The “Matter of Fact” anchor learned to ignore the naysayers in her life by watching the way her parents dealt with the racial abuse they experienced
As part of a series to mark Father’s Day, Moneyish asked some prominent people to share the lessons they learned from their father or father figures about money and leadership. Read more here.
Even as a little kid, I was comfortable in my dad’s office. I was one of six children and we didn’t have a babysitter like people do today. If your parents were called back to the office, they dragged you with them and you sat in a corner working on stuff. My father, Edward O’Brien, was an academic – he was a mechanical engineering professor at Stony Brook University – but the environment was also corporate. He put on a suit to go to work, made the day’s to-do list and had daily goals to achieve. That’s how I learned to be in a corporate environment.
My mother, Estela, taught French and Spanish at a competitive high school. Together they made decent money, but had six kids to support. We grew up in the era when designer jeans were a thing and my parents were always like ‘Never!’ But my dad was all about investing in experiences. We got trips to Europe, and I have memories of these great experiences today. That’s what they felt was important.
I remember when I wanted horseback riding lessons — they cost $25 an hour. My parents didn’t say no, they just said that if I wanted them, I’d have to get a job. They had no money for six kids to go off and do expensive sports. That taught me that if there’s something you want to do, you have to strategize. That’s why I’ve been making money since I was 13-years-old. First it was babysitting where I looked after lots of kids simultaneously, then as a pharmacy aide. Fast forward 30-something years and I’m chief executive of my own media production company.
When I was starting my own business, that was one area where my parents weren’t too helpful. They had never run something and didn’t have tons of business connections. But they did tell me to always be yourself and that advice is still accurate. When I was starting as a reporter, I was trying to be a 70-year-old man. The process of being a journalist was figuring out who I was and my point of view as a journalist. And my parents advice to be authentic is still spot on – to be successful is to figure out who you are and not mimic others.
My parents were an interracial couple in mid-century America – my mom is from Cuba and my dad was Australian – and they were experts in ignoring people who hated their existence. But it’s not that they didn’t care. When confronted – and it happened a lot – my mom would just say, “thank you so much.” And I’d laugh because I knew she was playing the haters. There’s a lot of power in marching on and living your life. Through that, I’ve internalized that if you fight every battle at the workplace, you won’t end up where you want to be. If you keep stopping along the way because someone distracted you, you won’t accomplish the goals you set out to achieve.
Soledad O’Brien is host of “Matter of Fact” and founder and CEO of Starfish Media Group. Her PowHerFul Foundation hosts development summits for young women.
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