Taken from Hope to Cope which can be found HERE.
As co-anchor of The Early Show (as the CBS morning program was known for years), René Syler was at the top of the TV game. The first African-American woman to host a network news program, she spent her high-pressure workdays interviewing high-profile guests such as former President Bill Clinton and actor Will Smith.
Evenings found her contentedly heading out of New York City to the Westchester County home she shares with her husband, media executive Buff Parham, and their two children.
Then, in December 2006, Syler was let go from her job on The Early Show—just as she was about to undergo a preventive mastectomy. She was 43.
Syler had already weathered a couple of difficult years agonizing about her mammogram results, family health history, and the seemingly inevitable onset of breast cancer. Finding herself adrift professionally sent her into a tailspin.
“In retrospect, I had lived a pretty charmed life from my birth to age 42,” Syler says. “I had always been very driven, and had accomplished a lot.”
Having her first book published was a bright break in the dark clouds Good-Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting came out in 2007, a few months after her surgery—but as time went on good news seemed scarcer and scarcer.
After climbing to the pinnacle of success, she discovered that finding a new job in the ultra-competitive world of broadcast journalism was even harder in mid-life. Opportunity after opportunity fizzled out, until Syler felt her purgatory would never end. At one point, as an added indignity, all her hair fell out after a visit to the hairdresser to have it chemically relaxed.
In the face of repeated disappointments and rejection, depression took root in her mind and body.
“There were days when I’d drive the kids to school and then return home and go back to bed,” Syler says. “I kept waiting for someone to save me, but what I didn’t realize then, was that I had to save myself.”
In November 2008, a bout of asthmatic bronchitis landed Syler in the hospital. When her doctor asked how she was feeling, Syler answered in tears.
“I told my doctor how I couldn’t seem to see my way out of the depression, and how I had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning,” Syler says.
The doctor prescribed an antidepressant, which took the edge off her symptoms and gave her the respite she needed to reassess her views of herself and her future.
Perhaps most importantly for her mental health, Syler learned to embrace her own advice and cut herself some slack. The premise of Good-Enough Mother is that women need to let go of their unattainable ideals, figure out what works for their individual families, and practice self-care in order to care for others.
“I think there is value in the struggle that I went through,” Syler says. “I’m no longer interested in painting a rosy picture all of the time. I realize I’m allowed to have feelings.”
She had to redefine the meaning of success, both in terms of her career and her self-image.
“I try to do as much as I can in my life, but not to try to do everything perfectly,” she says. “I see so many women striving to be perfect, and then feeling depressed when they fall short. I think the most important thing we can do is to take a deep breath and focus on the things in life that really matter.”
For Syler, that includes her husband, her teenage children, and her beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Olivia. All of them served to motivate her when she was feeling down. Her dog needed walks, her children needed their mother. Wanting to be there for them forced Syler to get up each morning, and ultimately face her own challenges.
“I learned that even the strongest people get beat up and I made it my mantra to get through each day one step at a time,” Syler says. “Rather than trying to take on too much, I broke things down into manageable chunks.”
As it became more and more obvious that her path forward didn’t lie in traditional television, Syler looked to online options. In 2010, she rebuilt her book’s website, got serious about blogging, and converted a closet in her home to record videos to post.
She began to take a stand on current events and issues that affect parents. Before long, the site was attracting more than 50,000 visitors a month.
Syler says taking back control of her career was empowering. As part of re-establishing herself, she envisioned her life as a pond and realized that the more fishing poles she put into the pond, the better her chances of landing a fish.
“My first pole was carving out content for my website,” she says. “This was something that no one else could take away from me.”
And with each fish she landed, other nibbles followed. Because of a blog she wrote about theme parks, Syler was invited to be the keynote speaker at Walt Disney World’s annual Social Media Moms Conference in 2011. That led to a profile in an online magazine about her self-reinvention. That came to the notice of executives at the Live Well Network, a digital channel of the Disney-ABC Television Group, who approached Syler about hosting a new show. For Sweet Retreats, Syler travels the country to feature vacation destinations.
“I found you gain the most when you have nothing to lose, when there is nowhere to go but up,” Syler says. “It’s possible to rebuild after rocky times, but you must let your passion guide you, and surround yourself with others who support you. Most of all, understand no one will believe in you as much as you believe in yourself.”
What a difference seven years makes. In addition to Sweet Retreats, Syler is back in front of the cameras as a co-host of Exhale, a talk show on Magic Johnson’s new ASPiRE.tv network. She is a popular motivational speaker, a tireless breast cancer advocate, and continues to grow her Good Enough Mother brand.
“I never thought I’d ever be in this place I am today since I never saw myself doing anything other than anchoring the news,” says Syler, who turns 51 on February 17. “I lost my job, I lost my breasts, I lost my hair, and I fought depression, but in losing all of those things, I also found myself.”
René Syler’s tips
Kick fear to the curb. Syler has learned to challenge the phantoms that hold her back. “I’m able to recognize irrational thoughts for what they are, to realize where they are coming from, and to change my internal dialogue and challenge my fears,” she says. “When I look back at old pictures of me, the overwhelming thing I see is fear—fear of losing my job, or making people angry. Today, I’m fearless.”
Don’t fall for “Pinterest parenting.” That’s Syler’s term for online images that project a false ideal. “For a mom who is sitting at home in sweats, covered in her baby’s vomit, looking at photos of these supposedly perfect families, it can create feelings of inadequacy,” she contends. She suggests staying away from social media when you’re feeling blue and likely to compare yourself unfavorably to others.
Take the long view. Syler has grown more accepting of the fact that life sometimes gives you a pie in the face. “The difference is I now try and look at a bad day as a bad moment and move on,” she says, “rather than letting it weigh me down.”