Maria Celeste Arraras – Host & Managing Editor, Telemundo/NBC's “Red Hot Live with Maria Celeste”
Top Hispanic journalist, Maria Celeste Arraras, says her success secret is integrity. Here’s how it propelled her to the top.
By Taylor Mallory
Knowing “You can have and enjoy it – if you have an unbendable integrity, always do the right thing and follow your principles,” says Maria Celeste Arraras, host and managing editor of Telemundo/NBC’s Red Hot Live with Maria Celeste, Today show guest host and author of Make Your Life Prime Time: How to Have It All Without Losing Your Soul (Atria, 2009).
Sounds a little oversimplified, right? A tad unrealistic? Maybe, but she’s got proof.
After college, Arraras started looking for work in Puerto Rico – and quickly found “there were no journalism jobs there for recent grads.” She took an advertising job until she finally met a man starting a 24-hour news station, “looking for young people without experience but with a lot of passion,” she remembers. “We got paid nearly nothing but he sent us all over the world to cover incredible stories.” Three months in, a competitor, who’d told her he had no time for rookies, offered her a job with three times the audience – and three times the pay. “I decided to stay out of loyalty for this man who gambled on me when no one else would give me a chance.” While she never told her boss what happened, he found out through the grapevine and rewarded her with an assignment to cover the biggest world news story at that time, the fall of the Soviet Union. This resulted in a one-hour special “that won every award you can imagine.” In the summer of 1988, she attended an awards ceremony where she met Jesse Jackson, then a presidential candidate. “He was being followed by all the American media, because he was thinking of giving up but hadn’t made a formal announcement,” she says. She got the exclusive interview with him, infuriating one established news director. But four months later, that man became the news director of Hispanic news station, Univision, in New York – and “the first call he made was to me offering me a news anchor position.”
“I didn’t have to do the right thing. I could have taken the position at the competitor’s station, but I wouldn’t have had experience and opportunities that opened the door to the next open door,” says Arraras. “Everything is interconnected.”
Here she shares more examples – and other career success and balance secrets.
PINK: How has doing the right thing improved your personal life?
Maria Celeste Arraras: I went through a very public divorce. My husband left me with three small children for another woman, whom he married. I decided to embrace the situation. Instead of resenting them, I welcomed her. Instead of being the only warrior in this war, I let go. That was very liberating – and made life better for me and my children. Now they have an extended family. She’s good to my kids, and that’s what really matters to me. I also had an assistant who stole my identity and hundreds of thousands of dollars during my divorce. She was like a sister to me, and that betrayal hurt terribly. But at the end of day, I decided I still needed to trust people. Yes, I learned things. But I won’t let that horrible experience rob me of my faith in humanity. That’s irreplaceable. I know that no matter what other people do, if I do what’s right, the universe will have more positive things in store for me.
PINK: How do you manage your Life/Work balance?
M.C.: I am a single mom with three children (ages 8, 9 and 11). You won’t be perfect at everything you do every single day. Forgive yourself for that. There are so many different aspects of your life that require your attention – and you can only do the most important thing at the time. One day you concentrate on the personal part. One day you have to put 90 percent into your professional life. I just balance from day to day. But sometimes the two need to mix. I’ve been in the middle of covering a breaking news story, when the whole world was in the newsroom. In the meantime, I have my son on the line, upset that he can’t find his video game. Even if there’s a national crisis going on, this is a crisis to him. That’s a special moment I can’t disregard. I have to be able to switch channels and compartmentalize so they don’t feel bad. I always have my BlackBerry in hand. I put in my agenda and my kids’ agendas – which are many times more complex than my own.
PINK: You’re a television journalist but also an author. What is your favorite thing about writing books?
M.C.: When you’re a writer, you’re a writer 24/7. I’m always writing in my mind. Publishing means giving a big part of yourself to others. It lets people get to know you and takes away sense of isolation and loneliness we all have sometimes. I’m very existential so I also see it as to live on after life. This book, for instance, was written partly so that my children will have my advice about life after I’m not here to help them make the right decisions anymore.
PINK: What is your best career advice?
M.C.: Never make decisions based on ego. You will not be successful. It distorts reality so you make decisions based on something not real, and you will make wrong decisions and fail. I’ve known very talented people in this business who got big opportunities then started acting like divas and lost touch with reality. Now, no one knows where they are.
PINK: Were there any barriers you had to overcome because of your gender or ethnicity?
M.C.: I’ve never really felt discriminated against. I think discrimination starts in your head. When you give it energy, you give it validity, and it becomes more tangible. I don’t think of myself as Hispanic or as a woman. I’m a thinking mind. If I go into a boardroom and there are 19 men and me, I just see us all as thinking minds. If you don’t look for it, you usually don’t see it. I had one situation where someone didn’t treat me well because I was a woman, but it was more of a cultural gap than anything. I was in South Korea years ago interviewing a minister. He wouldn’t look into my eyes because he didn’t want to acknowledge a woman in such a way, to give me power. He kept directing stuff to my cameraman instead of me, so I packed to leave. And since he wanted to be interviewed, he had to back peddle and face the fact that he had to do interview with me or not at all.
PINK: How do you define “success”?
M.C.: I think success is a matter of your own perception. You could be perceived as successful but feel like a failure. For me, it is key to be balanced to feel successful. I’ve had times when I’ve been doing wonderful, high-profile things, and everyone thought I was on top of the world. But I didn’t feel successful. Something was lacking. It was all going too fast, and I was sacrificing other things that were important to me. Other times, I feel balanced. And while my career might not be skyrocketing at the time, if I feel good about myself – knowing that I have balance – then I can say that my success has been achieved by doing what was right, not just easy.
PINK: Who or what inspires you most?
M.C.: I think you need to have the self discipline and optimism to inspire yourself. You can’t depend on outside things to inspire you, or the moment you miss that person or that thing you’re not whole. Find the strength from within.
PINK: What do you want to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
M.C.: I don’t think of things in those terms. Rather than setting long-term goals, or super short-term ones, I come up with two or three mid-range goals I want to achieve and then work on those. After that, I take time to breathe and then decide which direction to go next. Right now, I’m promoting the book. Then I’ll take a couple weeks to evaluate where I want to go next. I’ve achieved almost every single goal I’ve set for myself. When you don’t finish something and then start on your next goal, you abandon the things you were almost done with and don’t finish them well. It’s cyclical. When I look into the future, I want to be happy personally and professional and to always be active, but I know you get there step by step.
PINK: What do you do to relax and rejuvenate your spirit?
M.C.: I need to see green to relax. So I go outdoors and like to do adventure travel. I prefer to explore different places and experience new cultures. Sure, I’ve been to Paris, but I’d go to Africa before Paris any day. I’ve swam in underwater caves in Mexico. I’ve been on safaris in Africa. Once, I almost got trampled by an elephant. I’ve been on spiritual journeys in India. I’ve been hiking in Australia. I’ve climbed volcanoes in Guatemala. I usually go on many little trips and then one big one once each year. I’m going somewhere in August, but I’m not sure where yet.
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