Rene Syler reflects on success, failure, and persistence

Rene Syler knows a little something about perseverance. So it was no surprise she was invited to speak at an on-campus event celebrating the dedication and persistence of Sacramento State students.

Syler was co-host of CBS News’ The Early Show in 2006 when she announced on-air that, because of her family’s history of breast cancer, she had made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy. Later that year, she was fired from the show. She underwent the surgery just five weeks later.

In May, she returned to her alma mater to speak at the annual DEGREES Project Recognition event, which celebrated graduating students and their families.

“When they asked me to come and speak at this event and said they were looking for me to talk about persistence, I thought, ‘I wish I had all the answers,’ because there really aren’t any real answers to that except three words: Just keep going,” Syler says. “The times that I’ve wanted to quit, just when I wanted to quit I’ve been buoyed by some amazing success, and then I would have this amazing success and just when I thought I could rest on my laurels, I would have this incredible failure.”

“Just keep going” is an apt motto for Syler, who attended Sacramento State in part to be near her ailing father so she could care for him. She spent her college years juggling school and family obligations, then established herself as a top journalist before completely reinventing herself and publishing a book on motherhood.

“When I was let go from CBS, I made the decision that I was never going to let anybody upend my life like that, I was never going to let anybody hold my entire life and career in their hands again,” she says. “I was going to have more control.”

Born in Illinois, Syler moved to Sacramento as a child with her family, graduating from Del Campo High School and then attending American River College. After a brief stint in Southern California, she moved back home to attend Sacramento State.

Syler recalls the campus as “very nurturing” and one that provided a “global education” that helped broaden her outlook and prepared her for life after graduation.

“I really had to grow up and take on a lot of responsibility,” she says. “The expectation was that I would do well. Certainly there were people who shored me up and made sure that I did well, but at the end of the day it was on me to get the work done.”

Her plan after graduation was to get her master’s degree in psychology, but then she read about Liz Walker, who at the time was the highest-paid African American woman news anchor in the nation. Always a strong writer and communicator, Syler took a couple of journalism classes outside of Sacramento State and landed an internship at local TV station Channel 40. That internship eventually led to a job and, after stops in Reno, Birmingham, Ala., and Dallas, she became co-host of The Early Show in 2002.

“The degree in psychology was important but it was not just about psychology, it was about getting a degree in life,” Syler says. “I always say that the degree in psychology made me perfectly suited to go into television.”

Over the course of her career, Syler has interviewed her share of big celebrities, including Beyoncé, Prince, John McCain, Ben Affleck, and Antonio Banderas. In particular, she recalls a warm encounter with former First Lady Barbara Bush and former President George H.W. Bush at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, shortly after she had left CBS.

“I introduced myself and (Barbara) said, ‘Oh, George, don’t you remember Rene from The Early Show?’ And it was just so sweet and genuine, and that was the kind of person she was. I felt grateful to have those kinds of experiences.”

Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting, was published in 2007, and Syler calls it her “missive on modern motherhood, born of the fact that, this is who I was. I really was just good enough. I was just a good enough mother and somehow my kids survived.” Away from the journalism career she had spent so many years building, she now was forced to market herself, creating and cultivating her personal brand. The book’s companion website offers tips and information on a variety of topics, including career, health, and family, as well as an “Ask Rene” advice section.

Syler also has continued her television work, hosting Sweet Retreats on the Live Well Network and Exhale on Aspire, as well as appearing on programs such as The Today Show, CNN Headline News, and The View. A former track athlete, she also competes in “warrior dash” and “mud-run” events, and co-owns a women’s fitness company.

Everything she has experienced has given Syler an appreciation for taking the long view and recognizing that there will be both heartbreaking failures and tremendous successes, something she emphasized when she spoke at Sacramento State.

“It really has to be based on the course of a lifetime, and if you look at it like that, that you’re in it for the long haul, it’s all going to come out OK,” she says. “It will not be what you think it will be, but it will be OK. And you know what? In some cases, better than OK.”

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