Celeste Headlee is an award-winning journalist who hosts GPB Radio’s “On Second Thought, and author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

That life is hard for everybody. When you’re young, every obstacle and failure feels like the end of the world. You can become resentful if you feel no one understands what you’re going through or offers help.

But when I started really listening to other people (and I mean really listening), I realized that they were often going through equally tough things. They didn’t offer help to me because they were looking for help themselves.

This was a revelation to me. As it turns out, life is really tough for everybody, no matter how much money you have or how much power you have. Obviously, the difficulty is not equal. A single mother in Africa has difficulties that the American CEO can’t imagine. But it’s not easy for the CEO, either. And everyone believes they are doing the best they can.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Leave emotion out of it. I especially hear women giving this advice to other women. This is bad advice for a couple of reasons. First, it assumes that you can hold a conversation that’s not influenced by emotion and that’s simply untrue.

Human beings are emotional creatures. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you are influenced by your history and bias and preference every time you open your mouth. And second, emotion is not a weakness, it’s a strength.

Use your sensitivity to be a better listener. Use it to read the other person’s mood and thoughts. Don’t avoid emotion, since you can’t, be aware of it and use it as a valuable tool.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

Not many years ago, I left a job where I was working in a pretty hostile environment. My stress level was dangerous and I gained at least 50 pounds in 3 years time. First, I learned that “sucking it up” is never the right strategy.

As soon as I’m aware that my quality of life is being impacted in a negative way, I know that I have to make changes. More importantly, I’ve learned to be more aware of my own mental health. Instead of gritting my teeth and soldiering on, I should have recognized my own state of mind and been honest with myself about my own needs.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

I look for the surprise in other people. I’ve learned that people surprise you. I’ve learned that people know thing you wouldn’t expect, that they can do things you’d never guess and that they’ve had experiences you’d never imagine.

So, I assume everyone has some surprises inside and I try to find out what they are.

What is your morning routine?

I wake at 4:30 am, write in my daily planner, make my bed, feed and walk my dog, pack my lunch for the day and go to work. I work out at the office gym for 30-40 minutes, meditate for 20 minutes, shower, and sit down at my desk to write edit scripts.

We have a staff meeting at 7:30 am and at 8 am I go down to the studio to record pre-production. Then I go on the air at 9 am.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Meditation, hands down. Even 5-10 minutes a day will change your life.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

Do one thing at a time and close your browser and email client when you’re not using them. Also, turn off most of the notifications on your phone.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

I take my dog for a walk or hike. A walk in nature is incredibly healing. There’s even. solid research that shows walking in nature decreases stress and brooding thoughts makes you happier and boosts creativity. So, I spend some time with trees.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

The novels. I’ve always been a voracious reader of fiction and devoured Dickens and Atwood and L’Engle and so many others. We do know that reading fiction can help increase empathy and I think it had that effect on me.

It was fiction that made me interested in other people’s stories and helped me imagine their lives and perspectives. Becoming immersed and engrossed in another person’s life is great practice for imagining what a real human being might be going through.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. It’s about the hypocrisy of society, but also about the effects that hypocrisy has on real, human lives. It’s filled with passion and anger against injustice. In terms of sparking empathy, this novel is powerful.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

  • Ralph G. Nichols – “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
  • Dala Lama XIV – “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

I say these in my head so often, they are almost mantras.