“When the storm was coming toward his island and his home, he gave us shelter from the storm. So that’s the overarching thing that keeps me going.” – Mariana Atencio
On June 25th, Mark is presenting a free webinar to help you lead and coach those around you. Whether you are a leader hoping to coach others on your team, or you are working toward starting or growing your own coaching business, go to unbeatablemind.com/freetraining to sign up for this webinar.
Mariana Atencio (@marianaatencio) is a well-known journalist, TED Speaker, influencer and award winning news reporter. Her book “Perfectly You: Embracing the Power of Being Real,” is a journey to discover why celebrating what makes us different becomes the most valuable lesson anyone can learn.
- Controlling the smaller things, helps deal with all those things that you can’t control
- Why looking for humanity in others keeps you human
- While covering a storm, her and her crew were given shelter by a local and why that experience has become a kind of touchstone for her
Listen to this episode to get an inside look at Mariana’s unique outlook and how to embrace the power of being real.
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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for being here and listening. Really appreciate it.
Real quick, we’re available on a ton of different platforms now, besides just iTunes. But we got 500 reviews on iTunes – five star reviews – but very few on those other platforms because we just basically launched with them. So if you listen to this podcast from a different platform like SoundCloud, Stitcher, Pandora then it does help to review because that’s how others like you can find the podcast and as you know there’s about 20 trillion podcasts launching every week it seems like. So it’s easy to get buried.
So I’m super excited. I just met Mariana Atencio a few moments ago. She told me she was in San Diego and I was like “why didn’t we do this in person?”
But we’re not in person. We’re actually recording this over Zencaster like I do most of them.
But Mariana is… She’s a really fascinating woman. She’s a journalist with MSNBC, she’s spoken at Ted and her Ted speech has over four million views. Extraordinary. So she’s definitely an influencer. She’s won many awards for her reporting and she’s got a new book June 10th? Is that right Mariana, June 10th?
Mariana: 11th. And it’s a pleasure to be on. Thank you so much for having me. And to all your listeners, Ola
Mark: Yeah, welcome and your book perfectly you – I have actually got a copy of it in front of me – well done. I think it’s going to be a huge success. So June 11th that comes out.
I want to read a quote and then just get into conversation, because we’re gonna have fun. So you say in every conflict, every tragedy, every overwhelming situation we’re just people with shared humanity. While some notions might drive us apart at times, you must try to remember it’s our mess, our differences that make us perfectly suited to become the change we want to see in the world.
That’s cool. I love that. And it kind of resonates with what we were talking about earlier about this notion that with Unbeatable Mind I’m trying to help people expand their perspective to be more world-centric. To recognize that the human race is like one team, one fight, you know what I mean? And we don’t have to agree with everyone and we don’t have to even like everyone. But we really should respect everyone, right? Respect the sameness in spite of the differences.
And you as a journalist you get around a lot I bet. But before we go there and I’m fascinated about journalism and I think would be a super-cool career – although challenging – but I didn’t shy from challenge myself as a SEAL.
But what about your early childhood? I like to start with kind of where you’re from – I mean, I know where you’re from – but tell the listeners where you’re from and what was that like. And how you made it over to America and you know that kind of stuff.
Mariana: Well thank you for the intro, Mark: And so excited that you have a copy of “Perfectly You.” you’re actually one of the first people besides my immediate family, my husband.
Mark: It’s tough to put a book out. It’s a lot of work. It’s like giving birth.
Mariana: It’s a lot of work. And this one’s actually coming out… I put two books out, because it’s out in Spanish in English on June 11th.
Mark: Oh cool.
Mariana: And I thought that, you know, “oh, I’ll just translate it.” but no.
As you know with languages there’s so many sentiments that are just expressed differently. The context.
And so it was really like writing two books.
Mark: So you had to write it in both languages? Makes sense? There’s nobody who could have done it for you, huh?
Mariana: It starts with an experience that I had on TV, you know? First time on Good Morning America. But the first couple of chapters obviously go to my childhood.
So those I wrote in Spanish because I think about those memories in Spanish. Nails and the colors and then I sort of switched to English and then I’m like “this is a mess. This is like double the work.”
So then I just stuck to English and then did the Spanish.
Mark: That would explain why I had trouble understanding the first couple chapters.
Mariana: (laughing) There you go.
But it was a fascinating exercise that… You know I really wanted to service these two communities that I reach both Spanish and in English. As someone who’s been a journalist in both markets and in both languages. And covering issues for both. So I’m very happy and very proud about that…
Mark: Can I ask questions? So when you report – so I don’t watch TV, which is probably a blessing – but when you do report, do you report in Spanish or English? Or both?
Mariana: So I started in Spanish because it was my way into TV. It was just my way into the market.
When I began in the middle of the recession 2008, 2009 it was hard enough to get a job as it is. So I have really… Talking about our uniqueness and what makes us special… I had to really look at myself and say “what do I bring to the table that’s different?”
And I started out in Spanish. Became sort of a name on Univision and they’re really a powerhouse for the Spanish community, the Latin community. They reach something like 94 million people around the world.
And from there, I was really at a place where I was comfortable. In the sense that I was already sub-anchoring, had five years network experience, had won awards like the Peabody Award.
But there at that point… You know, I found myself at 32 years old saying “should I cross over to English-speaking television?” pretty much start from scratch, because I wasn’t a well-known name in English. Test out how well I really do in this second language on live television. Covering anything and everything. Being a national correspondent.
And I took the risk. I sort of jumped into it and it’s led to this fascinating journey where I’m able to connect with so many people all over the world and cover issues that Americans want to know about.
It’s been a process of self-discovery and reaffirmed my love for this country that I now call my home. My home by choice. My adopted home.
Mark: That’s awesome. So I love the perspective that you can bring, because you weren’t born and bred here. I mean there’s plenty of folks you know who have an international kind of background. Maybe they’re second generation.
But you’re first-generation Venezuelan. So since we didn’t get to talk about your childhood why don’t you give us a sense of what that was like?
Mariana: So yeah, I’ve been in the US for 10 years. And I officially came when I was 24 years old. Without a return ticket, I always say.
Mark: There was you’re out in case it didn’t work out?
Mariana: Exactly. When you make that decision… And you know I grew up in this beautiful, fascinating, colorful country that was very prosperous. You know it had obviously its issues. You know, there was inequality. A lot of oil wells and that obviously did not… Not everybody benefited from it, unfortunately. And you started to see those gaps between the different groups.
And little by little it crumbled. And right before my eyes. Again a place…
Mark: Did it start with Chavez? Was it a particular leadership or…?
Mariana: Yes. So when I was growing up, Venezuela was one of the most prosperous countries really in the world. It was one of the richest in South America. One of the longest standing democracies in the region. And in 1998, Chavez got elected into office.
And again, I know that wasn’t a coincidence. There was inequality and there were these socio-economic gaps that I started seeing as a child.
But when he got elected on this socialist sort of platform… He just you know made the gaps worse, because the oil wealth was not distributed the way it was supposed to. And he fed into a lot of the divisions.
Little by little I started seeing that there was just this rhetoric of divisiveness and hatred between people. And he played into that a lot. He was in power… You know, reelected himself indefinitely we also started seeing free media – it started to get shut down. It was pretty much the dictatorial script from Cuba. He was a disciple of Fidel Castro.
So for me it was as a teen and then as a college student… It was watching my home really crumble, because of bad government and inequality.
And at that point I made a decision to flee, essentially…
Mark: Were you in danger, Mariana? Or were you just like “okay, I’m out of here because opportunity is disappearing before my very eyes.”
Mariana: Well, I always wanted… Nobody ever leaves their home unless you absolutely have to, you know? It’s very hard to leave everything – your parents, your way of life your siblings… I very much doubled down on staying there and I wanted to be a part of the generation that changed things around.
Which is why I decided to stick around for college and study communications. And I wanted to be a journalist.
But it was when two things happened in the summer of 2007 when I was a junior in college. The government shut down the biggest television station in the country. It was literally like shutting down, Mark ABC or CBS or NBC from one day to the next. Just like this went black.
And that’s where I dreamed of working. So I started to see how these windows were going to be closed by this repressive quote-unquote “communist” government.
And then that same summer as we were protesting as communication students for free speech – I got robbed at gunpoint – as a SEAL, you can probably relate you know it was one of those moments where I really didn’t know if I was gonna survive or not. And I was in a climb… Caracas is the capital of Venezuela, is a valley… I went up for a just for a breather, you know? For some fresh air as a college student in the midst of the protests and what the government was doing. It’s a five minute walk from my house the bottom of the mountain trail.
And I got robbed at gunpoint up on the mountain. Anything could have happened. I managed to survive, but I said to myself “what are you gonna do if you get out of this? You know, you want to do all these things with your life. You have all these potential you have been given these opportunities…
If I go down this mountain trail alive I’m gonna leave and see how I can contribute from abroad.” sometimes the best way to help us is to do it from somewhere else. It took me a long time to realize that. So that was the moment – the summer of 2007 when those two events impacted my world that I decided to leave. And leave without a return ticket. And I am blessed every day to have found a home and a country where you all your dreams can come true if you work hard enough. And if you give back what you see United States of America.
So I am an immigrant by choice. Hopefully I’ll be an American this year, I’m hoping…
Mark: Good luck with that.
Mariana: Thank you.
Mark: I’ll put in a good word for you. Who do I call? Donald?
Mariana: Thanks for the vote of confidence. But I am absolutely in love with this country. With its people. I want to continue to give back. And my job has also allowed me to tell those stories of migration – you know migrating – that’s the history of the world, right? And allowed me to not only cover it, but also live it firsthand. So it’s certainly a unique viewpoint as someone…
Mark: What was the process like for you? To migrate or immigrate… I’m not sure what the right word is.
Mariana: I think both. When you imagine leaving knowing you’re never gonna come back. I always say you’re sitting in your… In my case, my childhood bedroom. And what do you pack? What do you leave behind?
I knew what I was leaving behind. It was my friends, my parents my way of life…
Mark: You can’t like ship stuff over, right? You’re just literally getting on an airplane and that’s it. Bye-bye.
Mariana: Yeah, and it’s memories. And it’s this life that you thought you were gonna have. And then in my case it’s been doubly traumatic, because that country that I left is essentially gone now. So it’s almost like Cuban in that way where you don’t really have a country to go back to. So it’s not like you went on a trip and you may come back…
Mark: Yeah, it’s not like a Chinese person coming over here to go to school and then they’ve got this thriving country and economy to go back to.
Mariana: Correct. Which is what I would have had, before this whole thing happened politically. Which also you know when I cover stories now and you talk to people who… Some people who watch the news about what’s happening somewhere else and you’re like “well, you know.”
Whether it be a natural disaster or something political. And you’d say “well, that’s too bad. Fortunately it’s not happening to me. But this has really hit home to a point where I too lived in a place that was prosperous, and beautiful, and stable – and it came crumbling down.
I cover hurricanes where all of a sudden you have the city like Houston hit by Hurricane Harvey and people can’t understand how that’s happening there. So it’s allowed me to realize how the world is more and more interconnected by technology and politics and the environment and culture and something like that can happen to any of us. So that question…
Mark: And fast. That’s incredible like Venezuela 20 years basically went from prosperous to what it is today.
Mariana: Yeah, it’s given me that perspective it just is I guess is unique to have and valuable when you’re out covering all these stories.
Mark: So when you came over here, you worked for Univision speaking Spanish. Doing Spanish reporting. Did you speak English? Did you grow up speaking English?
Mariana: That’s a beautiful part of my story, which was my father was Venezuelan, but he went to high school here in the United States. And we always grew up in a home where education was the most valuable thing you could have. And always – I’m the oldest – and he would always say “I want you kids to speak English. You know, the United States is a beautiful country that gave me so many opportunities. I want you kids to speak the language. I want you to experience different cultures and the spirit of that country.”
So when I was seven – and I always tell this story – when I was seven years old, being the oldest he tells me “I’m gonna send you to a place where nobody speaks Spanish so you can learn the language.” for the summer, right?
So we went to our Catholic school during the school year – which was a Venezuelan school, right? And then that summer – I thought that he would send us to like a summer camp in like Miami or Orlando. But my dad knew that there’s always gonna be kids from Mexico or Columbia or kids who speak Spanish like most likely in those cities. In Florida or Texas or what have you.
So he sent us to Brainerd, Minnesota.
Mark: (laughing) okay. Sure, makes perfect sense.
Mariana: So I was the oldest, my sister’s a year younger, my little brother’s four years younger than me.
Mark: Who did he know in Brainerd?
Mariana: So I found out that his high school roommate… That’s where he sent his kids. So my dad asked “where can I send my kids? Where they’re really gonna learn English?”
And this is what this friend suggested. So for six years we went to summer camp in Brainerd, Minnesota and obviously from Caracas to Brainerd, Minnesota… You know, when I was seven there was no cell phones, or Internet or anything.
And every other kid… The very first night every year they would go around the campfire and everybody said where they were from. And it was St. Paul, Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota… Everybody else was from Minnesota.
And then the camp director would say like “we have a very international camp this year again. The Atencios are back…
Mark: (laughing) a great experience, though. I mean, I can imagine going to a foreign country for…
Mariana: I remember… I was a pretty good swimmer, because we would swim in the Caribbean. And I remember that I saw the lake and I went in and I jumped in I said “I’m gonna be in this lake the whole summer.”
Freezing cold and I’m like what is this lake? It turns out it was like Lake Superior. Canada was on the other side, you know?
It was like all these things culturally. And just the vastness of the landscape and everything which was just such a shock to me, but also such an enriching experience.
So thanks to that, I speak English the way that I do. We later continued doing this summer experiment, if you will, every summer. So I would just do the school year in Venezuela then come up here and be in remote cities and towns. Which I can proudly say not many Americans know as well as I do.
So I grew up with one foot there one foot here. And it’s allowed me to have this wider view of the world. And it allowed me also to look at myself from a very young age and say “okay, clearly I feel different here. I am different than all the other kids what can I do – you know I either adapt and try to be like them. Or embrace what makes me unique and make that a factor…
Mark: You’ve got the best of both. I mean, you can appreciate and feel at home here because of all the time you spent here. But at the same time embrace your uniqueness as a Venezuelan.
Mark: So let’s talk about your life as a journalist, let’s say with MSNBC. What were some of the most challenging assignments or interesting or where you feel like you really made the biggest impact? Give us like a peek into the life of you as a journalist. Cause I think that’s fascinating.
Mariana: It’s crazy.
Mark: I bet it is. You must be always on the go, right?
Mariana: Always. There’s rarely a week when I’m not on the road and… Just to give you an idea this week my week started out in Miami covering a story about New Mexico. Then I got on the plane went to Washington to cover the Supreme Court. Now I’m in San Diego covering a migrant shelter.
I don’t know what the future holds tomorrow. I know that I’ll end up in New York on Friday.
Mark: So do they pick issues that they think you’re gonna have some insight or you’ll be able to connect with? Like the Supreme Court is obviously about the citizenship question… Mariana: It’s a tricky balance because you are either a) covering breaking news and when you’re a national correspondent obviously that can happen anywhere – even internationally – I’ve covered stories in China, and in Haiti, and in Mexico.
But it’s also very much an entrepreneurial kind of work. Where there’s so many people competing for air time. Where you have to really push for the stories you care about and be very entrepreneurial in what we call pitching. So it’s almost like telling the coach you know “put me in the game, put me in the game. I’m ready, I’m ready. I have this story…” so it’s a mix of your centrality news/you have to create sort of lanes for yourself and push.
Mark: Like this San Diego story you mentioned to me. You’re here in San Diego doing a story on the Christ ministry, which is helping migrant mothers who are pregnant?
Mark: And so when you pitched that… I mean, did you have to feel like put a PowerPoint together and sit down in front of somebody? Or did you just say “hey, I want to go to San Diego. There’s this really cool story out there. You’re gonna love it.”
Mariana: It depends sort of what your bosses are into. How much time they have you know sometimes it’s all about trying to – and mind you I do this from Miami and the headquarters of NBC is in New York so I’m not even getting most of the time you’re not getting face time with the people that you’re pitching to. So it’s knowing like “oh, I know that my boss sits down after lunch from 3:45 to 4:00 p.m. And that’s when she reads pitches. I’m gonna send the pitch at 3:43 so she gets it at the top of her inbox and it’s only gonna be a paragraph long, because I know she doesn’t have much time today.”
“Or let me start with this you know buzzword that has we’ve been talking about in the news cycle for the past day to move. And then here’s the back story. So it is a passion point where you have to really push for the stories you want to own and you want to get out there, because if not, you’re just being reactive. And you’re not – I always say the goal for me is to give a voice to people and I want to talk to everyone. Everyone from all ends of the spectrum from different backgrounds, experiences, especially now with what’s happening with immigration and the border…
So in order to do that, if you just wait for things to happen you’re not really giving those people an opportunity to have their stories told. So it’s finding these stories, staying in touch with these communities and then really pushing for them… When you have six people in a room in New York making decisions and you tell them “oh there’s a story happening in San Diego or in this little city in New Mexico or El Paso sometimes that doesn’t resonate. So you have to be really smart in how you do it.
But I believe that our job is to give to everyone. And to take these stories and these headlines and these perspectives outside of the Beltway and the business suits, you know? Bring them out have real people talk about what they’re going through.
Mark: Right. Yeah, that’s interesting. And the immigration issue is obviously such a political hot potato, it’s hard to get a sense for what’s really happening. What’s your perspective? Like what did you see down in San Diego and the other places you’ve dealt with the immigration issue?
Mariana: You know it’s a tough issue, because there’s a lot of pain and humanity involved. You know, you’re dealing with families with young children. You’re dealing with cities and towns and people who are also in the crosshairs of it. And I try to understand all viewpoints – you know, same as I’ve walked with the migrant caravan – like literally walked with the migrant Caravan – when the president talks about it like I was down there in the border between Guatemala and Mexico walking with them. That’s the kind of journalism I believe in. Because then you’re able to say “well I have actually seen no people from the Middle East here. I’ve been walking with them for four days.”
Or “I have not felt at any point that this is a violent environment. This is what I’m seeing, this is why they’re coming.”
And at the same time I’ve embedded with border patrol, who also tell me you know “we are fathers and brothers and sons. And it also breaks our heart to have to deal with these families coming over.”
It’s this idea that the system is bursting at the seams. And we need to approach it with humanity. And realize that this is more than just numbers, you know? These are people and especially all the children.
The story that I’m covering today, as you mentioned, is this church that has been a harbor, a refuge for pregnant mothers who because ICE does not have the capacity to hold them. And can’t hold them after their third trimester – has to literally leave them in the streets.
So this pastor started taking this on. He’s had more than a hundred babies born in this church. It’s like a maternity ward, he told me. It’s one birth every two weeks. So these are children that are also being born in America, and what that means.
So I think that it is a hot issue – as you say – and we just need to approach it with heart and humanity.
Mark: Yeah. Well said. And it’s gonna get worse as things continue to deteriorate, right? In the old world order. And places like Venezuela or other places start to not be able to support the population. And so they’re gonna go. So it’s really scary, actually.
Mariana: And it’s the history of the world. We were talking about it before. You know, from the Middle East to Jewish people to you know Europe. Europeans who came here. It’s historical cycles. And I’ve been able to live sort of both ends of it, you know? A country that was prosperous that welcomed immigrants. Venezuela in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. And then what’s happening now with people fleeing in droves.
So it’s fascinating and sad and compelling all at the same time.
Mark: Right. I agree. So that’s one really interesting experience. What about let’s say a scenario or situation where you were put into let’s say, a dangerous situation. Or where maybe there was a little bit – well, I guess you could say that the migrant caravan could have been risky.
Mariana: I’ll tell you – then my crew will probably kill me that I’m telling you this – I was so dehydrated from walking with this camera, because it’s all so grueling. I do not know actually to bring it full circle one of the mothers that I interviewed in this church today who gave birth April 11th came in this same caravan that I walked with. She was 5 months pregnant and I’m like “I don’t know how you did it.” like I was doing live shots on this bridge, because we could overlook the huge crowd of people walking. And I started throwing up almost in the middle of it, because I was so dehydrated. And everyone’s like “please, don’t throw up on top of the people coming.”
But because you’re jumping on planes so often, sometimes your body will tell you enough is enough for a little bit.
But in terms of dangerous situations – you’ll find this funny – we’re actually giving kind of what we call “heat training.” like I guess it’s…
Mark: If the bullets start flying what do you do, type of stuff?
Mariana: They take us out in the woods in upstate New York and train you for four days. And being from Venezuela which has always been a dangerous country, even when I was growing up I was like “eh.” and I’d also – as now I shared with you – been held at gunpoint and all these things. I’m like “ah, I don’t know what I’m gonna learn here honestly.”
And I stepped on supposed land mines, I was kidnapped. I tried to escape and got in trouble. So I literally almost flunked the class. It was very funny.
And so they give you this training and it’s needed, because I’ve been in situations like you know I covered the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. When there were bullets flying. There was tear gas. If you look at the live shots that night it was all the correspondents – most of the male correspondents – it was the CNN live shot, and there I was in the corner wearing no vest or anything. And on the air I remember saying “we are hearing gunshots here.” and there was huge fires in West Florissant Avenue, etc. That was something I never thought I’d see in the United States.
I’ve covered situations in Mexico where you know you are in cartel territory. I covered the disappearance of 43 students in 2015 where they were – actually this was in the summer of 2014, excuse me. These 43 students were murdered they were like chopped up in little pieces in Mexico and there was a huge search for them. And I remember walking into this field and it was filled with mass graves. And I remember literally like walking into the mass graves with my cameraman and you think “we’re out here pretty much alone in the woods in the middle of these mass graves. Like, anything could happen to us.”
But those are the stories that not very many people tell. And it’s hard to grapple with this idea of those stories where you’re making the most difference and where you’re putting your life at risk quote-unquote, are also the ones you know where you… It’s almost like this rush of this is my purpose. And what I’m meant to do.
Which I imagine happens to you to.
Mark: Sure. Well, you tap into a different source of energy when you’re completely aligned with your calling like that, I think.
Mariana: And when it’s very – which I can imagine you relate to as well – when it’s also physical type of work where you’re either walking in the woods or going into these big holes in the ground or walking with a caravan or chasing hurricanes. You say “well, my body is – I’m a very petite woman, so I always say “my body is petite, but it’s what allows me to go around the world doing this job that I love.”
Mark: Right. That’s awesome.
Mark: So let’s talk about mental toughness and resiliency, Mariana style. Like how do you stay – a lot of it is probably hidden from your view, because you just grew up that way like you described. And you’ve had a little bit of training. So you may just naturally do it, but what are you aware of that you do to maintain a positive mindset.
Like I can’t even imagine – when you told me… Or told us just a moment ago that you walked into the mass grave of these 43 kids I mean my stomach was churning, going “holy crap.” I mean, I can’t even imagine what that would be like.
So how do you maintain your resiliency?
Mariana: That’s a great question. And it actually was one of my favorite chapters to write in “Perfectly You.” chapter 13, which is called shelter from the storm. And I called it that because when I was covering a storm last year – Hurricane Florence in North Carolina – we were stranded in an island covering the storm. And I mean stranded because we were covering the storm there and the authorities basically closed the bridges because of the force of the winds. So we were there and there were no hotels.
So we were homeless. This hurricane was coming for us. And this man that I was interviewing offered us shelter. For what was supposed to be one night, turned into five. And he would make me soup every night. Gave us warm beds to sleep in. Became our local guide – you know, we covered the storm and then the flooding.
And later when I was leaving, he told me that he was a supporter of President Trump and he said “I’d never thought that I would shelter the media in my home.”
Mark: (laughing) The fake news media.
Mariana: Yeah. He said, “It’s been amazing to see the world through your eyes.” we were stranded on this island, mind you, so he would bring friends over. On day three, four and five practically to get to meet us. And we would stay up telling stories and sing songs and trying to make the best of the situation that we were in.
And then during the day we would cover the weather throughout the day. So it was like we became family on the road. And this story impacted me so much because it is those things in part that keep me sane. And seeing how people – everyday people – rise above politics, economic gaps or what say you, to just be human beings. And take care of each other in the worst circumstances. You know, when this storm was coming toward his island and his home, he gave us shelter from the storm.
So that’s the overarching thing that keeps me going. Is going to shelters like the one that I visited today in San Diego. And meeting this pastor who could be – you know, he’s seventy years old – he could be looking for a rocking chair is what he told me today.
But instead he’s pouring every single minute of his life into helping these women. It’s meeting people like you that inspire me to keep going.
And then there’s what I call the tricks on the road, which are the little things – which I think you can relate to – that keep you sane. For example for me controlling the little things – and I talked about this in the book – that I then don’t have to think about when I’m launched into a crazy situation keeps me sane. For example, I have the same thing for breakfast every day. That keeps me sane, because since I have no routine. I don’t know where I’m gonna sleep on a certain weeknight or what I’m gonna walk into. If I have the same thing for breakfast which I call it “Mariana power breakfast,” then at least that gives me some sense of routine.
And I’ll tell you what my breakfast is. It’s whole-wheat toast, peanut butter, sliced banana and honey. And if I can afford to get fancy, I’ll throw in like some chia seeds or something on top of it.
Mark: That’s awesome. I love peanut butter and banana.
Mariana: I’m walking into a hurricane, I’m carrying my little bag of bread and peanut butter and stuff and…
Mark: So do you take that with you when you travel, just to make sure you have it?
Mariana: Yeah. Especially when I go somewhere where I know we may run out of food. And all the boys laugh at me. And then they’re all asking me for my peanut butter and my bread. And I’m like, “Ah-hah.”
Mark: (laughing) At least I got something.
Mariana: So for me it’s breakfast is one little trick of the trade. And the other one – which I think many women will relate to – is its clothes. As a correspondent, you know, you’re on TV every day. Everyone expects you to look different every day. So I have a very organized closet that is labeled, you know? Like storms, protests, things like that.
There’s even a sticker for like one is called like the “Latin-American planes,” and somebody’s like “what is this?”
And I’m like “well, you know if I go to the Caravan or if I go to… Yeah it’s a Latin American planes. What do you want me to tell you? It’s all these weird like stickers. But that way, I can just call my husband in a hurry and be like “grab something from protests. Grab something from travel. Grab something for the Latin American planes. Put it in a bag and send it to me.” Anyway…
Mark: (laughing) That is awesome. It’s like a costume wardrobe. That’s smart. That is really funny.
What about – by the way I love what you said before this – controlling little things. I think that’s brilliant, but “looking for humanity in others keeps you human.” and I think that’s really kind of the theme of your whole book, right? Your subtitle is “embracing the power of being real.”
That’s such a profound – simple, but not easy thing to do, you know what I mean? So I just wanted to point that out. I think that’s really cool.
And so what about like what goes through your head – let’s get like really, really micro here – what goes through your head when right before you go on air and there’s maybe like super-important people around or this is an event… You can’t screw it up. Like do you have an internal dialogue? Or some sort of routine there that you control your mind and emotions? So you can perform?
Mariana: There have been moments for example – and I talk about this in the book – they called me to interview Pope Francis when he was about to do his first tour of the United States. And I was supposed to inter… So I’m interviewing him… I talked to him in Spanish. I’m telling them about the plight of migrants coming to the States. And I’m talking to the migrants in Spanish. Acting as an intermediary for questions in Spanish.
But then we’re doing a broadcast for ABC 20/20 in English, in the midst of all of this happening. And there it is – you know – you’re supposed to call him “his holiness.” you know you can’t say “kay, Pope Francis.”
Mark: (laughing) “Hey, Popey. What’s going on?”
Mariana: You have 20 producers from the network where you’re the youngest person. And you’re the least-experienced and so there is this moment – come-to-Jesus moment – where you say like I cannot screw this up. I have to just be flawless when I do this.
And for me it’s twofold. It’s being very, very prepared. I do not believe in winging it. I believe in over-preparedness. I’ve believe in really knowing what I’m gonna say front-to-back. I go over it a bazillion times. It’s like what I told you about controlling the clothes and the breakfast… You know, it’s controlling the predictable factors, so that you can be nimble for the unpredictable ones.
Mark: You could be spontaneous within the boundaries of all that. Yeah, I get that.
Mariana: And in that broadcast with the Pope, one of the little girls that I introduced to him, she burst in tears in the middle of her question. And I just couldn’t even utter a word, because she was so distraught and so overwhelmed with the moment of seeing this man in front of her. And her name was Wendy. She was ten years old – I’m never gonna forget. And I talked to her at eye level, and I said “just breathe, Wendy. Breathe.”
And she had told me before that she had drawn a stick-figure drawing for him and out of the corner of my eye, I realized her mom was in one of the pews holding it.
And I said “why don’t you bring his holiness what you drew for him?” and this little girl’s face lit up and she grabbed the drawing from her mom and showed it to him. And he gave her this belly laughs and said thank you – gracias in Spanish – and the whole church erupted in applause.
So it’s also being open to those spontaneous unpredictable moments. But all in all it’s about what we were talking about – just connecting as humans and treating this little girl as if she were your daughter or your sister. You know? Kneeling down, talking to her at eye level. And just taking in the moment. And that’s what makes great TV and what makes… What really connects people… Brings them together…
Mark: Right. So what’s the future look like for you, Mariana? Let me redefine… What’s the near future look like? Thinking like 30 years out, in which case none of us has a clue.
Mariana: Book is coming out on June 11th. And I apologize there’s a firetruck in the street below me.
Mark: I hear that.
Mariana: But the future is bright. I am an optimist as somebody who came to America 10 years ago with nothing. And I look at where I am now. Talking to you. This amazing person who inspires so many people.
I have nothing more to say, but the future is bright. And you just have to be open to the people around you. The good energy around you. Be grateful and work really hard.
You know, people often ask me what’s the secret sauce or the secret recipe. And I always say “there is no secret recipe.” the ingredients are hard work and persistence. And a positive attitude.
I think that the future is bright.
Mark: I agree with you. The future is bright, but it will change. So learn to embrace the change. And I think that’s something you’ve naturally done, because of your life experience, and also the way you keep leaning into and reporting on change. It’s important for everyone listening to realize change is inevitable and sometimes it’s swift and even violent.
We’re all humans undergoing it and work together.
Mariana: Absolutely. Somebody said “change is the only constant.”
Mark: Right. Exactly. Awesome.
So “Perfectly You,” out June 11th. Everyone’s going to really enjoy it. And you have a website and I’m kind of curious like why’d you choose the domain or that kind of hashtag golikemariana?
Mariana: Thank you for that question? I also talk about this in the introduction if people are interested. When I started doing this job, especially in English – it was tough in the beginning. The adjustment and the feeling sometimes like you’re swimming against the current. And you’re the only so-and-so in a room. And it’s hard to get your stories out there and to make a name for yourself.
So I started using this hashtag #golikemariana to give myself positive reinforcement in all my social media posts. And it became this hashtag that so many people kind of rallied around and it just reminded myself to keep a positive attitude. Reminded myself with positive takeaways.
So the beautiful thing that I included in the book was I didn’t just want it to be a memoir of things that have happened in my life. I really want your listeners, the readers to take away from every chapter. And to have these positive takeaways to apply in their own lives. So every chapter has a golikemariana, one or two takeaways and that is one of the most beautiful, I think, things in this book. Is that I want… I’m not interested in knowing what makes me perfectly me… I am interested in discovering what is going to make every single person who reads this book, every single person who is listening, and you Mark what makes you perfectly you. And I’m interested in hearing what that is. And having you share it. And applaud you as you do that.
Mark: Thank you. So now you’ll interview me, and I’ll tell you all about it.
Mark: (laughing) And I love those little hashtags. Those are like tweetable little bites, too. I think that’s what we’ll do. We’ll pick out some of those golikemariana
Mariana: What’s your platform of choice?
Mark: I don’t know. Twitter and Facebook. So we’re definitely going to social media this book when it comes out and that’s about as much as I know about social media. Cause I’m still like a caveman when it comes… I’m a Navy SEAL who doesn’t want to get his hands digitally dirty. So I don’t use them myself, even though we have a pretty big platform.
And I don’t watch TV. I do obsessively use my iPhone, though. So I got to work on that.
At any rate, I’m going down a little rabbit hole. This has been so much fun talking to you, Mariana. I wish we could have met in person.
Mariana: I know. But now I know where to find you.
Mark: Yeah, you know where to find us. You’re welcome anytime.
Mariana: Thank you.
Mark: And I’d love to send you a copy of my books, if you have any interest in reading anytime on a long plane ride.
Mariana: Absolutely. And I will Tweet and Instagram and Facebook it. And also text it to you.
Thank you, Mark. This has been a terrific conversation.
Mark: It’s been really enjoyable. Thank you very much, Mariana. And good luck with everything, and stay safe and keep doing what you’re doing.
Mariana: Amen. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Mark, for your time and your curiosity.
Mark: Yeah, thank you too. And I appreciate it and like I said I’ll be looking out for you. Tracking and someday our lives will cross again.
Okay, all right folks. Thanks for listening. That was fascinating. What a special person, Mariana Atencio. Check out her website www.golikeMariana.com, and go like her on Facebook, and Twitter or whatever else. And check out her book when it comes out. “Perfectly You.” coming out on June 11th.
Thanks also for listening to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Super-appreciate it. And it’s why I keep doing it, because you keep showing up. So Hooyah.
Until next time.