Roberts: 'Make Your Mess Your Message'

ABC anchor motivates SHRM conference attendees

By Dori Meinert Jun 22, 2014
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ORLANDO, FLA.--Television anchor Robin Roberts has had more than her share of ups and downs in recent years.

She thought she had reached the pinnacle of her career when she became an anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” in 2002.

Five years later, she was battling breast cancer. She beat that only to learn in 2012 that she had a rare bone marrow disease.

“Those experiences, good and bad, have transformed my life,” Roberts told more than 13,000 attendees at the opening general session of the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition on June 22.

“Everybody’s got something,” she said. “The tragedy is not the suffering. The tragedy is we don’t take time to understand the purpose.” 

Roberts said she hesitated at first to share her health issues with others. But her mother urged her to “make your mess your message.” 

So she shared her experiences with the nation on television and in speaking engagements and most recently in a memoir she co-authored titled Everybody’s Got Something (Grand Central Publishing, 2014).

Roberts wanted to let people know that early detection can save their lives. She received a bone marrow transplant from her sister, and she has become an advocate of Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program.

She wanted people to know that “We’re all a little bit stronger than we think we are.”

Roberts described herself as an optimist by nature. “Optimism is a muscle that gets stronger with use,” she said, and it makes it easier to confront life’s challenges.

Through her personal ordeal, she said, she has learned that God has three answers to prayers: “yes,” “not yet” and “I have something even better in mind for you.”

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned, so you have to put yourself in position for good things to happen, she said.

Roberts recalled doing this in college. She loved sports. She was a standout player for Southeastern Louisiana University’s women’s basketball program. She knew she didn’t have the ability to play professionally, so she chose a career in sports broadcasting. She took a side job with a country music radio station to get experience. She later worked for ESPN, her dream job, until the spot at “Good Morning America” opened up. 

In 2012, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Roberts also is the author of From the Heart: Seven Rules to Live By (Hyperion, 2007) and an updated version in 2008 that includes a chapter on her breast cancer diagnosis.

Roberts’ medical battles haven’t slowed her down professionally. Roberts and her ABC colleague Diane Sawyer scored the first interviews with Hillary Clinton in June after the former secretary of state and potential Democratic presidential candidate released her book Hard Choices.

Roberts congratulated the thousands of HR professionals gathered to hear her speak for “focusing on the solution, not the problem.” She urged them to be patient with others.

“You never know what others are going through,” she said. “Maybe they are having a really bad day.” 

Quoting the late Maya Angelou, she said: “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Dori Meinert is senior writer for HR Magazine.​

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