Hoda Kotb, at only 51, has lived enough life for two memoirs. The Emmy-winning Today show cohost already wrote one about her journalism career, relationships, and cancer battle, but her succeeding books focused on others' hearbreaks and triumphs. Her latest, Where We Belong: Journey That Show Us the Way (out January 5, from Simon & Schuster) tells the tale of those who struggled to find their own path, with cameo tales from celebrities like Laila Ali and out comedian Margaret Cho.
The premise may sound lightweight, but the stories pack a punch. Collaborating with her longtime friend Jane Lorenzini, Kotb tells the story of a young woman pulling herself out of poverty, a childless couple who adopt late in life, and an executive who ditched the rat race to start a cohousing community. Kotb says she was inspired to tell the stories because she knows so many people, including herself, who feel they're not doing exactly what they want.
"It was looking at people with awesome lives and wondering, How did they get there?" Kotb says.
Kotb and Lorenzini dug around the Internet and found stories that interested them. Of one of the stories, which describes a wealthy couple who found their life of privilege stifling and searched for more fulfillment, Kotb says, "All of a sudden they realized there's a hole in their lives. We've all felt that. Sometimes you feel like your life is so full and then you make room for one other thing."
Upending your life to suddenly pursue your passion or abandoning relationships to live out Eat, Pray, Love isn't realistic for most, and Kotb knows that.
"I'm hopeful when you read the book, you can say, 'I can't leave my job, but I can spend 10 percent of my time and money going toward the thing I really want to do,'" she says. "Even if I'm not doing it, at least I have my toe in the water. You have a goal, instead of the hamster wheel going in circles."
Even after reporting from war-torn countries and cohosting the last hour of the country's most revered morning show (with Kathie Lee Gifford, of course), there are things that Kotb wants that she hasn't yet achieved. In the book's introduction, she talks about her long desire to open a camp for underprivileged kids.
"I've yearned for kids, but because of illness and divorce I wasn't able to have children," she says. "[The camp] has been a thought, a dream, an idea. [The idea of it] keeps me sane. I don't really want to live my life without kids."
In Cho's chapter, the comedian talks about being bullied in high school by homophobic classmates who wrote "Margaret Cho is a fucking dyke" on her locker. She would soon leave school and dive headfirst into her career, propelled by her hero and role model, Joan Rivers.
After talking to Cho, Kotb says, she realized the comedian's journey was not about finding what she wanted to do -- she always knew that -- but not letting the harassment she experienced slow her down or alter her course.
"When people stop trying to be what others want them to be, they're home," Kotb says. When Cho gave up pleasing others, "she was home. I'd love to know how many people's lives she's changed just by being herself."
Even with all her interest in life's big questions, Kotb is quick to laugh, as anyone who watches Today knows. When asked if she misses the infamous Saturday Night Live skits that poked fun at her and Gifford and their penchant for morning drinking, Kotb screams, "Yes! Kristen Wiig playing a drunk Kathie Lee? There's nothing better on earth. When it first came out, Kath goes, 'That's nothing like our show.' I said, 'It's exactly like our show!'"