From all appearances, Gretchen Carlson has lived a charmed life. From being a child violin prodigy to admission to Stanford University to becoming Miss America to a tremendously successful broadcast television personality, happily married with two children she adores, she seems to have it all.
I am delighted to recommend this memoir by a fellow native Minnesotan. Her story is a remarkable example of how hard work and discipline produced results in every phase of her life.
In her own words, Gretchen was accustomed to making sacrifices to achieve her goals. Whether it was practicing her violin for hours, studying hard to achieve perfect grades, working out and preparing relentlessly for the Miss America pageant, or hitting the bricks to break into television news reporting, she kept her goals in plain sight and persevered until she reached them.
She shares how she picked up her violin after a several-year hiatus to prepare for the Miss Minnesota pageant: “Once I started practicing, I was instantly back in my old mode. I discovered that the competitive spirit never goes away. Returning to music taught me something, not just about playing the violin, but about having that fire, that desire to achieve . . . I had put aside my drive, thinking it was time for a rest. But I saw I needed it, I was born with it. You can teach people skills to hone their craft, but unless they have the fire in their belly, the skills don’t matter. I never again let my passion slide.”
Gretchen’s strategy to become Miss America ran counter to the usual contestant’s path. She learned the system by observing rather than participating, turning what she was told is often a four-year plan into a one-year project. She researched her competition and studied the judges. She prepared at every level.
The theme of the 1989 Miss America pageant was “A Salute to Success!” Gretchen says, “I’m not saying that looks didn’t enter it, although I wasn’t even close to being the prettiest. It was about competing on a high level and challenging myself to be at the top of my game. It was about winning scholarship money that would help me pursue my dreams . . . and by the way, I would say to this day that there’s nothing wrong with being smart, talented and attractive.”
Let me add a personal note here. I was a judge at the 2001 Miss America pageant, and it is so much more than a beauty contest. Talent counts for 40 percent of the score, the evening gown/personality/expression portion is 40 percent, and the swimsuit competition is 20 percent. In other words, a contestant must be talented and well-spoken if she hopes to have any chance of winning.
But being Miss America didn’t automatically open doors for her future. After completing her degree at Stanford, Gretchen faced the same challenge that so many new grads faced: You can’t get hired without experience, and you can’t get experience without being hired. Again, perseverance and hard work won the day.
Her job search led her to Richmond, Virginia, and then to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas and New York. She had to deal with sexual harassment and an on-going threat from a stalker who followed her from city to city. Her fighting spirit, however, helped her keep her goal in view. She mentions one of her proudest achievements, the American Women in Radio and Television “Best Series” award for a thirty-part series on domestic violence for KSAX in Dallas. She currently hosts “The Real Story” on the Fox News Channel.
As a mother, she shares her work ethic with her children. “Personally, I have ambition for my kids to excel, but these days it’s a challenge to define for them what excellence really means,” she says. “I know from experience how wonderful it is to compete and win, and while it is disappointing to lose, it’s also an opportunity for parents to teach kids a very important lesson – that failure in life is a key to success.”
Gretchen has shared a fascinating story that serves as a blueprint for setting goals and achieving success. Hard work, determination, perseverance – now that’s “Getting Real.”
Mackay’s Moral: Let this Miss America show you how to achieve the real American dream.