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- On December 6, 2022
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- author, broadcast, Business, journalism, professional speaker, senior, success, television
Award-winning journalist, author, and television host Joan Lunden recounts her youth spent traveling around the world, the “low and slow” approach to broadcast, Tony Robbins helping her out of her public speaking fear, and battling cancer and taking control of her own narrative, plus the behind the scenes drama of leaving Good Morning America, playing the long game, and special guest appearances by Prince William and Kate Middleton, Prince Charles, Mary Tyler Moore, Steve Martin, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, and more.
An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, television host, and motivational speaker, Joan Lunden has been a trusted voice in American homes for more than 40 years. For nearly two decades, Lunden greeted viewers each morning on Good Morning America making her the longest running female host ever on early morning television.
Lunden continues to be one of America’s most recognized and trusted personalities which has made her a sought-after speaker for events across the country. As an ardent health & senior advocate, Lunden has testified before the Food and Drug Administration advocating mandatory mammogram reporting and the Congressional House Ways and Means Committee advocating for the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Lunden is the host of the host the PBS television series, Second Opinion with Joan Lunden and the Washington Post Podcast series, Caring for Tomorrow on the future of healthcare. Lunden is also the ambassador to the Poynter Institute’s MediaWise for Seniors program which educates individuals over 50 on media literacy – separating fact from fiction online. Recently, Lunden joined the faculty of Lehigh University as a visiting professor in their College of Health teaching Population Health and the Media.
As a part of the sandwich generation, Lunden’s demographic is far-reaching. She is a mother of 7 including two sets of teenage twins. Like many Boomers in America she has juggled being a working mom while caring for an aging parent, and brings this experience to her role as the spokesperson for the nation’s leading senior referral service, A Place for Mom, a company helping caregivers and families find the right care and resources for their loved ones.
Lunden also encourages Americans to ensure that they have adequate medical insurance coverage to protect their health and wellbeing as spokesperson for the Assurance Medicare Advantage program.
One of the most visible women in America, Lunden has graced the covers of more than 60 magazines and book covers. Lunden’s newest book, Why Did I Come into This Room: A Candid Conversation About Aging quickly became a New York Times Best Seller.
In June of 2014, Lunden was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. An eternal optimist, she turned her diagnosis into an opportunity to become an advocate and help others. She chronicled her experience in her memoir Had I Known. Lunden continues to interact with American’s daily on her website, Joanlunden.com as well as her social media platforms. Lunden has served as national spokesperson for various organizations such as the American Heart Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, American Lung Association, American Red Cross, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Colon Cancer Alliance.
Joan Lunden’s books include Why Did I Come into This Room: A Candid Conversation About Aging; Had I Known; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregiving; Growing Up Healthy: Protecting Your Child From Diseases Now Through Adulthood; Wake-Up Calls; A Bend in the Road is Not the End of the Road; Joan Lunden’s Healthy Living; Joan Lunden’s Healthy Cooking; Mother’s Minutes; Your Newborn Baby; and Good Morning, I’m Joan Lunden.
Learn more at JoanLunden.com.
The Action Catalyst is presented by the Southwestern Family of Companies. With each episode, the podcast features some of the nation’s top thought leaders and experts, sharing meaningful tips and advice. Learn more at TheActionCatalyst.com, subscribe below or wherever you listen to podcasts, and be sure to leave a rating and review!
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(Transcribed using A.I. / May include errors):
Intro: On today’s show host, Adam Outland is joined by award-winning American journalist, author, and television host Joan Lunden. Joan was co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America from 1980 through 1997, making her the longest running female host ever on early morning television.
She is also the author of 12 books and is currently a special correspondent for NBCs Today, as well as host of the PBS program. Second Opinion Two fun facts about Joan. Her birth name is actually Joan Blendon, but she changed it because it sounded too close to the word blunder. Also, Joan is a pro wrestler.
Not exactly, but she was presented the WWE’S second Annual Warrior Award at the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony for her unwavering strength and perseverance in the face of her battle with cancer. We hope you enjoy hearing from True Warrior Joan Lunden.
Joan Lunden: Hey there. How you doing Adam?
Adam Outland: Doing well. How about yourself?
Joan Lunden: I am doing great, thank you.
Adam Outland: Oh my gosh. So, so how did you get into the whole world of media?
Joan Lunden: You know, growing up as a little girl, I thought for sure I’d be a doctor. My dad was a doctor. He used to take me on rounds at the hospital sometime in the late afternoon and proudly introduce me and say, my daughter Joanie was gonna be a doctor when she grows up.
And I really thought I was gonna be. And then the summer before going away to college, I worked, I went to work in hospital and I found out really quick that scalpels and stitches were not gonna be part of my career. So I like went into college and majored in psychology, figuring that’s about as close as I’m ever going to get to medicine.
And I, I skipped a couple grades, so I was 16 years old when I went away to college, and my mom was like, I’m not letting the 16 year old go to uc, Berkeley, ucla, Stanford. And she heard about this floating campus. It’s now called Semester at Sea. Oh. At that time it was called World Campus Afloat, and she put this together and came to me and said, this is what you’re doing your freshman year in college.
We visited 15 countries, you know, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, west Africa, Cape Town and Durban, South Africa, east Africa, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and China, and then back to la. And I have to tell you, that changed me as person. It changed my. It changed my outlook on the world and all of a sudden, like my world was so much bigger and that was my mom’s whole intention besides keeping me off the pot filled free love, free sex burn your bra campus.
And boy did she accomplish that . Oh, and then finally came back. Get sirs. Go back to California State University of Sacramento. Get your degree. One night, a friend who was an ad salesman for the local NBC affiliate came over for dinner and he said, you really ought to consider television news. Now, this was at a time, this was 1974.
There were very many women on television, not on local, not on network. I mean, I could have so let that passing comment go. Yeah. But the next morning I picked up the phone and I made a cold call to the news director at that station. And I managed to get an interview and I asked him a ton of questions at which point he said, well, clearly you know how to write an interview.
And he took me into the studio and he auditioned me and this guy followed me out and it was the weatherman at the station. And he said, I just watched your audition. I was behind the set getting the weather maps ready for the new news. And you know, there are a few stations around America who. Putting weather girls on and I’d like to make you Sacramento’s first weather girl.
And I knew nothing about the weather. However, thank God, somehow I knew an opportunity when I heard it. And so that’s how I got my start. And I got my start doing the weather. I was so nervous when I started. I remember the man, he turned around me one day and he said, you’re like a little one of those little wind up dolls that little girls get.
And you wind them up and they say, hi, my name is Barbie, or, You’re like one of those little dolls, he said, because you get so nervous that you constrict your vocal chords. That’s what happens when you get nervous, and what it does is you talk faster and faster, the optic goes up. He said, every time you are getting ready to go on air, I want you to do this.
Take a breath and think low and slow. And I’ve never forgotten those words. . But I’m gonna tell you that making the transition from in front of the camera to in front of an audience, that was a challenge for me. So I spent 20 years there in the studio, you know, on gma, and every now and then people would ask me to come and give a speech and I would do anything to get out of that.
And I would get so undone, so nervous to be in front of a live audience. So what I. I signed up with Tony Robbins, huh. Doing two speeches a month and I mean, he books these huge venues. I remember the first one was in Detroit where they, you know, the Pistons play basketball. This gigantic stadium, 22,000 people.
I barely remember walking on stage. I mean, it was almost surreal. And you know, Tony, I think took it on as his own personal thing. Little by little. At first I was like behind the podium with all my script right there and somebody running the teleprompter. Then little by little said, instead of using that kind of mic, let me put this mic on you and I’m gonna have your copy on all of the TV cameras around the stage so you can actually.
Get out from behind the podium and little by little he weaned me off of that. And one day I came in and I just did a speech. What I would do is I would walk in and say hi, and I’d talk a little bit and then I’d take questions and that started to get me at ease in front of a thousand people asking questions.
Adam Outland: So partnering with Tony, he brought you in as a speaker, but you got some kind of coaching advice along the way about. Pull yourself out from behind the box.
Joan Lunden: You know, I think all the coaching I got from him was almost him. Role modeling, role model. Like I never went in and had a private coaching session with Tony, even though I know he does it with everybody.
I was backstage with him and backstage, he would jump up and down and he would be doing this whole thing and he would literally be stoking himself up to a frenzy. Yeah. And then when it was his turn to go on, man. Burst onto that stage and that sense of enthusiasm and effervescence and a wonderment of the day and confidence he exuded.
That’s exciting. Yeah. And I learned from him that that’s really important. And you know, every morning before I went on the air, when I, before I left my dressing room, What did I do? I looked in the mirror and I smiled, and I captured that little twinkle in my eye so that when it came around a 7 0 1, that I would be saying Good Morning America.
I knew that my demeanor, my exuberance for life, my positive vibes. Would probably affect that person even before whatever the information, whatever the news was that I had to deliver.
Adam Outland: And it’s so interesting, one of the questions we always ask guests is, describe some of your major pivot points, and I feel like one of the other pivot points for you later in your career was the, obviously the, the bout with cancer.
Joan Lunden: Yeah, but again, I gotta tell you, Adam, I mean, it’s probably the attitude that I brought to that moment in time that most affected the outcome. You know, when I remember I was at Crossroads at one point before we get to cancer that I, I was still a good at, at Eyewitness News in New York. I was an anchor and reporter.
Local news and I was also working Good Morning America. So yeah, I was playing both ends at the middle. GMA had made me a bunch of offers to come on board, but they always included doing commercials and I was afraid that if I did that it would affect my career as a journalist going forward. But over at Eyewitness News, they thought, ah, she’s not loyal to us anymore. You know, she’s the big times got her. I could feel that they weren’t writing me into the script of their future. Yes. And I put my big girl pants on and I called the president of abc, Elton Rule, and I got an appointment and I went into him and. Told him about the situation and the next day I got the offer from GMA to be host.
And I don’t think it would’ve happened had I not made that somewhat ballsy call. Sure. Each pivot point. And when I got diagnosed with cancer, I’m not gonna tell you that at the beginning it was like it’s hard to even call a friend and say, I gotta tell you something. I have cancer. But I knew I’d been this like health.
For years writing books, and I had this feeling like I was letting people down. And then about maybe 24 hours in, I had this epiphany and I said, I always wanted to be a doctor. You just got dropped in your lap. Kind of an opportunity to do that. He was a cancer surgeon. Like you can go out, learn everything that you possibly can about this disease and educate other women, like grab ahold of the baton and run at the rest of the way to the finish line.
And all of a sudden I went from being a victim. Hmm. To being an advocate, which is a person of strength, that’s gonna help others. You have to get in front of the story. Otherwise, tablets are gonna have you dying in like two months. Yeah. But when you’re in a public eye, and particularly when you followed this.
Kind of health advocacy career path. The minute I got that done, Adam, the minute I got in front of it and it became my story to tell, yeah, it just changed the entire cancer battle, you know, in the most positive way.
Adam Outland: Because you got to narrate your own story.
Joan Lunden: And everybody can take a lesson from that because you need to grab ahold of your own narrative.
I was, I was thinking about this and preparing for you. You know, when I left gma, I did not leave in my own volition. The higher ups at that moment, the guy in charge thought, oh, we should have somebody younger. So this, you know, younger, 30 year old version of the 47 year old me was coming in and I thought, boy, they could, they are really setting themselves up here for basically doing Deborah Norville, replacing Jane Poll.
You might remember that the younger girl coming in to replace the older woman. The audience hated that. So what did I do? I picked up the phone and I called the president of the network and I said, we need to have a talk because this can go two ways. I can either be the person that you’re kicking outta the seat for a younger woman, and that’s not really gonna go well for you.
But I also recognize that that won’t go well for me. And for anybody leaving a company, I know it might feel like you wanna get that last word, you wanna get the last licks. You wanna tell ’em why you really think that they stink. But the thing to do is to go in and say, I think you guys are great. I’ve learned so much here.
I’m so happy it was such a valuable time to me, and I wish you guys great success. Leave letting them think that they’re heroes because what the only thing you care about or should care about really is the long game. Where do you wanna be in a year and five years? In 10 years, if you burn a bridge, they’re not gonna talk nice about you.
And in the case of me, how did I want other networks or shows or brands to, how did I want them to think of me? I wanted them to think of me as someone who’s held or head high. I said, I’m not even, I won’t even tell everybody that you’re replacing. I’ll say, I’m leaving in my own volition, and by the way, I am saving you a huge crisis.
Oh, for sure. And so we came to an agreement, we shook hands, and that’s how I left. Oh, and by the way, that 30 year old version of me only made it five months and 28 days. The show went from first to third, and it took him 17 years to get back to number one. Not that I’m count. Not that I’m keeping track or anything.
I’m just saying Yeah, that took him a while.
Adam Outland: So you’ve interviewed and seen so many personalities in your years in television. Is there a person that you’ve always wanted to meet or interview but haven’t?
Joan Lunden: Well, really it was Princess Diana and of course that could never happen again, but I did.
I covered the wedding of Diana to Prince Charles. And then I covered Fergie’s wedding and then I covered Diana’s death. And then I later, like a few years ago, my executive producer who brought me to Good Morning America was at Fox News and he called me one day and said, you know, we got this wedding coming up, a Prince William and Kate Middleton and I looked around the Fox newsroom today and I’m not sure if there’s anybody over 30.
So he said, I need someone to come over here and give us some historical perspective. And I said, no, no, no. I’ve got a million things going on. I said, 30 days, that’s all I’m asking you for. 30 days. So I said yes, and I went over and I, and so I went to London and I did all the, the, the difference between Diana and Kate Middleton and all of that.
And I interviewed Prince Charles. On one of his very rare trips to the United States. Years ago, at the time Jane Polly was hosting today, I was hosting GMA and Diane Sawyer was hosting CVS Morning at the time. Yeah. Each network could send one person and the three of us went. They gave you all these rules.
Don’t extend your hand before he extends his, you call him your royal majesty to begin with. And sir, thereafter, and I mean all these rules like you walked in, you felt like you had to be like, you know, patting your head, rubbing your stomach, don’t snit before he sits and. Don’t ask anything about Prince Andrew and this horn star, basically.
Oh my God. And there was a whole big thing going on. It was a big scandal. And don’t ask anything about that. So, of course we, and they had us draw straws to see who would go first. So Diane Sori went first. Four questions in, she asked. About the porn star. So she didn’t get much after that. I came last. And I’ve learned, and other people can use this, if you wanna know something, if you won’t get to get someone to talk, if you say, you know, everybody’s really taking you to task on blah, blah, blah.
No, no, no. Cuz they’re not gonna, you’re not gonna get the right answer, you’ll get the right answer. If you say, I was really interested in how you came up with blah, blah, blah, tell me how you came up with. They’ll talk to you forever. Yeah. You’ll get the answer. So with Prince Charles, I started with, you’re here in the United States opening the school, which was a project that your mentor, Lord Mount Batten started.
And I know he meant so much to you, you know, tell me about that. That’s all he wanted to talk about. And you know, let me, Yeah. So in light of that, what was your education like because you went to a private school, you know, you were away from your parents, away from your family, and that got me to say, so does that now influence, do you think on what kind of education you want for your child?
To which he then addressed and I’d say, and how is Diana and William, I got there. Like I got there. Yeah. But you have, you have to take the person by the hand and walk them gently down the path to get to that answer that you want. If you come out with both barrels loaded, you’re never gonna get the answer you want.
Adam Outland: People’s favorite subject is themselves, but you, you’ve gotta approach it in a light where they wanna. Yeah. And that is a real craft of be able to build rapport and trust and a conversation.
Joan Lunden: And you know, it’s interesting because sometimes it’s intimidating talking to somebody who’s, I’m not gonna say higher up the food chain, but somebody who’s intimidating to you.
Absolutely. And I can remember a number of times. Yeah, I was the host of Good Morning America, but Mary Tyler Moore just walked into the studio. I watched her all the time growing up and I was like so nervous to go down there, interview her. So she was, and she was like standing and I walked down to the other side at the other end of the set and she came up to me and said, I’m so nervous.
I watch you guys every. I was like, what? I mean it’s always important to remember that they get up and brush their teeth in the morning and put on their, you know, their left shoe and their right shoe just like we do. And they have their own idiosyncrasies and their own self doubts. And some of the biggest stars would come on and really be nervous as hell.
I mean, Steve Martin used to be so nervous and we expected him to be funny and he wasn’t always that funny when he wasn’t like on stage and almost resented you expecting them to be funny. I remember Michael Bolton the first time he came on, oh my God, he was so nervous. It was right before Time Love and Tenderness came out.
And before that he was somewhat unknown. Yeah. And he was so nervous and so I went out and like really like, you know, was kind of handholding with him and got him. Told him what I was gonna talk to him about, kind of walked him through it and you know, you can make somebody comfortable just with your eyes and your body language.
To me, that was a huge part of being able to host a morning show where people maybe haven’t eaten breakfast. They had an extra cup of coffee that they don’t usually have. They’re nervous, they’re under the bright lights. Our job was not only to write, ask the right questions, it was to be able to help them.
And, you know, consequently, Michael became a best friend, um, when he, when he launched his big charity for women and children at Risk. You know, went on his board and have hosted all the events. You know, like people come back, Celine Dion, I did the same thing with her. Nobody knew who Celine Dion was, and she was so nervous and they said, go in the, go in the green room, calm her down.
And I went in and she said, well, I don’t speak English that well. I, and so I, I did the same thing with her. And, you know, so she invited me on tour with her to do Behind Closed Doors later. Another show I did, she came and sang to me on my last day at Good Morning America. You know these people who are very big stars, like when they’re in the beginning, they’re also nervous.
Adam Outland: Yeah. And, and remember they’re human. Yeah. I love that. Yeah. You know, when I think of one kind of personal question I would ask, I came from two, uh, opera singers as parents.
Joan Lunden: You sing thing in the shower in the car?
Adam Outland: Yeah. The car and the, and the shower is, uh, those are the only things that get to hear my voice, but, and I remember asking my mom, Like, what did you do to be successful?
And she’d always kind of say it was up to, you know, there’s a big luck factor in the arts for her, in her mind, right? That you have to be at the right place in the right time. And I always try and drill down to that because I knew there there’s gotta be more and she’s being humble. But what are the things that you do and the type of career you’ve had?
Good morning America. There’s so many people who would love to to make it there, but maybe they started at their local TV station and never broadened their scope. What helps you get lucky?
Joan Lunden: It’s not just luck. It’s not just luck. I mean luck sometimes is a part of it, but luck is kind of where training meets opportunity becomes luck.
First of all, you have to be open to opportunities. People hear opportunities all the time and they think, well, that’s pretty cool. What for someone else, You gotta be open to them and they’re not always labeled. So you have to have a sense that no matter how well you’re doing, where you are, that you have the capacity to think about and expect maybe something even bigger and better.
Better to happen. I mean, it has to start there, I think inside you. And then you have to be open to the opportunity and then you have to position yourself. Like young people today often ask me, um, when they’re first starting out, and I. Are you kidding? You live in a world where you can brand yourself.
First of all, go on Instagram and Facebook and clean it all up and take all the pictures off of in college with your bong and then like create a website. Start a podcast, do something that. Whatever field you want to go into so that when you go for that first job you say, well, I’ve really been interested in this for a long time and I’ve done this, this, and this.
Take. You can take a look in this world, you can go on LinkedIn and you can find out. The person that’s going to interview you and find out so much about them, you can find out what that company is planning, what their issues are, what their strategy is, and then you can ruminate about that and go in with ideas.
We couldn’t do that 30, 40 years ago, and I was a young person starting out, but that opportunity exists today.
Adam Outland: You didn’t have those tools to research, but they do now. Yeah. I love that. In that same vein, what advice would you, knowing everything that you know, that this incredible career that you developed, if you went back to that 21 year old that had gotten back from Semester at Sea, what little advice could you possibly have given to yourself knowing and having the perspective that you have now?
Joan Lunden: As self confident as I was, and I swear sometimes I think back on that and in amazement that I had the tenaciousness to get on a plane in San Francisco and fly off to go around the world. Or I guess I’ve always had, you know, a pretty good self confidence, which probably comes from my upbringing and my parents instilling that in me and instilling the, the desire and the expectation that that I should expect to work.
And make a mark in the world and do big things. I, I, I just think though, that you have that hard work. I mean, you know, no one’s ever going to get anywhere without understanding that you had put in a lot of hard work. I think not standing on your own laurels. I think loyalty. Your boss needs to feel that you’re loyal to this company and that you’re, you buy in a hundred percent.
And, and if you ask anybody about me that’s worked with me over the years, they will tell you that I was really low maintenance. I was not, uh, what do you call it, A primadonna. Um, the only mistake I made was when I. Took the donuts out of the green room when I first went to GMA and replaced them with toast and bagels and everybody says, where’s the damn donuts?
Get ’em back in here. . But I mean, I always showed up. I never ruffled feathers. Um, now saying that, I’ll tell you this, when the show’s over, I was a working mom, so. Do my work and do my, you know, after the show I would fly to Washington, interview a senator, fly back, do a few other interviews, and then go home for dinner.
But I didn’t go in after the show every day like my male counterparts. And by the way, can we just talk about that for a second? I was sitting in Eyewitness News, getting my story ready for the, for six o’clock was about five 30 phone rings. It’s my. We just got the offer for you to be co-host. Good Morning America.
Awesome. We’ll call you after the show like 20 minutes later. Phone rings in my little cubicle. It’s my gynecologist. I’m so thrilled to tell you that you’re pregnant with your first baby. Like dilemma, what am I gonna do? Are they still gonna want me? And ABC and I walked into that path and figured it out and I have to hand it to abc.
They had decided on me, there’s nothing that could have do, done the year before a law had been passed that said, you can’t, uh, release somebody because of pregnancy. Right. It happened in 1979 and this was 1980. So my attorney and my agent immediately said, you don’t have to worry about them resending the offer because they can’t.
So, you know, I went to them and said, I’m gonna give you 150%, but I’m also gonna be a new mom and I’m also gonna be breastfeeding. Which by the way, you could not say breastfeeding on television at that time in 1980, you couldn’t say the word breast . And I said, so I kind of need to bring the baby with me.
And they said, okay. They had. Not a great ending with the previous co-host, and they wanted to get me in that seat. I said, I’m delivering. I delivered 4th of July and they wanted me in that seat August 28th to get ready for the fall announcement of the upcoming season. So when my child was seven weeks old, I scooped her out of the crib and got in the back of that limo and went in.
And they gave me another little dressing room next to mine that had baby Jamie on the door, and I had a baby nurse meet me there some morning. She was late, so I was there with doing hair and makeup with the baby in my arms, you know, that I just, that was like living literally on a new frontier. Mm-hmm.
And just kind of making your way with no role model at all to look at, to. How do I do this? You know? And I, I went to them and said, I’m gonna be here for you. Totally. And, but when there’s a parent conference, I’m gonna be at the parent conference. The parent, there’s a piano resettling gonna be at the piano recital.
So there’s gonna be those little things that we’re gonna have to like, work together. And that’s what every woman has to do. You know, you can’t just come in and say to your boss, fabulous news, I’m pregnant. And then he’s thinking, or she’s thinking, okay, and how am I going to replace you? And then I have to bring you back.
You know, don’t make it their problem. It’s, it’s, it’s your happy news. And then you have to figure out how it’s gonna work into their business.
Adam Outland: A hundred percent. You know, and as we we’re tying up, I wanted to ask to, you know, you, you’ve got so much vitality, And energy that you bring to conversations.
You’ve got so much wisdom that you’ve built up from all your experience. What do you do with that going forward and how you want to continue? Spread your message and, and what you do.
Joan Lunden: I have a show in PBS called Second Opinion with John London. Mm-hmm. another, also another health show, a podcast with the Washington Post called The Future of Medicine.
And there’s a new streaming service coming on called Medi. It kind of looks like Netflix except it’s everything about medical information. Interviews with the leading experts and researchers and doctors in each of the fields. And, uh, I’m gonna be the host of Medix. I just, of course, had my last book. Why did I come into this room?
A candid conversation about aging. It just came out in paperback and uh, I’m in the process of writing my autobiography, so I’ve always got things going on.
Adam Outland: Wow, that is incredible. Uh, how many projects you can juggle and succeed at, at the same time. So I love that life . Yeah. And you’re on the speaker circuit as well.
That’s amazing. Well, listen, you’ve been so generous with your time. Thanks for sharing so much wisdom today and giving us some of those nuggets of what made your career successful and, and giving us a little picture of what’s to come.
Joan Lunden: It was my pleasure. Thanks, Adam.