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How Television Host Jane Pauley Took Control of Her Career and Mental Health

She created her own opportunities and learned to manage her bipolar disorder

spinner image Jane Pauley poses for portrait at The 45th Daytime Emmy Awards
Jane Pauley, 69
Michael Bezjian/Getty Images for The Artists Project

My husband [Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau] used to joke and call it the revolving door. There goes Jane, she's out and, oops, she's back again. That's truly the story of my life. In 1989, I marched out the door at the Today show and came back in as host of NBC's Dateline. After 11 years as cohost of that program, I decided to do something different, and NBC found a way to give me a daytime talk show. That didn't last long. I was opposite Oprah! And for sure, I thought TV was over for me. Those four years were the sitting-on-the-couch years. But that's when I created an opportunity, with AARP as a sponsor, and, yes, returned to the Today show with a monthly segment called “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life,” which led to a best-selling book of the same name. And when that TV job ended, it took me in a roundabout way to my current dream job, on Sunday Morning.

spinner image New York, NY: Jane Pauley told Today audience she was leaving the show to start a prime-time news program for NBC and she regretted reports of fighting with colleagues Bryant Gumbel and Deborah Norville
Bettmann Archive

The Fall: High-profile departures from the Today show, Dateline and her daytime talk show left her wondering if she'd work in TV again.

The Comeback: In her third successful year as host of the CBS News juggernaut Sunday Morning, Pauley practically holds the patent on reinvention.

I learned a word recently—"reify,” which is to make an abstract idea concrete. Over the years, I've become an expert at reification. You get an idea, you develop it, you do it. My son Tom would see me sitting on the sofa in the years when I wasn't working. He was in his early 20s at the time and he sent me a beautiful email, the gist of which was: “Mom, it's time to make something happen.” That really struck me, this idea of having a sense of agency and ownership of my life; that in my 50s and beyond, I could create an opportunity, I could be entrepreneurial. Until then, I had seen myself as lucky. I was saying yes to opportunities, which I do recognize as a strength. But getting off the couch meant taking charge of my life and decisions, and that's when things got really interesting. OK, things aren't working? Make something happen, Jane!

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Another line that stayed with me came from actor Michael J. Fox. I'd interviewed him over the years, and he asked if he could be my final interview on Dateline, which was a huge compliment. I noticed that Parkinson's disease wasn't slowing him at all: He was working on a television pilot, he and his wife had had a fourth child, and he'd raised $17 million that year for Parkinson's research. I said to him, “Boy, if it were me, I'd be relaxing and conserving my energy.” Which is when Michael interrupted and said, “Conserving your energy for what?”

Little did he know how much those words meant. Twenty years ago, I became bipolar after being treated for a pernicious form of hives. Doctors didn't know what caused the hives, and the powerful steroids and antidepressants that should have helped actually triggered mania and depression. It would have been easy to say, I'm going to sit things out—but what for? I have been diligent about staying on the medications that help me. I make sure I get lots of sleep. I also opened up about my mental health issues as an advocate for others—writing about it, speaking about it. I don't know what will happen if the revolving door pushes me out again, but I recognize it's up to me to stay off the couch, to speak out and to always share my energy rather than conserve it.

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