“Just because you have a voice and can speak, does not necessarily mean you are being heard; find your voice.” – Liz Brunner
In 2021 people were quitting their jobs at an unprecedented rate. The media had fun creating phrases like “the Great Resignation” and “the Big Quit” to characterize the ongoing churn in the labor market that truly took the business world by surprise. It turns out that as our economy and the jobs market recovers from the rollercoaster ride we’ve all been on in the last few years, many of us are asking what we really want to do with our lives, and taking the leap to find our next chapter.
That’s why we were thrilled last week to sit down with Liz Brunner, an emmy-award winning former broadcast journalist and now the CEO of her own executive coaching business, to talk about her new book Dare to Own You: Taking your Authenticity and Dreams into Your Next Chapter. Our conversation touched on courage, confidence and why we are often so afraid to follow our own dreams. What it often comes down to, says Brunner, is being brave enough to “own” your authentic self, and follow where your heart leads.
by Liz Brunner
No Knowledge is Ever Wasted
What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
~ Robert Schuller
Jumping Off a Cliff
It’s the day after Christmas, 2015. It’s a cool but sunny morning in Southern California. I did something I had always wanted to do but took it off my bucket list, thinking it was a foolish idea. I was too old for such nonsense. What did I do? I jumped out of an airplane and went skydiving for the first time in my life. Free falling from 13,000 feet at 120 mph for the first sixty seconds was both exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time! Because I didn’t bend my legs at the knees as my stepson had told me to do, I did a complete “180,” which is not what you are supposed to do.
“Don’t forget to breathe.” That advice was given to me by a solo jumper just prior to my crawling onto the floor of our open-door airplane. Her words echoed in my head as I did my somersault in the air. Just breathe,
Liz, just breathe. I began laughing to myself because ironically that is what I am always telling my clients to do. Just breathe!
Thanks to my tandem jumper—to whom I was securely attached— once he had me pull my parachute, the remaining minutes of our descent to terra firma were peaceful and beautiful. I could see up and down the entire west coast.
I didn’t know I was an entrepreneur until I became one.
As scary as jumping out of an airplane was, even scarier was starting my own business. That truly felt like jumping off a cliff and hoping I had a parachute. At least when I went skydiving, I did have a parachute.
You see, I never, ever had an interest in starting a business.
Yet, in some ways, I feel I’ve come full circle. As an adolescent, I lovingly coerced Grammie into giving me her blank watermarked stationery, and using my colored pencils and markers, I drew pretty flowers on them. Once my artistry was complete, I went around selling them for five cents a page to our neighbors at our rented summer cottage at Lake Howe, Indiana. My other business endeavors were a few lemonade stands, a newspaper route, my babysitting gigs, and what young Brownie or Girl Scout didn’t sell cookies for her troop?
Take the Risk
I guess I am an entrepreneur at heart. I just didn’t know it, that is, until I became one. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. It involves taking a risk, a big risk! I never really thought of myself as a risk-taker until I jumped out of that airplane, but in hindsight, I’ve also come to realize that I am more of a risk-taker than I ever thought.
Little did I know that all that musical and vocal training would play such a big role in my future. Certainly not in the way one might expect.
“No knowledge is ever wasted.” The number of times those words were spoken at home! They penetrated my ears growing up. They came from my mother and her mother, Grandmother Chacko.
Although, truth be told, Grandmother would say, “No knowledge is ever wasted in the good Lord’s sight.” (That’s the complete quote.) Those words still echo in my head today. They are what got me to where I am right now. They were also the impetus for writing this book.
“No knowledge is ever wasted.”
When I left teaching, I had no real clear path in sight.
I began reading the book Who’s Hiring Who by Richard Lathrop. In it, he espouses the numerous advantages and opportunities that come from informational interviews. I’d never heard of such a thing, but it gave me an idea.
What about television? Where did THAT idea come from?
Television always fascinated me from the time we got our first black and white set, to watching the landing on the moon, to so many remarkable, historical events, all coming right into our living room.
During my reign as Miss Illinois 1979, I had done one TV commercial for the Pontiac Grand Prix, my favorite car at the time. I don’t think I ever saw the commercial—if it even made it to the airwaves. That was the extent of my television experience, unless, of course, you count the live broadcast of the Miss America Pageant itself.
It was Lathrop’s book that gave me the courage to consider television. I bravely and blindly called up the NBC and CBS affiliates in Champaign- Urbana, Illinois, and asked for an informational interview. Did I have to go back to school? Did I have to have a degree in communications or journalism? Could I even get a job in television? Did the kind of job I thought I was interested in—public relations—even exist in television? I had no idea what that meant! I didn’t know who the right person was at either station to even ask any of those questions.
Thankfully, I was eventually connected with people who could answer them. Somehow, they agreed to meet me. I managed to get informational interviews at both TV stations. I seriously doubt that would happen today; the industry is far too competitive now.
After about six months of conversation back and forth with the CBS station, WCIA-TV, a position was created for me with the title of community relations liaison. My job was to help coordinate all the public service announcements that went on the air, write and produce some of those spots, and coordinate our speakers’ bureau.
I knew nothing! I had no clue how to do any of that. But I have always been a firm believer that just because I’ve never done something doesn’t mean I can’t. I just have to try.
I learned everything on the job. Whatever they asked me to do, I said yes! I said yes, no matter what, but then I’d go home and freak out in private. Am I crazy for saying yes when I have no clue how to do anything they asked of me? Probably, but again, I just had to try.
When we are all trying to do new things, no, we may not like some of the things we attempt to do, and no, we may not be good at them either. In fact, more than likely we won’t be good at all of them, but we just learned what we don’t like, which is almost as important as knowing what we do like.
With a lot of hard work and trepidation, I got better to the point where management made the decision to put my voice—just my voice and a few slides—on the air with the Town Crier, a 60-second spot highlighting events people might be interested in attending in the community. How I would fret every time I went into the sound booth; I was so nervous! Thankfully, more on-air, on-camera opportunities came from having my own little three-and-a-half-minute daily interview talk show, Community Touch, to being a weather person. Yes, I did the weather! We had a three-women weather team at that time, probably the only one in the country, I think.
To be certain I could, with confidence, talk about the weather—or at least act like I knew what I was talking about—I took a few meteorology courses at the University of Illinois and watched the weather channel before going into the studio. Once there, I studied every bit of AP (Associated Press) wire copy I could get my hands on to prepare my weather report. It was truly the best training one can have for live TV. There is no script.
I did learn to write scripts and edit them. Back then, we worked with three-quarter inch tape and created an “A-roll,” the primary video, and a “B-roll,” the supplemental video. I got real hands-on learning. That doesn’t happen much these days in a “union” shop, where only the editors are allowed to touch the buttons. I am so grateful for all those opportunities to learn. It was my own graduate school.
What if they found out I was afraid?
Within a few years, I got a call from the owner of WTVT-13, the CBS affiliate in Tampa, Florida, looking for someone to fill a newly created position of community relations director. I got the job. I was the only female in upper management. Talk about taking a risk. What if they found out I was scared? What if they found out I was afraid I couldn’t do the job, didn’t know how to do the job? The “imposter syndrome” was in high gear! But I knew I had to somehow push past my fears to break through the glass ceiling that I felt existed, even if that meant faking it until I made it.
It wasn’t long before they tapped me to be the morning news anchor, and oh yes, I was still expected to do my day job. I worked about eighty hours a week, getting up at 3:00 AM, going to work at 4:00 AM, on the air from 5:00 AM-7:00 AM, and working in the newsroom until 9:30 AM after the morning news meeting. I would then take my anchor hat off, put on my management hat, and head upstairs to my office for my other job. To say I was exhausted was an understatement, and yet, I pushed through.
It was not easy. I felt a bit ostracized by people in the newsroom who knew that because of my management role, I was privy to confidential information about the station, its direction, and yes, the people with whom I worked side by side in the newsroom. Can you blame them? Not at all!
With fatigue and exhaustion the main factors, after three years of that harrowing schedule, I asked to come off the air, off the anchor desk, and only do my community relations role. I told myself that if God wanted me back on the air, it would happen.
About a year later, out of the blue, it did. My agent called and said there was a highly successful news-magazine show called Chronicle at WCVB-TV, Channel 5, the ABC affiliate in Boston. They were interested in me being a correspondent and fill-in anchor.
My interview went well, and I remember looking out the plane window on my flight back to Tampa knowing I would get offered the job and that my life was about to change, again. This was where I was supposed to go. This was meant to be my next chapter. I took that leap of faith and moved, without knowing anyone in Boston.
This was big market TV. I was working alongside award-winning anchors, reporters, producers, videographers, and editors. The learning curve was steep and scary at times, but I loved it all.
Through many different roles, and a tremendous amount of hard work, I did get better. Enough to be promoted to co-anchoring both the 5:30 PM and 11:00 PM newscast, and then I was moved to the #1 rated newscast in the market, the 6:00 PM show, replacing an icon. We sat at #1 in the Nielsen ratings for 135 consecutive months!
By this time, though, the industry was changing dramatically. Stories were getting shorter in length and content, meaning they were not as in-depth as I liked them to be. The dynamics at the station were also evolving. More and more was being expected of each of us as anchors and reporters.
No longer was my schedule a given. I was being moved around to so many different shifts from week to week. My tenure didn’t seem to matter either. The women anchoring the news were also getting younger and younger, and not only on my station. I believe, at that time, I may have been the only female over the age of fifty on a prime-time newscast.
As much as I loved the work, the storytelling, I knew I needed to begin to think about what I might do next. Something had to change.
After much soul searching and countless meetings with people in the corporate world, I narrowed it down to three possible paths.
I could maybe be a communications expert at some big company but had no idea what company would want me. (Who would want me with no corporate experience?) I could maybe be an executive director of a nonprofit organization, even though I had never been one. Or… I could start my own business.
When I shared this three-lane approach with one of my mentors, he emphatically said to me, “Liz! You’re well-known, you’re well- respected, you have credibility. That is value. Why would you give that value to someone else? Start your business, and if in six months or nine months you don’t have any clients, or you don’t like what you’re doing, then you can always go and do something else.”
It was as if a kaleidoscope went click. Suddenly, in an instant, everything came into focus. I knew that’s what I would do. I could help people with presence, public speaking, storytelling, messaging, and so much more. How could I not see it when it was right in front of me?! Even executive coaches need their own “coach” from time to time.
But, now what? How do I do this? How do I start a business? I’d never wanted to have my own business, and I never thought I was smart enough to run one. That was a limiting belief! God forbid, what if I failed? What if I had no clients? I was petrified! Was I really doing the right thing? Was this what I was supposed to do next?
Fear isn’t a good enough reason to stop.
I kept coming back to one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Robert Schuller,
“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
To me, if fear was the only thing stopping me, that simply was not a good enough reason.
For years, I willingly gave my help and gladly shared my expertise with those brave enough to ask. Young reporters shared their reels, looking to improve their on-camera performance and storytelling, and interns asked for my help in shoring up their own direction. They were asking me for advice, for professional coaching. I realized that my own experience, approachability, personality, and skills were enough to launch into the next chapter of my life. Yes, I was doing the right thing. I had been doing it for years! I left Channel 5, launched my business, and never looked back. I jumped off the cliff
There was so much to learn! When I began my business, I honestly felt like I knew nothing. I’d been told I needed to put a business plan together, but I had no idea how or what exactly that meant! How would I get clients? Would anyone want to work with me? I had no track record to prove I could do what I was setting out to do. How much do I charge if I even get any clients at all? Where could I even go to find out what other coaches’ fees were? Most do not post any of that information on their websites. Bottom line: How in the world do I build a business?
Thankfully, I once again allowed myself to be authentic and vulnerable with the right people and asked a lot of the right questions. To my surprise, many were very willing to help me figure it out, but I also began to own more of me. I realized I knew more than I thought I did. I had more skills than I even realized I had. I just had to use them in a different and new way. No knowledge is ever wasted. Did I have to learn a lot of new things? Absolutely, but that’s okay. I began to trust myself enough to say, “I will figure this out.”
I did get clients.
One of them was from a local company, who wanted to hire me to host the launch of their new real estate properties. When they inquired about my fee, I wasn’t even sure I knew what to suggest it would be. After much thinking, I did throw out a number for this event, and lo and behold, it was exactly what they were planning to offer me, and it was a nice chunk of change! I was thrilled!
Sometimes, creating that next chapter involves taking risks.
I’m a risk-taker or, as I like to say, a calculated, intelligent risk- taker. I left teaching without knowing what I would do next, got into television with no real experience, and yes, I became an award- winning journalist after twenty-eight years in the industry, even without wearing the “Big J” on my chest, and I took a risk to launch a business in my 50s! Believe me, I know how lucky I am. I had a very public platform from which to launch, and not everyone has that. While that may have helped me get started, it’s been determination, persistence, perseverance, hard work, resilience, and drive that has helped me grow my company into a thriving endeavor.
Every experience I have ever had through childhood, along with every job I ever held, have all contributed to my growth. No knowledge is ever wasted.
Now, as an executive communications coach, I am a teacher once again, coming full circle.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to share all my experiences, expertise, and insights with clients around the world: to help them find their own voice, to own who they are, to dream and create their next chapter, and to live their best life.
Sometimes, creating that next chapter involves taking risks.
What would any of us do if we took more risks? If we knew we wouldn’t fail? How many dreams get pushed aside because of fear? Or because we stay stuck, paralyzed to make a move one way or another? Or because it’s too scary to be our authentic self and own who we are at a soul level? Yes, it may feel like jumping off a cliff, but I’m so glad I did. I created my next chapter.
Time To Reflect:
Ask yourself: what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken, both personally and/or professionally? What opportunity did I let slip by out of fear? What dreams do I still have that I’ve put on a back burner for whatever rational—and perhaps irrational—reasons I may have? What would I attempt to do if I knew I wouldn’t fail?
Whatever your answers to any of those questions are, can you do anything differently? Are you brave enough to revisit those dreams? Make today the day you make the decision to take a risk, conquer a fear, or step out of your comfort zone. I can promise you, if you do, you will transform your life!
About Liz Bruner:
Emmy award-winning journalist, executive communications coach, motivational speaker, podcast host, and author, Liz Brunner’s television career spanned 28 years and featured many memorable highlights. Along with co-anchoring the #1 rated 6pm newscast at ABC-TV, WCVB NewsCenter 5 in Boston, she conducted exclusive one-on-one interviews with prominent figures ranging from professional athletes to global political leaders including President Barack Obama as well as cultural icons such as Oprah Winfrey.
A classically trained vocal performer and former high school music educator, Liz holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music. She has performed with the Boston Pops and at professional sporting events for teams including the Boston Celtics, the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots, among others.
In 2013, Liz embarked upon her next chapter, becoming the CEO and Founder of Brunner Communications and she launched BrunnerAcademy.com in 2020. Both are dedicated to helping people find their authentic voice, tell their story and lead with presence. Liz is also the host of the Live Your Best Life with Liz Brunner podcast, on which she guides her guests to share their stories of self-discovery and re-creation. Listeners around the world join in on the journey, garnering inspiration from the wisdom shared. Dare to Own You: Taking Your Authenticity and Dreams into Your Next Chapter is her first book.