If you’ve ever wondered what your passion truly is, you’re not alone.
“Many of us contemplate that,” says Hoda Kotb, Today show co-anchor and The New York Times best-selling author. “I think from time to time most people gaze out at the path they’re on and wonder if they should turn around or switch lanes.”
In her latest book, Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us the Way, Hoda shares inspiring stories of people who have made a switch and found their life’s purpose in unexpected ways. The project is dear to her heart. “It’s amazing to see a person click into their lane—to be doing something they just know is right, that feels right in their gut,” she says.
Stories include those of an investment banker who became a minister after years of working on Wall Street and a young woman from a blue-collar background whose passion took her to Harvard Medical School. Celebrities profiled in the book include comedian Margaret Cho and former boxer Laila Ali, both of whom pursued their passions to find fulfillment.
Hoda sat down with Live Happy to discuss her book and the spot where she says she ultimately belongs.
Live Happy: What inspired you to write this book?
Hoda Kotb: The fact that it’s never too late to find your path. Most of us think “I’ve been working at this for so long” or “I have a steady job and insurance,” so that where we’re at seems like the safe place to stay. But you can only swim upstream for so long, then you have to ride the wave. The laws of gravity will push you to where you need to go. And once you find the right fit your life can snap into place like two puzzle pieces.
It’s inspiring when you meet people who are brave enough to make these choices. This project reminded me that you can carve out what you want in your life.
LH: What surprised you the most from the stories you heard?
Hoda: It wasn’t simple to find these stories. Maybe it was tough because most people play it safe in life. People feel like, “This is OK, so I’m going to stay on a path that’s OK and live a fine life.” You may live a beautiful life. But you won’t live the life you’re meant to live.
It was interesting that those who made a change are unique. Listen, it’s safer to stay in a miserable job for 15 years because you make enough money to do x, y and z. The bravery of the people [in the book] surprised me because it’s not simple to follow your passion, and many of them almost didn’t make these life-altering decisions.
LH: What’s the best decision you almost didn't make?
Hoda: I think it’s when I was anchoring in New Orleans. I was living in a city I absolutely loved—and still do—and was in a relationship with a man I cared very much about. I had a terrific best friend and longevity in my job so everything seemed like I had found a great fit.
Then I received a job offer to move to New York City and work at Dateline. That meant going from being a big fish in a small pond to being a tiny, puny little guppy in a huge pond.
I thought about the security I had in New Orleans and my circle of friends where I felt safe and all kinds of stuff, and that I was going to make less money in New York, where it would be more expensive to live. So I wasn’t sure if—or how—I would make it.
But then I listened to my gut: If I turned down the Dateline job, I would live to regret it. I knew I would be one of several correspondents and my contract said the network could fire me after six months. I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff and wasn’t sure if I should jump. But I knew that if I didn’t jump and go to New York, I’d be left imagining. I would have been thinking of the “what ifs,” and I wasn’t sure how I could live with myself. I was fortunate because I could take that risk without it affecting other people. I didn’t have a family, so that made the leap a little easier.
LH: What message would you like the book to leave readers with?
Hoda: We live our lives where Monday bleeds into Tuesday, then Wednesday, then a week, a month and a year. I was in awe of people with the courage to change. When you see people who make a choice like that, you want to follow them and get their recipe for the secret sauce.
Everyone has their own road map, and it’s my hope that this book might help someone find their own sweet spot. Or realize that anything is possible.
The book’s intent isn’t to say to readers “Quit your job” or “Leave your loved ones.” The message is: If there’s a part of you that wonders what else might have been, or you’ve always had a passion in your heart, it would be a shame not to try it.
Most of us can’t just up and leave our profession or go back to college to pursue the degree we’ve always wanted. So I hope this inspires people to put 10 percent of their time and money toward the thing they really want to do. You can still continue to do what you have to do, but 10 percent of the time you can put your brain in another place. Maybe down the line that 10 percent will grow to 15, 20 percent or more.
LH: Have you found your sweet spot?
Hoda: I’m not sure I’ve found it. Probably, in a perfect world, I would teach second grade; I think that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s such a great age!
My passion is to one day have a camp for kids who—and there are so many of them!—are right there on the edge of growing into greatness but need a little guidance, a nudge or some help. I want to have a summer camp for kids who need extra love that is a place that helps them become who they want to be.
That’s what I’d love to do, ultimately. Talking, dreaming, thinking about that is what I do in my 10 percent of passion time.
Gina Roberts-Grey is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Family Circle, Self and Essence. She is a frequent contributor to Live Happy.