TODAY Show Correspondant, Sara Haines

How did an all-American sweetheart take the Today Show by storm?  From college athlete to conquering New York City to Today Show correspondent – Sara Haines never backed down.

Tenacious, honest and hilarious – meet the woman keeping Kathie Lee and Hoda on their toes during the 4th hour of the Today Show.  Come along as Sara Haines speaks with HerExchange about how big dreams really do come true.

SG: You’re a college athlete and government major – how do you end up as a correspondent on the highest rated morning show?!

SH: Accidentally!  I hate saying that because it sounds like, “Oh, I just tripped and I fell into this amazing life; and did I mention the streets were made of gold and I have my ruby slippers on my feet!?!”  *laughs*

I studied government, but I never wanted a career in government.  I was a part of choir and drama clubs, regardless if I was singing off tune in a chorus, or dancing in show choir, I loved performing.  I didn’t know exactly what to do with it, but I knew I loved performing.

After college I wanted to go to New York City; I recognized that I was following this imaginary Oz, but I had to go peel off the layers and figure it out because I wanted to get to performing. I wanted to know, could I make it?  I didn’t know how I’d survive! I worried about how I was going to pay my rent – people don’t put stock into how hard that part is; just finding an apartment for the first time, when you’ve only ever lived at home or in a dorm – it was overwhelming and defeating at times.

SG: Absolutely!  That’s where heart comes in to push through.

SH: After college, I moved in with my brother in New Jersey – my commute to NYC was 2 ½ hours!  It took me two months to find my first job at a production company.  To get to work, I took the subway into NYC and one day I spotted this guy with an NBC bag – he clearly worked there, it was a business bag.  I watched him, but didn’t have the nerve to say anything to him; it was the third time seeing him on the subway that I decided to approach him.  I think I scared him!  But, we ended our conversation with him giving me his business card and telling me to send my resume.

When I contacted him about the page program at NBC, he told me they we on a hiring freeze.  I kept plugging away at the production company I was working for, but I was dreaming of more.  Finally, I don’t remember what hit me, but it was a Monday and I called NBC back, I thought, “Here goes nothing!”  The woman that answered the phone said, “Oh it’s funny you called today, we are hiring.”

SG: What did that moment feel like?

SH: I almost cried – I was feeling so burned out; every New York City moment was impossible to me.

I got the panel interview, but I thought I ruined my chances during the interview.  One of the questions was “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I answered exactly what came to my mind, “I’ll probably be married, maybe I’ll have kids.”  The girl next to me, also a candidate, started with “Oh I don’t see myself like that,” her answer was totally professional. I remember crying on the way back to my job thinking I had blown it.  I finally had the chance I had waited so long for and I thought I blew it.

I got the call when I was back home visiting my family –  I had got in.  I started crying, it was like the excitement of a kid!  That moment I knew, this was my chance. Everything I’m aiming for, this was it.

SG: What a defining moment!  Plus, the chance to see that being authentically you got you ahead!  Was joining the NBC page program the ‘foot in the door’ you dreamed of?

SH: I was in the program from May 2001 to March 2002.  I wanted to learn the business and the page program allows you to do that – you do so much!  I wasn’t a page at the Today Show initially; I had assignments with The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Saturday Night Live and Last Call with Carson Daily. Then, towards the end of the year long program, my name was passed on to the production coordinator at the Today Show; I looked at it as an opportunity to do another year, continue to study the business.  The job was my homework.

March 2002 was the beginning of my time on the Today Show; I credit it all to the page program.   I look at how I ended up here and I feel so lucky and blessed.   The day that the really lucky, lucky thing happened to me was when NBC signed a contract with me. I was going to be on the Today Show; I knew that was great.

Throughout a day, a moment will hit me maybe once an hour where I stop and say, “Wow look what I have.” That feeling has never gotten old. Everything else gets old, you fight that all your life, whether it’s a new school year, or how you felt when you first got that sweater or that toy. This is the first thing in my life that I didn’t have to fight to keep new; it’s just amazing.

SG: All the shows you’ve worked on, you’ve met incredible people, anyone still get you giddy?

SH: I get a little giddy almost every day with Matt Lauer!  I think it’s the way he carries himself. You’d want to be his friend because of the way he treats every person in every story – it’s not fake; he’s so smart and he’s so real. He’s kept his heart in it and stayed authentic even while navigating a very cold industry.

SG:  The things that you’re talking about as Matt’s best traits, can you recognize that you have them too?  You are very much that woman – I see it sitting here with you.

SH: No, definitely not. Very rarely do I turn around and say, “Yeah I nailed it.”

SG: You are now an on-air correspondent for the most watched morning show – do you feel successful now?

SH:  For me, success is not defined, it’s about each battle.

SG: Your first interview answer was about your 10 year plan.  It’s exactly 10 years later, where are you in that vision?

SH: I don’t have kids…but, I love my dog!

I always defined my path based on what I saw in my own family, what my parents had.  I had no idea that my plans would veer off to the right and be sturdy and strong – I could’ve never imagined it, but I love it.  I always say, how could I do something wrong if every day I was trying as hard as I could and I was open to letting love in. So that’s the comfort I have. I hope I look back and feel that same way in another 10 years, I’m doing the best that I can.

I still want all those things, husband and kids. I don’t think you have to have one or the other. I’d say the 10 year plan was very different from how it’s ended up, but here is a great place to be right now!

Even if your dreams seem too big or unreachable – chase them!

Big dreams really do come true…

Get more Sara when you follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

-Stephanie Goetsch, February 2011

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