As a journalist and author, Leigh Sales has established a space for herself in Australian media that historically, has been almost exclusively occupied by men.
She’s the most acclaimed political interviewer in the country, who is trusted with asking any subject the tough questions – often the very same questions the Australian public are yelling at the television from their lounge rooms. When she doesn’t get an answer, she asks again. And again. And she doesn’t back down.
When the recent news of Barnaby Joyce’s affair and unborn child broke, it was Leigh Sales who faced him that night and asked him for the truth. When Hillary Clinton gave her final town hall interview as US Secretary of State, it was Leigh Sales who sat opposite her and asked her what she planned to do next.
The prospect of these interviews, Sales says, can be terrifying. Sometimes she feels sick.
Leigh Sales speaks to Mia Freedman about their friendship, Mia’s new book, and the fact the pair both know ‘balance is bullshit’. Post continues after audio.
Speaking at The Remarkable Woman International Women’s Day event on Thursday, Sales told a room of hundreds of women that three days before her interview with Hillary Clinton in 2013, she threw up from nerves.
“If this is me three days before, what am I going to be like on the day?” Sales recalls asking herself.
But she says there’s one thought that makes her always say yes, no matter how terrified she feels: what if I said no, and was watching someone else do it? How disappointed would I feel then?
“I’m replaceable,” Sales said on Thursday. So, conceivably, she could say no to any opportunity she wasn’t comfortable with. But that imagery, of sitting at home, in front of the television, and watching another person interview Condoleezza Rice, or Harrison Ford, or the Dalai Lama, or the Prime Minister, or Paul McCartney (OK let’s be honest she wouldn’t have let anyone else within a 10 kilometre radius of Paul McCartney), is more unbearable than the experience of doing it herself.
It’s a powerful exercise, and one that functions as an excellent guide of when, and whether, you should say no.
We all feel incapable sometimes, and as though there are other people who are smarter, more talented, and more confident than we are. But if you’re offered an opportunity, and your initial instinct is to say no, imagine watching someone else do it. Would you regret your decision? Or would you feel relieved?
That should be the barometer by which you decide whether you should do it.
The next stage, of course, is scary too. Sales says she has two strategies when it comes to actually tackling those intimidating opportunities. “I do the work,” she says. She reads, she researches, and she comes in so prepared that there shouldn’t be anything her subject can say that she won’t be familiar with. “Everyday is like cramming for an exam,” she says of her work at 7.30.
The second strategy, she explains, is to just “force myself to do it”. As simple as it sounds, there have been many times in Sales’ career where she’s simply had to force herself to do something she doesn’t necessarily want to do. Whether it’s cold calling a person who might not want to speak to her, or going on live TV to do a difficult interview.
Leigh Sales’ success is no accident. It’s come from determination, resilience, and unmistakable hard work.
International Women’s Day presents a platform to celebrate the achievements of women all over the world, empower them to say yes when they mean yes, no when they mean no, and have the opportunity to thrive. And today of all days, Leigh Sales’ approach to embracing the most rewarding moments, even when the prospect of them makes you sick, is worth remembering.