Saturday, October 25, 2014

Even outsize personalities suffer from anxiety on the eve of a job change

Take Piers Morgan, the often controversial and always-in-the-news British journalist. As he writes in the opening chapter of his most recent book, on June 15, 2010, he stood on the threshold of the biggest moment of his career:

I ran two British national newspapers for eleven years, judged TV talent shows on both sides of the Atlantic, won Donald Trump's inaugural Celebrity Apprentice, and currently host Britain's most popular TV interview show. But right now, all of this seems like chicken feed compared to what I may be about to do — replace the great Larry King at CNN in America.

And was he nervous? You bet! Later in the chapter, Morgan writes about the meeting he had set up with NBC president Jeff Zucker, to whom Morgan had sent an e-mail pleading to be relieved of his duties as a judge on the network's America's Got Talent so that he could go to CNN. Zucker wrote back to Morgan: "Come and see me to discuss your future."

Morgan writes:

So I boarded a flight from London... landed at 8 p.m. in New York, and had a fitful night's sleep.

At midday [the next day], I stumbled down to gulp oceans of wake-up coffee at the hotel with my manager, John Ferriter.

He was bullish about the meeting with Zucker in two hours.

'I don't think he'd fly you over here just to say no. But he's going to want you to dance for your dinner. How are you feeling?'

'Nervous, but excited.'

And there you have it. So why do we ordinary mortals worry when we suffer from a little nervousness on the eve of a job interview, or just before going up on stage to deliver a speech, or even on the day before a class presentation? It's perfectly normal.

By the way, Zucker permits Morgan to go over to CNN but only on condition that he continues to do America's Got Talent as well. Read the book to learn how Morgan manages to juggle two elephantine assignments, both of which require him to think on his feet and at the same time be ready to jump on a plane and head out to a shoot at moment's notice.

Among the many fascinating things we learn from reading Shooting Straight is how Morgan got Oprah Winfrey to agree to be one of his first guests on Piers Morgan Live.

I was working out in the Beverly Wilshire gym [in the morning] — I live at the hotel when I'm in L.A. — when I saw Radha Arora, the flamboyant general manager who has transformed the place in spectacular style over the past few years.

'Who's going to be your first guest?' he asked.

'Not sure yet. I'm trying for President Obama, but I suspect it's highly unlikely he'll do the show until he's seen what it's like.'

'What about Oprah?'

'She'd be incredible, but I don't know her, or any of her people, and she doesn't give many interviews.'

'Oprah's best friend, Gayle King, is in town right now. Why don't you ask her?'

I sent an email:

Dear Gayle,

I believe our mutual friend Radha has warned you that I may be in touch. As you may know, I'm replacing Larry King on CNN.

What you may not know is that I am a stupendous fan of Oprah. And I'm desperate to interview her for my launch week.

I know she's the busiest woman on the planet, but I want to know how I can make this happen. Short of parasailing naked onto the roof of the White House, I'm prepared to do anything.

She replied quickly: 'I will certainly let team Oprah know of your interest. Please don't show up at the White House naked, you may be shot and that might hurt.'

This e-mail exchange took place on September 12, 2010.

Two months later, on December 22, after many more attempts to get through to Oprah, Morgan receives an e-mail from Oprah's publicist, who writes from Australia:

'We're happy to confirm Oprah has agreed to be your opening guest.'


What do we learn from all this? Even outsize personalities can get nervous; even outsize personalities need to put in a big effort to make things happen at work. So there is no need to feel overawed by the task at hand, no matter how important it is; just get down to it and you will be able to get it done.

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