At 28, Tamron Hall stalked Oprah in the food court

Tamron Hall's first day in Chicago didn't go as she expected. The then-26-year-old Texan, who had just left a local journalism job in Dallas-Fort Worth, arrived in the Windy City with her pet parrot and ironed her adorable babe shorts while getting ready for a night out with friends dinner. "I looked up at the news and saw the headlines that the whole world had seen, which was that Princess Diana had been in a horrific accident and her condition was unknown," Hall said, recalling how she was found hours later. Called in advance. Starting her new job at Chicago Fox affiliate WFLD. “It’s a reminder of how life can change in an instant.”

A little more than a year later, when Hall turned 28, she settled in Illinois and thanked her for turning down competing offers to relocate to Miami. "I remember thinking, if I go to Miami, I'm going to lose focus and I'm not going to be able to sustain this career," she admits. “I think it was the first time I tried to make an informed decision about my life.”

Hall spent the next decade studying grit in Chicago and developed a deep appreciation for a culture she had not been exposed to while growing up in the small town of Luling, Texas. After moving to New York in 2007 and working for MSNBC for a while, she eventually became the first black woman to co-host NBC's "Today" show in 2014, leaving the show three years later. Facing a new beginning, Hall tried to rediscover his younger self.

"It's important to me to find that 28-year-old version of myself. Find that person who's willing to take risks. Find that person who appreciates the opportunity but won't back down to get it," she shared. "I had to leave the 48-year-old me aside and say, let the 28-year-old Tamron solve this problem ."

Unsurprisingly, she came out on top. She now lives in New York City with her music executive husband, Steven Greener, and their 4-year-old son, Moses. Hall serves as the creator, executive producer and host of the Emmy Award-winning Tamron Hall , which will enter its fifth season this fall. "The ethos of the show is that there are a lot of things in life that we can't control, but your story matters," she said. “It’s easy to turn the last page, but how do you become that person?”

Below, Hall answers that question and talks about her role models, signature hair, and her lack of work-life balance at 28 years old.

Let me go back to 1998, when you were 28 years old. How do you feel about your life and career?

I felt so excited and so lonely at the same time. I live in the company dormitory. It's a real career change when they pay for your housing. But I was there alone with my bird. At 28 years old, I am very optimistic, but also scared of life. This is such a critical age because you are definitely still far away from college. This is when you put on your armor. But I also feel like a child in a lot of ways.

How is your work-life balance at 28?

That might not be the best advice, but those were the years I worked hard and played hard. I would go to nightclubs until 4 in the morning and then go to work at 6 or 7. I was too naive to know that I was supposed to have a work-life balance. I don’t think I would have been successful if I had concentrated on this. I'm going to have fun because I'm 28 years old, but I'm also going to work hard because I also want to achieve something.

At 28, who was your role model?

Oprah, obviously. I drove through Harper and took this famous photo outside the sign. I was told that Oprah lived in a high-rise in Watertown that had a food court, and I went to that food court all the time—a lot! Whatever they served in that food court, I probably spent my money on it.

The 1990s were the era of fashion. What was your live broadcast like at that time?

My short hair became a very iconic look and I actually stole the hairstyle from Anita Baker when I was 18. But when I saw local news and many anchors with long hair, more sophisticated hairstyles, and beautiful hair, I reversed expectations of anchors with short hair. I guess I'm a Jennifer Aniston copycat. Do you know how much everyone wanted Rachel back then? Some women want the Tamron.

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After you parted ways with NBC, you said, "I'm not the Tamron of Today . I'm Tamron." You continued to turn down opportunities that didn't serve you well or that you felt were "insulting." Is this something you would say or do when you were 28?

Yeah, because when I was 18 I received a book called Paths of Light , and when I was about 28 I started to understand this chapter, which asks: When the title under your name on your business card disappears, do you who is it? Of course those early messages at age 28 didn’t materialize until much later, but they were already in my head. When I left the Today Show, my heart was completely broken. I thought this was my dream job. But there is always something in my heart that says: This is a good movie. Let's see how it ends. It makes it less scary.

What advice would you give to the 28-year-old Tamron?

I might focus more on my love life. I’ve dated, but I don’t think I’ll date forever. I make a lot of good decisions when it comes to work. Not that I've made bad decisions in my dating life, but maybe [I'll] spend more romantic vacations with someone.

What do you think of your current life at the age of 28?

First, she would say, "Girl, the way you party at 28, where do you get so much energy from!" I think she would say, "You did something good for yourself." I hope I made her proud . Sometimes it’s hard not to focus on the challenge. You can go down that well and you will think about how difficult it is. But I tell people, if I keep looking at the barricades, I can’t see the road. I actually enjoy walking this trail.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.