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Former CNN News Anchor Hala Gorani on Taking a Sabbatical Year, and Why the Risk Has Been More Than Worth It

Hala Gorani at home in London

“You’ve definitely seen – and probably ‘liked’ – online inspirational quotes urging you to ditch your routine, follow your passions, and take risks. ‘Life is short’ is the general message behind them, so do not waste time doing a job that doesn’t challenge you, and embrace that belly-churning sensation of jumping into the void. In some ways, I have become a living, breathing incarnation of that genre of social media post: about eight months ago, I stepped away from anchoring my own show on CNN and decided to spend a year working on a book, writing magazine articles, and generally doing whatever the heck I want with my time.

After 25 years anchoring and reporting full time, traveling the globe covering big stories, and always being camera-ready in case of breaking news, my world went from the literal world to my kitchen table, where I am currently writing a memoir due out next year from Hachette Books. I’ve gone from high heels and dresses to, well, slightly more casual outfits that may or may not include furry bunny slippers. I’ve traded buzzing newsrooms for silence. I’ve gone from interviewing prime ministers to interviewing my mom. Everything about my life change can be described as extreme. I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other.

At the Republican National Convention, Cleveland 2016

For most of my career, I was living the (professional) dream. I sacrificed precious time with loved ones because being a journalist was the most important thing in my life. My life centered around gathering and delivering news and the adrenaline rush of anchoring breaking stories. The job – and its demands – was worth leaving other parts of my life unexplored and unfulfilled. I worked holidays when most everyone else at home was with family. More than once, I dropped everything for breaking news: my wedding dress fitting to travel to Paris for the Charlie Hebdo attacks, my own birthday in Peru to cover an earthquake in Chile, a holiday in Mykonos to drive to Lebanon through Syria to report on the Lebanon-Hezbollah war. Then came middle age. The dreaded midway point of life, when your 20s were 25 years ago and when, suddenly, some of your work colleagues are young enough to be your kids. Add to that cocktail the wild roller-coaster of hormones that comes with having reached that stage of life. Oh, how I wish someone had prepared me for the brutality of it all. It wasn’t just the anxiety of not having explored my creative potential, but also the sheer physical and mental meltdowns that perimenopause wreaked on my mind and body.

Hala Gorani in Calais, reporting on the migrant camps

Despite all the chaos, I didn’t drive off a cliff impulsively after a bad hot flash. It took me several years to decide to step away from a job that, from the outside, looked like the pinnacle of success. It also coincided with a period during which breaking news from the Middle East, which was my area of specialty, was taking a back seat to other big stories. I was not being asked to travel as often and my day-to-day responsibilities were increasingly tied to the studio. This combination of factors gave me the courage to make the leap.

Adapting to this new reality has been much easier than I thought. For starters, I am extremely busy working on a book about identity and belonging. As a woman of Arab origin born in America, raised mainly in France, and having spent almost my entire adult life working on camera for CNN, the question of where I truly fit in has been a consistent one throughout my life. Secondly, I had mentally prepared myself for this new adventure, which I see as more of a prologue than a closing chapter. I made sure I could afford it and that none of it was done in haste.

In Lebanon, reporting on Syrian refugees

Finally, I am doing this while I am still young (ish). I have not retired from TV; I’m taking a needed break from a quarter century of driving pedal to the metal. In the meantime, I keep writing, developing concepts for documentaries, articles, and podcasts. This keeps me humble and nimble as I have to pitch ideas to people I’ve never met and accept that, as a freelancer, not everyone is as excited about what I’m offering as I am. I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. It’s not. An editor I pitched a story to about returning to a home in St Louis, Missouri, where I had spent a couple of years as a child, told me his magazine ‘already has an Arab American in the rust belt’ piece it was considering and that mine might be too similar. He never even asked to read the article.

It may sound crazy to some, but I’m thankful that I am navigating this new unpredictable world. I’m taking risks. I’m being bold. With that comes some rejection, but also great rewards. Oh dear, am I starting to sound like a meme? Maybe all these inspirational quotes are popular because there is a risk-taker in all of us who just needs a little nudge to wake up and take a chance on a new dream.”

Originally published in the February 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

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