person, join my membership. We have incredible, soul filling conversations every Sunday, and I thank you all for making this a huge, huge success. I love you guys. 

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