A Conversation With Hannah Storm, Part I

The Inaugural Fierce 50 Campaign Interview

Hannah Storm

“There were very, very few women that were broadcasting in the sports field. Rather than come in and try to be one of the guys, or some kind of ideal of what people thought I should look like or be, I learned that the most powerful thing that I could do was literally just be me.” — Hannah Storm, ESPN

It’s not every day that you are given the opportunity to interview one of the top sports journalists in the world. Hannah Storm is a powerful woman who has interviewed some of the most iconic names in sports and broadcasting throughout her more than three decades in journalism. Today, February 19th, marks the kick off of the first annual Fierce 50 Campaign celebrating women over 50. The age of 50 and beyond that we are experiencing is vastly different from that of previous generations. No one embodies the ideal of a self empowered woman at midlife more than ESPN’s Hannah Storm. Hannah has kindly offered her beautiful support by sharing her inspirational words of wisdom. Having interviewed some of the world’s highest achievers, she shares both her secrets for success and her insights into the incredible achievements of the many iconic figures she has met throughout her career in broadcasting. Here is a woman in her mid fifties who is at the pinnacle of her career and continuing to achieve massive success. Hannah is a woman who has blown through glass ceilings paving the way for women, and particularly women over 50 who are looking to her as a role model. She is proof that age is just a number and attitude is everything! Hannah Storm is a woman who speaks her mind. She is beautiful, elegant, articulate, out of this world bright and talented, with a reputation that speaks for itself. She is a shining light for women over 50, proving time and again that we are only just beginning.

CGO: Hannah, many women go through life with a very low sense of self worth, holding themselves back from their dreams and their potential. How did you develop such a strong sense of self and a high level of confidence to believe that there truly aren’t any limits except those we allow for ourselves?

HS: I think that in many cases, a deep sense of self confidence is something that comes from your parents, or a similar figure in your early life. It could be a grandparent or a coach; a person in your life who becomes an impactful figure who helps to instill confidence. This was true for me and for many of the people that I’ve interviewed. Most of them are high achievers and this is a common thread. For me, that was both my mother and my father.

My father was a sports executive when I was growing up and I was around sports a lot. When it wasn’t a school night, the whole family would go to games and be around that atmosphere. My father’s job required us to move constantly as well. In the end, it had the added benefit of helping me become more adaptable with the ability to talk to anyone to find a point of connection quickly. I was continually having to move to new locations and find new friends. I was constantly thrust into new situations and this removed a sense of fear in meeting new people.

The second thing I would say was that I had a mother who truly believed in me. She would tell me that I was smart and I could do anything. She encouraged me to follow my dreams. She was always the type of person to encourage you to succeed. Both of my parents are very much that way. There was no obstacle too big for you to overcome. There was no fight they wouldn’t take on if they felt you were wronged in some way. They were both incredibly supportive. My mom would always research the new area so that when we moved, I would have some sense of connection. She made sure that I was enrolled in art classes and that I always had something to do. She really went overboard to make those transitions positive. She would make sure that we met some of the kids in the summer before beginning the new school year. I’m not saying that it wasn’t hard and those things didn’t become more difficult as a teenager, but my mom was always positive and encouraging, even though the constant moving was difficult for her too. She never complained. She would just roll up her sleeves and dive in.

As a young girl and young woman, I was always around sports. I knew in my heart how much fun it was. I also learned what it meant to have a job and to lose a job. I began to understand more about business and the sports world. I could understand the big picture, which still serves me today. On a more personal side, my mom was always looking forward. She was a very positive influence, always encouraging me. Both of my parents were extremely hard workers and helped to instill a major work ethic in me in this profession. That’s something that has served me well! I’ve never been afraid of change. I’ve changed my career from news to sports and started a foundation and a production company. I wasn’t afraid to do those things because of the examples and role models I had growing up.

CGO: I can tell how proud and thankful you are for the incredible influence that your parents had on your life. This really resonates with the work that I am doing on how we can empower our children at a young age rather than wait for them to learn later in life. As a mother, how do you pass on the lessons and support your parents blessed you with?

HS: I think that as a parent, my single goal would be for my kids to be self confident enough to pursue their dreams. If I had to say one thing — and I’ve always felt this way — I want them to come away from living at home with an inner sense of confidence. I wish to empower them with the inner strength to stand by their convictions and to follow their dreams. It’s my deepest desire for them to be unafraid to create their own unique path in the world. That’s what I wish most in the world for my children.

CGO: I agree with you. It really does start with our children and we need to begin looking at ourselves as powerful role models impacting their inner worlds. That’s a really beautiful message. Many of the women in our audience are experiencing major life changes and learning to create. Has there ever been a time that you doubted yourself even after achieving the kind of success that you have? If so, what would you tell yourself, that other women could benefit from, to inspire you to continue moving forward?

HS: There were a couple of times where I took big risks, but I knew it was something that I had dreamed of doing. I also knew if I worked hard enough I could make that leap. I loved my morning show at CBS News and it was very difficult to leave. I loved the news, yet I always knew I would and should end up back in sports. Yet, I didn’t go from one job to the next. There was a transitional period of several months before I went to ESPN. I decided I was going to start this foundation, the Hannah Storm Foundation, that I’ve always wanted to do my whole life. I also wanted to create a company that one day could be self-sustaining; a company where I could do my own show and programming. I always wanted to direct and produce programming as well as be in charge of content. So I created Brainstormin’ Productions. But I also created it without necessarily knowing what my future would hold. I didn’t have what you would call self doubt, but I would say it was a great unknown. So I called people that were successful and entrepreneurial in many other areas. I called Nicholas Sparks, who’s a writer. I called people who were lawyers, producers, agents and entertainers. I called Kenny Chesney, a friend of mine who is a big country music star. I sought out people that I respected and held in high esteem for their advice in following their dreams. And I tried to take all of that knowledge and apply it to my next step. I moved my daughter out of her little tiny bedroom into her sister’s bedroom. I started both of those endeavors in this little bedroom with a friend of mine who is my business partner now. We just did one of those classic “two people in a room and let’s create something.” I took a ton of meetings just to brainstorm and educate myself. I filled all these big notebooks with notes from the advice I received from all the cold calls I made. So rather than self doubt, it was more about how you face something that you know nothing about. And you know you don’t know anything. So, I sought out the advice of people I admired; people that I considered experts, maybe not in exactly what I wanted to do, but people who had achieved their own dreams and built them from scratch.

And I got amazing advice! I would also talk to people who were experts in the nuts and bolts of what I wanted to do and decide where to align myself. I found a partner who believed in me and my dreams. All of those are critical. My partner believed in me and was willing to roll up her sleeves alongside me and see what we could make of it. I think it’s also about working very, very hard.

CGO: Having a goal, seeking advice from experts, and working hard … What a great recipe! Was there anything you did that was more internally focused that really helped you?

Yes. The other thing I did was to remind myself every day how fortunate I was to even have the opportunity to do any of that even though I was gone from CBS. I wasn’t sure what my next full time TV gig was going to be. I would go into New York and take these meetings every day. I would ride the subway and just walk around and pay attention. I would look around and I would see people who were dealing with so many difficult issues, from financial to physical. As I was literally pounding the pavement in NYC, I would constantly remind myself how incredibly fortunate I was to have good health. I was grateful to live in a country where I could create something, to have good friends, and a wonderful family. I felt like that really helped me maintain a very positive attitude. I do believe that in everything you do, there is a portion of your mind that you have to set aside for being grateful. And I think that that’s uplifting. The other really important thing I did was in starting my charitable foundation. No matter your circumstance in your life, it’s vitally important to help others. Think about when you were in your 20’s… It’s a time when you’re sort of working and yet you’re on your own. You’re finding your way, you’re single, and there’s a lot going on. It can be a really fun time. But sometimes you can just get a little lost, lonely or down at times, and I always turned to doing charitable work. There is nothing you can do that’s going to uplift you more. It’s so important to understand that we are all connected on this earth. A large part of your value comes from helping your fellow man. So, I think when you’re losing confidence or you’re losing your way, you’re feeling a little lost, or you’re facing something unknown, the best thing you can do is to add value to someone else’s life. It’s really fuel that keeps you going. I found I was so energized by simultaneously starting both a business and a foundation. To me, I just knew that the endgame of what I was doing was going to help someone.

CGO: Hannah, I love this… believing in yourself, gratitude and service, and finding a mentor. That’s an outstanding message for my audience to hear! It’s important for women to have a role model, someone to look to as an example. Who have you turned to for mentoring?

HS: I tend to think of a mentor as someone much older and experienced. I’d prefer that the definition of a mentor gets expanded. I’ve had several mentors along the way. These are people whom I admire for what they’ve done. I think of them as people who are self-starters, people who have created out of their sheer force of will and hard work, rather than circumstance. They’ve often overcome difficult issues. An early mentor of mine and a person that I still touch base with would be David Stern, the former commissioner of the NBA. I was the host of NBA on NBC, and David and I would routinely go to his offices in New York City and we would have lunch on the weekends before the telecast. His beautiful office overlooked St. Patrick’s Cathedral and he would never leave his office for lunch! It was always turkey sandwiches, Diet Coke, and cookies. There was this incredible relationship, unlike any that I have ever experienced before, or since, that time. David was one of the most powerful figures in sports leagues and we could just sit and talk about a story line or life. I was around David Stern and Dick Ebersol, some of the most seminal figures in sports and television. Through the years, I’ve maintained this relationship with David where I would routinely go to him for advice and I still do. He has always been there for all my work transitions and given me the advice that I needed along the way. David Stern has been a constant for me.

In a more modern sense, Adam Silver, whom I’ve known for years since starting at the NBA, is also someone I consider to be a touchstone. I feel the same way about Kenny Chesney and Nicholas Sparks. Especially Nicholas, as he really stood behind me when I was starting my foundation and production company. I would turn to Kenny more for career advice. So, those are three really interesting and diverse people. And then along the way, I have met incredibly inspiring women like Sheryl Sandberg. She’s someone that I think is incredible. I’ve been lucky to spend time with her talking about business. That’s exciting to me as now I’m meeting more women. These are amazing people whom I hold in the highest esteem. Any time I even get to spend a few minutes with them, it has made a huge difference.

CGO: You’ve surrounded yourself with a powerful and creative group of people; people whom you admire and respect as role models. I remember seeing a quote by you that said, “I found that real power was in being yourself.” As you have interviewed some of the top achievers in the world today, do you find this to be universal?

HS: It’s not just the people I have interviewed, as I’ve been blessed to interact in large part with people who are high achievers. Whether they are politicians, chefs, actors or athletes, the one thing they have in common is they’ve achieved something extraordinary. There is a common thread that goes through those people. Part of it is certainly ability, which engenders confidence, and allows them to revel in being themselves. They understand that they don’t necessarily have to conform to a norm or standard of what people want to see. This was a powerful personal lesson that I learned when I came into sports. There were very, very few women that were broadcasting in the sports field. Rather than come in and try to be one of the guys, or some kind of ideal of what people thought I should look like or be, I learned that the most powerful thing that I could do was literally just be me. That’s something that sounds so simple. Yet we are in a world today where there is instant feedback such as: “Oh wow, this is what you look like?” or “This is what I think of you” or “This is what your Instagram should look like.” Or, it’s about how many Facebook followers you have, or someone sending hateful messages to you on Twitter. When you’re in the kind of world that we’re in today, the instant feedback is always out there and can be so misplaced.

To me, this is a real issue for young people, particularly young women. It’s always there in one form or another. There is this inherent fear of being yourself. There is a fear of looking like you do, or acting like you do, or having your own sense of humor. There’s a fear of having your own values and beliefs. There’s this pressure to have images that are magazine ready that look perfect. It’s as though I can’t put a photo on Instagram unless it’s perfect and clever. I’m not saying that what you put on social media is how you’re going to live your life. We do, however, have to be careful because it can allow those negative influences to creep in.

What we used to be concerned about was the media images of what a woman is supposed to be. Now, it’s even more personal than that as you’re putting yourself out there. The message our fear sends us is that “you’re not good enough.” This leads to the fear about opening up and really being yourself. Do I sometimes encounter interviews where people are being extremely careful, closed off, or are afraid to really show themselves? Of course I do. But I also believe that the majority of the people aren’t running around saying, “I don’t care what people think about me.” At least not in a callous way. They are saying that “me” is pretty darn good and they don’t know how to be anything else but themselves. That’s a roundabout way of answering your question, but it does address a lot of things I see in my line of work. There are some people that know exactly who they are, and they are the best people to interview. These are people who are straightforward and unafraid and they are the easiest to work with.

I’m directing a film right now on a prominent female athlete (soon to be formally announced) and she’s definitely one of those people. She’s genuine, confident and a pleasure to interact with on camera. And then there are those who self-edit or self-market. It’s more difficult to get to know someone like that. It’s hard to interview them because you’re not getting the full story. You know everything is a little bit packaged and closed off. That’s a tough way to go about life.

Thank you, Hannah for opening your heart and supporting the women of The Fierce 50 Campaign. Your insights have been invaluable and will help to continue to inspire many women to believe in themselves and to go after their dreams as you have. Your confidence, thanks to your amazing parents is infectious!

Hannah has a unique gift in providing a neutral, safe space for opening dialogue in her interviews, always mindful to never interject her personal viewpoint. Her level of journalistic integrity is astounding. This is a woman committed to using her voice to engender authentic conversation. She is someone who cares deeply, always gently guiding the individual on the other end of the interview to use their voice and find their own conclusions. There is no doubt that, once you have read this interview, Hannah will win your respect and admiration as she has won mine.

Be on the lookout for Part II of my conversation with Hannah. In the meantime, you can follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahStormESPN, on Instagram @espnhannahstorm, and on Facebook, Hannah Storm. Be sure to look into the Hannah Storm Foundation, which offers support to children and families afflicted by vascular birthmarks. Hannah also has her own media production company, Brainstormin’ Productions, that does fabulous work.

You can find Catherine Grace O’Connell at CatherineGraceO.com. She is on Instagram and Facebook as well as Twitter. You can find out more about The Fierce 50 Campaign and how you can help us and join the Movement by sending an email to info@catherinegraceo.com.

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