Career Spotlight: Allison Gilbert (C'92)

Allison Gilbert (C'92)

Author, Speaker, Journalist, CNN

Describe your current position and what led you to your job:

I'm an author, speaker and journalist. My latest book is called Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children (Hyperion). When I am not writing books, I am a producer at CNN and a contributor to CNN.com. Writing is hard, yet incredibly gratifying. I've come to realize that words can be transformative and often have the power to change lives. I find the ability to engage with people in such a meaningful way intoxicating.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

By far, creating the Parentless Parents organization based on my book. There are now more than a dozen Parentless Parents support groups across the United States and a dynamic Parentless Parents community page on Facebook. Readers from all over the world now truly understand they are not alone.

I am also excited that next summer I'll be partnering with author Hope Edelman and the travel company Trekking for Kids to lead a group of 20 individuals on a service trip to an orphanage in Peru. Our expedition, titled "Turning Loss Into Service: Motherless Daughters and Parentless Parents Unite to Help Orphans in Peru" will allow us to spend several days volunteering at the orphanage, and several days hiking through the Lares Valley and exploring Machu Picchu. Together, we'll also participate in a ceremony to honor our mothers and fathers. It's a wonderful opportunity to do good for parentless children, and to personally challenge ourselves. I expect this will also be a profoundly rewarding experience.

What is the best career advice you have received?

Don't study journalism in school. Study what you want to report about—politics, education, religion, environment, etc. I was a government major at Georgetown. I learned all the how-tos on the job.

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

If you want to write a nonfiction book, I suggest picking a subject that's very close to you. I think writing a book because somebody else finds the subject fascinating is a mistake. We are all expert in our own experiences and that expertise gives you the necessary vantage point and pulpit. Books take years to write and require a herculean amount of stamina. It's nearly impossible to write a book if you're not obsessed with it.

What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?

The ability to interact with people in a meaningful way is exciting to me and I always want to do more public speaking. To do that, though, I had to market myself. But how?

At first, I pitched various talks to organizations I knew personally. For example, because I work at CNN, I approached Time Warner, the parent company. Time Warner was one of my first corporate clients and the event I delivered was highly attended and successful.

Nonprofits have also been crucial to my success as a public speaker. Gilda's Club, the organization that helped me so much when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, is a big supporter of my talks. I've led numerous workshops for Gilda's Club from New York City to Chicago.

These efforts were instrumental in my ability to book other speaking engagements and workshops.

What's the most important skill necessary for your career?

Doggedness.

What professional associations have aided in your professional development?

I've been a member of various organizations over the years. Some of the most important include Investigative Reporters & Editors, She Writes, Authors Guild and Biographers International Organization.

If you could have another career what would it be?

I've always wanted to be a journalist and never envisioned an alternate career. The fact that I get to do so much public speaking now is a bonus.

How did your time at Georgetown University influence you and your career path?

Georgetown is a magical place. It infused my thinking with the belief that my education could—and should—make a difference to the world. I hope my writing lives up to this very high calling.