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How to be Ready for Anything (When You Can't be Ready for Everything)

A guest appearance on CNN International provides a lesson in adaptability

On April 8th, much of North America was treated to a rare astronomical event, a magnificent solar eclipse that raced across the US, bringing totality to fourteen fortunate states. If you happened to be in one of those states, I hope you had skies that were clear enough to allow to you to experience this incredible cosmic phenomenon. What made this eclipse so unique is that it was the second eclipse to cross the entire United States in the last seven years, a rarity for any nation. In 2017, I was fortunate to experience totality here in Greenville, SC, where I helped organize a sell-out viewing event at Roper Mountain Science Center where I serve as Assistant Director. That day, I was able to witness this heavenly spectacle with almost 3000 visitors from 32 different nations who had gathered on our little mountain. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Interview with Fox and Friends' Janice Dean during our 2017 Solar Eclipse Event

For the 2024 eclipse, Greenville only experienced about 75% coverage of the sun so many of our staff who are well-versed in all things related to an eclipse traveled to one of the states in the path of totality in hopes of experiencing it again. I was one of the few that stayed behind. As eclipse fever began to build across the nation, I was contacted by a producer from CNN International a week before the event who asked if I would be willing to be interviewed live on-air from Roper Mountain during their eclipse coverage. I agreed to help out however I could and we began to make plans for what my participation would look like. At first, we discussed connecting live from our beautiful observatory (home to the 8th largest refractor telescope in North America) or perhaps from our planetarium (the largest planetarium theater in South Carolina). However, because of technical issues, they asked if I would mind making the two hour drive to their studios in Atlanta to be interviewed on set, or perhaps from the roof overlooking the city. Since I'm always up for an adventure or new experience, I agreed. What happened next was a lesson in how to be prepared for anything when you have absolutely no idea what to expect.

Lesson One: Prepare the Best You Can with What You Know

For the next few days after agreeing to go to the studio, I brushed up on all my eclipse knowledge, much of what I'd gained in preparation for our 2017 event. But that was seven years ago. So, I did a deep dive review. Fortunately, much of that knowledge was still tucked away. Although I had no idea what my interview would interview would involve, I figured I should be prepared for any basic questions related to an eclipse. Easy enough. I would lean on what I know and try to pick up a few new nuggets of information to add.

Lesson Two: Visualize and Relax

The morning of the eclipse, I left Greenville before sunrise in order to (hopefully) beat the morning rush in Atlanta, especially since the CNN campus is in the heart of the city. I was excited but also nervous. CNN International has global viewership that is much larger than CNN domestic and the thought of stumbling or freezing on live TV that was broadcast around the world was not something I wanted to entertain. So, I fell back on my pregame/prerace routine I'd developed over the years as a player, coach and runner and that was to put on my favorite playlist of music, pray, meditate and relax. Essentially, don't overthink, don't stress out, visualize being successful and trust that I've prepared the best I can. Leaning into the excitement of a challenge is much better than letting those nervous feelings turn into debilitating thoughts.

Lesson Three: Be Adaptable

When I arrived at the studio, I met with one of the producers who took me through the Run of Show. It was ambitious, frenetic yet organized to be adaptable to changing circumstances. With plans to go live to people from the coast of Mexico to coast of Maine with stops in numerous states in between, it was going to be a jam-packed four broadcast. So where did I fit in? Well, that was still fluid as of an hour before airtime. It was suggested that I would be interviewed four times, once per hour, but they weren't sure where that would be, perhaps on the roof, perhaps on set. "Just be ready," I was told with a smile.

After visiting makeup, I was taken to the set and told to be ready to join the hosts Richard Quest and Rahel Solomon at the desk when directed to do so. No problem. They'd pull up a chair, I'd sit in it, answer a few questions, then go off-screen until the next hour. Got it.

Then, with about one minute to air, one of the directors pulled a chair to the desk next to Rahel, told me to sit there and just answer anything they ask. "Wait," I thought. "This wasn't what we discussed, but okay." Deep breath, sit up straight, and here we go....

For the next four hours, I became a co-host for the entire show, remaining at the desk and answering question after question or being asked to comment on what we were witnessing onscreen throughout the eclipse process for each location they visited, from Mexico to Maine. I didn't have time to be nervous, I had to take those thoughts captive and instead lean into the experience and enjoy the ride. It was one of those moments when adaptability was a necessity. What I'd been told would occur did not, and I was moved from a minor role to a major a moment's notice. What was the lesson? Be able to change when needed. Be flexible and willing to shift on a dime when circumstances demand. Had I not been able to do so, I probably would have frozen up and then blamed the producers for not giving me a heads up. But thankfully, that never crossed my mind.

Lesson Four: Believe in Yourself

When I was invited onto this stage and the role I was asked to play, it could have been easy to second-guess myself or jump into the feeling of imposter syndrome, but that wouldn't have done anyone any good. It became obvious that the producers and the hosts believed that I belonged there just as much as anyone else and after realizing this, and that I actually was the most experienced person there when it came to solar eclipses, I began to believe it myself as well. It didn't matter that I had no major network television experience; I did have experience in speaking in front of others, whether classrooms of 30 students or venues of thousands of conference attendees or spectators. The only person who was ready to stand in my way of making the experience a successful one was myself, and fortunately, I was confident enough in my abilities as a speaker and educator to view the moment as just another presentation. The lesson learned? Never sell yourself short. You're capable of more than you know, if you'll only believe that you are.

After all was said and done, and the show was over, Rahel turned to me and said, "Wow! You did great! It's like you've done this before." I smiled and replied, "I'm a teacher; I have to be able to think on my feet and capture people's attention. It's what we do."

In the end, I am very grateful for such an incredible opportunity and hope to have more like it in the future. Truth be told, it was a lot of fun! But more than just having a great time, I'm grateful for a chance to be reminded that, no matter how well you prepare, things can occur that will seemingly throw that preparation out the window. When that happens, relax, go with the flow and believe that you can handle whatever comes your way. That's a lesson I'll definitely always remember and one that I hope you'll be able to apply to your own circumstances as well.

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