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Whenever I’ve heard someone’s voice before seeing their face, I always have an image in my head and I’m never right. Radio DJ’s, talk show hosts, musicians, even colleagues I first meet in a phone conversation. Why is that…that I even automatically generate an image is bizarre. And I’m always surprised at how off I am.

I’ve heard Diane Rehm’s voice on NPR for years, now. And what surprises me most about her is not her looks, but her life story. I’ve always imagined Diane Rehm with a background in journalism who likely majored in political science or maybe psychology. I figured she came from an ivy-league school with, along with her obvious intelligence, a strong social network who helped her make it to the top of the very competitive broadcasting field and stay there for years.

Boy, was I way off. I just read her autobiographical book Finding My Voice and learned a very different story about Diane. She had a difficult childhood which emotional and physical abuse. Because her family was poor and expected her to be a housewife she didn’t go to college. Her marriage was difficult, and she has struggled with self-doubt most of her life. As her kids were growing up, she ventured into broadcasting as a volunteer and through hard work and determination, worked her way up. I mean…way up. This from the show’s website:

Each week, more than 2.2 million listeners across the country tune in to the program, which has grown from a small local morning call-in show on Washington’s WAMU 88.5 to one of public broadcasting’s most-listened-to programs. In 2007 and 2008, the show placed among the top ten most powerful public radio programs, based on its ability to draw listeners to public radio stations. It is the only live call-in talk show on the list.

Diane’s guests include many of the nation’s top newsmakers, journalists and authors. Guests include former president Bill Clinton, General Tommy Franks, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Julie Andrews, and Toni Morrison. Newsweek magazine calls the program one of the most interesting talk shows in the country. The National Journal says Diane is “the class act of the talk radio world.

And, she didn’t even start hosting her own show until she was 43. Not only that, but she courageously deals with a neurological voice disorder that nearly ended her career and would have for most people in her shoes. Instead, she uses her microphone to share her struggle and bring greater awareness to the condition. She’s 75 and still strongly influencing lives…which encourages me that it’s never too late to “find your voice.”