'High school dropout' to 'storyteller': How this TV reporter ditched the negative labels that held her back

Debra Alfarone is an award-winning national TV reporter, but she says she used to have a different label: "high school dropout."
Debra Alfarone
Debra Alfarone recommends a simple four-step process to build confidence, or what she calls: 'How to GTFO of your own way.'Photo credit: Candace Boissy
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By Julie Compton

You have a New Year's resolution, but do you have the confidence to achieve it? If you want a new you for the New Year, you need a new label, according to Debra Alfarone, an on-camera confidence coach who lives in Washington, D.C. She says the labels we put on ourselves are just as important as the steps we take to transformation.

Alfarone is an award-winning national TV reporter and business owner, but she says she used to have a different label: "high school dropout."

"I never thought I could go after my dream," says Alfarone, who dropped out of high school when she was a student in Hicksville, New York, where she grew up. "That just wasn't part of my world, and so I wore these labels of 'high school dropout,' 'not good enough' and then physical labels, like 'not pretty enough,' 'not skinny enough' — just really harsh and ridiculous, in retrospect, labels."

Debra Alfarone reporting in front of the White House.Photo credit: Adrian Kill

Despite having gone on to earn her GED and, eventually, a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Alfarone was stuck with the "high school dropout" label. She kept it a secret until 2015, when she came out about it in a TEDx Talk, "Confessions of a TV Reporter."

Later, Alfarone got a job with a credit card company on Wall Street. After she witnessed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, her perspective changed, and she realized she wasn't living the life she truly wanted. So she quit to pursue a new path: TV reporting.

To get there, she gave herself a new label: "storyteller."

Alfarone repeatedly called up New York news agencies and persuaded them to give her jobs without any news experience. After she worked her way up through a series of entry-level positions, her persistence paid off. In time, she landed her first major reporting role at WPIX-TV News in New York. In 2012, she was hired as a reporter and anchor at WUSA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Washington.

Alfarone is now a national reporter for CBS Newspath, for which she recently covered the impeachment of President Donald Trump. She said it wasn't until she ditched the negative labels holding her back that she was able to reach for her dream.

"I feel like if I can do this, anyone can do anything," says Alfarone, who coaches TV journalists, entrepreneurs and business leaders to be confident.

If you want to overcome the labels that are holding you back in the new year, Alfarone recommends this simple four-step process to build confidence, or what she calls: "How to GTFO of your own way."

1: Get real

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Get real about the labels you wear that are holding you back, says Alfarone. What are two or three labels you routinely give yourself? Write them down, determine which ones are holding you back and scratch them off your list.

"As a high school dropout, as someone who thought they weren't good enough, who picked up these labels from society, from my parents, from school, from the world, I thought that I could only be a couple of things. I didn't realize that I could be anything in life," Alfarone says.

"Rather than doing that," she says, "I had to take responsibility and look at myself and say: 'I have to get real about this. I have to get real about the labels that I'm wearing and the role I'm playing in keeping myself small.'"

2: Triumphs

List your accomplishments from 2019, says Alfarone, and refer to them often to remind yourself you're capable of great things.

"There are amazing things we've all done, and those are the straight-up hits-you-in-the-face facts — can't take that away," she says.

If your label doesn’t scare you or push you out of your comfort zone, then I’m going to tell you to go back to the drawing board and get a new label.

Debra Alfarone

#3: Freedom to choose

Choose a new label that's going to push you to accomplish your resolution, says Alfarone. Most important, make sure it's a label that scares you. "No great growth comes from being in your comfort zone," she says.

Alfarone, who is writing a self-help book based on her experience, is giving herself a new label that aligns with her resolution for 2020: "New York Times Bestselling Author."

"If your label doesn't scare you or push you out of your comfort zone, then I'm going to tell you to go back to the drawing board and get a new label," she says.

4: Own it

Ask yourself how you would show up in the world if you were your new label. What would you wear? Whom would you call? What would you ask for? Try on that new label and embody it every day, says Alfarone.

For example, when Alfarone started her coaching business last year, she was working from her Washington apartment. She realized that if she was going to give herself the label "business owner," she needed to act the part. So she paid for a membership at a coworking space, "even though I wasn't sure if that would be a good financial move," she says.

"I mean, I would be spending more money every month, and I would be committing to that for a year," she says.

But she says the risk paid off.

"As soon as I did it and showed up here dressed every day, coming to the events they have here, holding business meetings here, it really did shift a lot of things in my business, in that I make the money now to be able to pay for that," she says. "So I've brought on more clients with just the way that I'm being and owning it."

Alfarone says she used GTFO to build a successful career doing what she loves: telling stories.

"I know what it's like to have the odds stacked against you," says Alfarone. "I know what it's like to be a throwaway, and if I can do what I've done, anyone can do anything they set their mind to."

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