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Barbara Walters Syndrome

By Rochelle E. Brenner


Beginning when I was in middle school, I wanted to be Barbara Walters when I grew up. Anyone who went to Wilson Middle or Northeast High (class of 156) knew that I admired the witty lady with her interesting interviews and sense for news. Using a video camera (not a phone), I took videos of myself in braces saying “This is twenty twenty.”

20/20 on Friday nights and Barbara Walters specials were the best. At a time when we weren’t inundated with the lives of others on social media, Walters gave us highlight reels and interesting insights from powerful princes to salacious celebrities to cunning criminals.

When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was Barbara Walters from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. I’ve since, for practical reasons, given up on the dream. She has passed away so there is an opening, but the truth is I’m not pursuing that path with the fervor it would take to be her.

I know I’d be great if I ever got a shot to host the View.

Anyway, she said something once that will always stick with me. She said that ambitious little communications students always came up to her and said “I want to be you when I grow up.” Nevermind that these are childlike statements from adult co-eds. I was always bitter that so many other people wanted to be her. I had the will, determination, talent, skill, work ethic, writing ability and innate journalistic sense to be her like no one else. And it’s such a shallow statement, to want to be her, but not fully go on the journey to reach that level.

Her response was always, “If you want to be me, you have to take it all. The failed marriages, the miscarriages, the grueling preparation for each interview, the public scrutiny. … All of it.” I mean the whole world mocked her lisp and criticized her style of questioning.

Her assessment of her life always sounded so accurate. The grass is always greener. She got to be Barbara Walters, but she also had to deal with the downsides. Every time I ever felt resentment that I didn’t have something someone else did, I’d always remind myself of everything that they also endured that I didn’t want. And once I analyzed all the pros and cons, I’d be more content to be myself where I’m at. The idea that anyone could escape the grueling journey is what I call the Barbara Walters Syndrome.

To be honest, I still want the chance to be Barbara Walters. I know I could do it, but I didn’t become like her because I pursued too many other things. I wasn’t willing to give up everything to be her – I would dedicate my career to it, but I didn’t have the money and had family situations that became the priority. I gave up being a journalist after a decade. That’s just an excuse but it’s my only reality.

That being said, whenever I listen to Business Wars or How I Built This podcasts, I’m reminded of the millions lost and the agony of intersections on the way to success.

Just this week, a charter school tried to pay us $240 for a $690 school program bill when the *actual* cost is $1,380. It’s so small and petty and upsetting, I can’t even imagine a business dispute in the millions. This is all I can take. I’d have to fire people if I was operating on a bigger scale. I should be glad this is so small a thing.

Barbara Walters Syndrome is the false sense that success comes without consequences, that someone else’s life is somehow easier, that their status is somehow attainable without the struggle.

It’s a common misconception.

I wish I could be the next Barbara Walters. But I didn’t take the right opportunity at the right time. Regret has millions of possible outcomes. Reality only has one.

I always try to filter my wants through the good and bad and weigh how it turns out. If anyone wants my life, believe me you don’t. I’m not trying to sound ungrateful, but everyone has something to envy. I don’t envy being me.

In conclusion, let the message of the late great Barbara Walters stick with you. If you want to be a karate instructor, you get to be there for the Black Belts and the quits. If you want to be a business owner, you get all the risk, all the complaints and sometimes the reward. If you want to be a champion, you get all the trophies, in exchange for all of your time. If you want to be the best, you have to practice at 6 am and midnight, when it’s raining, when it’s inconvenient and an hour each way in traffic.

If you want balance, the scales will never be even. They will be even enough to maintain your life, but that’s it. You will have to give up some career happiness for some family security or vice versa.

Your best bet is to accept the things you have in life that you love and stop striving for someone else’s pot of gold. They didn’t get there on a rainbow.

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