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montage of photos of Richard Lui now and as a child with family members, and a mountain range background

Photos of Lui and family: Richard Lui; Mountains: Rojan Maharjan/Unsplash

Listen to the First Audio Chapter of Richard Lui's 'Enough About Me'

Book provides practical tools to find meaning and compassion in the smallest of everyday choices

 

 

 

When MSNBC/NBC News journalist Richard Lui was at the height of his career, he found out his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Prepared to give up his dream news anchor job, Lui instead found his boss willing to help him cut hours to allow him to be with his dad during his important last years, joining millions of Americans in becoming a caregiver.

His experiences in helping his father and in seeking out joy while living through difficult times led to his new book, Enough About Me: The Unexpected Power of Selflessness. You can listen to the first chapter here.   

Excerpt from audiobook edition, read by Richard Lui.

Chapter One

HALFTIME

I looked out the window. The neon CNN logo — right there. Every sixty seconds, “CNN” went dark and then pulsed on again, one red letter at a time: C-N-N. It was August 2004. I was exhausted from traveling from Singapore to Atlanta. The logo woke me up.

I had been working in Singapore as an anchor at Channel News Asia, a regional English-language network, during a turbulent period covering the South Asian tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people, the SARS epidemic, and the shooting of Taiwan’s president. Now I was in a Georgia hotel room, about to audition for an anchor job at CNN International.

I called my dad. Although my two brothers and sister and I referred to my mother with the typical “Mom,” we called my father “Baba” — an informal Chinese term of affection, sort of like the way a kid says “Daddy.” It had been a long time since they tried to get us to learn Chinese, but that one word stuck.

“Baba, you’re not going to believe what I’m looking at,” I said, staring at the blinking logo. My stomach was uneasy when I thought about sitting on CNN International’s anchor set. Their broadcasts reached more than 380 million households. “My room is facing CNN’s world headquarters right now.”

I set my alarm but struggled to sleep because of jet lag and flashing, logo-induced adrenaline. The next day, I walked to the sprawling building and was taken directly to makeup. I watched in amusement as the two makeup artists experimented with how to match my skin tone. I’m pretty sure I saw one of them Googling “best makeup hacks for Asian males,” which surprisingly doesn’t bring up a lot of results. It was pre–Crazy Rich Asians.

Then — the desk. The one seen by those 380 million households. This was where I was supposed to work my way through a twenty- minute, uninterrupted “live” (but not broadcasted) show that executives would evaluate.

“We’re going to put some stories in the teleprompter,” the producer explained. “Just start reading. I’m going to go into the control room, where I’ll be following along. Any questions?”

Yes, how do I stop this out-of-nowhere sweating?

“Do I read straight through until told to stop?”

The floor director nodded and pointed to a camera. The opening animation rolled. The familiar theme song played. The teleprompter operator jiggled the text a little to check on whether it was working.

“Cue,” the director in the control room said in my ear. The text rolled across the screen like a reverse waterfall. My brow was catching all the mist. The audition had begun.

Because words on a teleprompter appear right above the camera lens, anchors look directly at them, but it appears they are looking at the viewers. I had done this for a year by then, but it still felt new. The way I remember it, I didn’t stumble over any unfamiliar words or names. Then a sound bite came up. A moment to rest off camera.

The producer’s voice popped into my earpiece: “Richard, we’re getting news in. A plane crashed in Siberia.” She told me scant details but included the fact the plane had been carrying 130 people. “We don’t have a lot of information.”

More nervous sweat. How was I supposed to deal with this? I hadn’t done the best job jotting down details. “How many people on board again? What was the airline? Do we know why?”

She replied into my earpiece. “Don’t know airline, only that it’s European, and ... no, we don’t know cause yet. After this sound bite is done, we’d like you to summarize. You have forty-five seconds.” That’s like forty-five minutes when ad-libbing without a teleprompter.

I jotted down more details as the tape played. “Twenty seconds,” I heard her voice say in my ear again. I grabbed one of the script pages and pressed it into my face to sop up the moisture on my face. Not conventional and barely ecological, but scripts are always around; the makeup team isn’t.

Why were they giving me breaking news in the middle of an audition? It seemed unfair. Like showing up to interview for an accountant position and suddenly being asked to pirouette. “Ten seconds.” I shook my head, taking advantage of the off-camera time to do a couple of “bumble bees” out loud to loosen my lips, and I let out a couple of performative coughs and some meditative “aahs.”

“Five seconds.” Last move — a throat clearing, replanting myself in the chair. 

Then the sound bite was finished. I felt ready. “And cue.” At that word, the rattled Mr. Hyde became the calmer Dr. Jekyll.

“We’ll get back to that story in a moment, but I need to get to some breaking news just in on CNN. We’re getting word that a plane has crashed in Siberia approximately one hour ago.” So far so good. “One hundred thirty people were on board, though we have no additional information at this time. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.” The breaking story was done. I continued reading from the teleprompter.

Then the producer’s voice in my earpiece. Again?

“There’s been a flare-up in the Middle East on the West Bank. SCUD missiles landed, unknown actor, but believed to be part of recent skirmishes between IDF and insurgents from an offshoot of Hezbollah.”

All of this is happening during my screen test? What’s next? Is the control room going to hit a button to set off the sprinklers so I can practice reporting in the middle of a hurricane, like the quintessential Al Roker?

I scribbled down the details. I couldn’t get this wrong. I was sweating badly. I wasn’t on the air. I had twenty seconds to dry my face without ruining my makeup.

Get yourself together, Richard. Enunciation. “Bumble bee, bumble bee.” I looked like a crazed man on the subway, rambling about his favorite brand of tuna. I jabbed the air like a boxer. I spit nervously. I blew my nose, honking with gusto to get out all the good bits. “Ten seconds, five ... cue.” The cameras rolled. I went from frenetic to calm. Like Jim Carrey in the 1994 anti-superhero classic The Mask — or Jim Carrey as I imagine him on an ordinary Tuesday.

I delivered the breaking news and then read four more stories. The producer came out, smiled, and shook my hand. “Thanks for coming in. We appreciate your time.” It appeared I had done okay.

A week later, my agent called. I didn’t get the job. “What did I do wrong?” I asked. “Well, they don’t tell you what they don’t like, only that now is not the right time and to let them know when you have more tape in the next year.”

The next year? My agent could tell I was disappointed.

“How did you think the audition went?” he asked. I told him I’d been asked to deal with two unexpected breaking news stories. I admitted I was nervous but felt like I was able to work through it by doing my off-camera face yoga and unorthodox printer paper blotting.

“Wait a minute,” my agent said and then went silent for a few beats. “You know, when the sound pieces play, even though you’re not technically on camera, you’re actually on camera for the audition, right? That’s when executives watch you quite closely.”

“I wasn’t on camera.”

“You’re always on,” he corrected. “Even if the viewer can’t see what’s going on, the execs want to know how you handle the pressure of breaking news. They watch what you do as much off camera as they do when you’re on. In fact, what happens off camera could be even more important than what happens on camera.”

It took a moment to digest that. I figured they’d judge my performance based on how well I read and the intonation and quality of my voice, so I wasn’t worried when the camera wasn’t on. Images of the nose blowing, the gibberish, the face stretches, the bumble bees, the arm jabs, and the script face blotting flashed before my eyes like a slow-motion Three Stooges highlight reel.

 

 

A year later, I came back to the CNN headquarters for another audition. I did better. I got the job. And thus began the 10,000-mile journey home to America and my first US anchor job.

Five years later, I moved to MSNBC in New York. I wanted to cover political news. I live close enough to 30 Rockefeller Plaza that I can walk to work. Four years passed in New York, and my career had been moving along. Then life off camera came at me with an uppercut.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and his condition was getting worse. I had begun to travel more frequently from New York to my parents’ home in California, but I was struggling to keep up with my job while also giving him — and my mother — the support they needed. How would I keep my job and also fulfill my responsibilities as a son? My dad’s condition was horrible for him. It was challenging and taxing for my mother. It was awful for my siblings. For me, it felt like a compounded loss — I was losing my dad and potentially giving up a career he had supported me in for years.

As I weighed the pros and cons of leaving my career to care for my dad, I remembered the hard-learned lesson from long ago: what happens off camera is more important than what happens on camera. It’s one of those principles that sounds good, but at the time, it felt about as meaningful as the sentiment on a dollar bin greeting card. Growing up in a household of a minister, like some of us do, I did the opposite of what might have been expected — I went through phases of rejecting what my dad told me I should believe. At that point, I actively believed. Then I didn’t. And then I did, but differently. One thing’s for sure, it stuck at least enough to remember something he often said from the pulpit: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Of course, he wasn’t making an original statement. He was reading from the Bible, but the idea behind these words are shared in many places.

 

• “When you get, give.” — American author and activist Maya Angelou

• “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” — Russian author Leo Tolstoy

• “If you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other.” — Ethiopian proverb

• “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” — American professional tennis player Arthur Ashe

• “Helping those in need is not only part of our duty but of happiness.” — Cuban philosopher José Martí

 

 

The collective wisdom of nearly every society over time seems to agree: selflessness ties us together and benefits both self and community. When faced with a decision to aid my dad in his slow-moving, life and-death battle, did I believe all this? Would I deny myself, put aside ambition, and sacrifice my plans for someone who may or may not even know I was doing so? I had two options: stay on my path of living for myself or become a caregiver, like 53 million other Americans. My mind and heart did not agree.

 

+++++++

 

Turns out most of us believe being selfless has too high of a price.

When I surveyed 1,012 Americans, 73 percent said being selfless requires making sacrifices in their lives. A similar number thought it would mean changing their lifestyle altogether.

This despite the fact that 91 percent of us believe living selflessly can be done in small ways.

There is a perception gap — selfless acts are for people like Mother Teresa.

Turns out moving the dial isn’t always that mythical, gargantuan Mother Teresa–sized act. (Though she barely reached five feet.)

Try as accessible as every fifteen minutes. That’s how often we make a conscious choice. If we choose more selflessly for just one of these decisions each day, we’ve done something. It doesn’t have to involve huge sacrifices or a lifestyle redefinition. Small and steady can change the world.

And now I had one of those decisions right in front of me.

 

+++++++

 

The choice reminded me of another turning point that happened when I was nine years old. I approached my dad and reluctantly admitted that kids in my class were bullying me. They made fun of me for not looking like they did. My father told me I had two options. “What are you going to do — get beaten up or learn to defend yourself?”

I chose to fight. My father enrolled my scrawny, four-foot-ten-inch self in martial arts classes, which felt a little on the nose. Baba, you’re suggesting I take kung fu lessons because other kids call me Kung Fu Kid? What’s next, fortune cookies in my lunch box?

There I was — training with a former monk from the famed Shaolin Temple in China, where masters have trained since the sixth century AD. I was nine years old, and like people in generations before me, I was doing splits and roundhouse kicks in the early mornings. After five years — tada — I became a chiseled, quarter-scale Bruce Lee. A tiny crouching tiger, an easily hidden dragon. I was ready to fight.

And now, many years later, my father needed someone to fight for him. He could no longer do it for himself. It was time for me to step up and do what he taught me. I was as scared as that kid on the playground.

After several weeks, I took a deep breath and walked into my boss’s office to have the conversation that could end my career. There were no part-time field journalists. Nobody dabbles in hurricane reporting. It’s a twenty-five-hour-a-day, eight-day-a-week job. I could be leaving it all behind.

“My father is not well.” It pained me to say it. “I think I may need to spend more time flying from New York to California to help care for him.” My boss, Yvette Miley, sat up in her chair and looked me in the eye the way a news editor does, listening for facts. Not many broadcast journalists ask for less screen time, less money.

“I feel you. I also take care of my mom in Florida,” Yvette shared. “Let’s come up with some ideas.” She pulled out her reporter’s notebook and jotted down ideas based on what she was living through. Wow!

She worked with me on this plan for months. She didn’t have to. This would not make her job easier — in fact, probably the opposite. Plenty of talented broadcast journalists could fill my spot. And what I had expected to be difficult turned out to be about creative kindness.

When I first started at 30 Rock, I had worked thirty days straight with no days off. I loved it. After this talk with my boss, I was no longer working on a daily show or going on locations where breaking news was taking place around the country and the world. My speaking schedule was cut dramatically. My annual earnings were slashed. I thought I was trading a life that I had invested years to develop, giving it up for my dad— for whatever time he had left. I was torn by this new, ironic worklife balance. The longer I was successful in fighting for my father to live, the longer my career would be slowed. What I didn’t realize is that my life would also change in ways I couldn’t have previously imagined.

This book is an exploration of that change and what it taught me, of being challenged to think outside myself in big ways, of doing the small things, and of the personal foibles I encountered along the way. It’s a halftime review. From the past — what had I done and what had I learned? For the future — what will I have to do and what might I learn?

In any bookstore, the bestsellers sit on the self-help shelves and promise to give us advice for such reflections. However, the focus of many is less on personal growth and more on how to “truly” love ourselves. Recent titles include:

 

Radical Self-Love: A Guide to Loving Yourself and Living Your Dreams

I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love

• How to Love Yourself (and Sometimes Other People): Spiritual Advice for Modern Relationships

 

Oh, and a couple of other (tongue-in-cheek) titles:

 

I’m Super Great: What the Hell’s Wrong with You?

Me, Me, Me: A Love Story, with a foreword by “My Mirror”

 

Admittedly, I have loved self-help books for years. Why wouldn’t I want to make myself better? Everyone could use a little improvement. (Two exceptions — the legends Judy Woodruff and Andrea Mitchell.)

So here I am — writing an anti-self-help self-help book. A book on selflessness, just when self-love is all the rage. Maybe for my next trick I can open a video rental store. Or sell waterbeds or pet rocks. Get into disco. Transfer my cloud data to floppy disks.

Here in this halftime breather, we find a place to jot down notes that will put things in context. What’s working? What isn’t? Like the 360 reviews some of us do at work every six months. Except this 360 reveals it’s about the 360. It’s about we.

As I set out to learn about selflessness, I realized I’m a “swing doer,” a person who wants to hear and learn more before deciding, not just be quick to the draw. I need logical, reasoned thinking, not hyperbole, polarizing words or ideas. I don’t like ivory towers. I like to hear from practitioners. I read books on how to build things around the house. I like YouTubing how to change the kitchen tile or fix broken eyeglasses. I like solutions to problems. I’m kind of a life do-it-yourselfer, learning from the contractors of human spirit. You might call it a blue-collar approach to a white-collar topic.

I’m the type of guy who doesn’t buy the car without looking under the hood. But even though I looked under the hood of selflessness and decided to buy into the concept, I didn’t, and still don’t, know what the road ahead may bring.

I am no saint. That’s Mother Teresa, who tended to the dying on the streets of Calcutta. Or Desmond Tutu, who strove for equality for all. I’m just a drip in a pail, a guy who was presented with a challenge and decided to figure out how to help his dad by slowly understanding what he had been saying all along: Being ordinary can be extraordinary. Live off camera. Is this old-fashioned principle still relevant today? I wasn’t sure. As I walked out of my boss’s office, so began the fight for the man who had taught me how to fight.Chapter One

HALFTIME  

 

 

I looked out the window. The neon CNN logo — right there. Every sixty seconds, “CNN” went dark and then pulsed on again, one red letter at a time: C-N-N. It was August 2004. I was exhausted from traveling from Singapore to Atlanta. The logo woke me up.

I had been working in Singapore as an anchor at Channel News Asia, a regional English-language network, during a turbulent period covering the South Asian tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people, the SARS epidemic, and the shooting of Taiwan’s president. Now I was in a Georgia hotel room, about to audition for an anchor job at CNN International.

I called my dad. Although my two brothers and sister and I referred to my mother with the typical “Mom,” we called my father “Baba” — an informal Chinese term of affection, sort of like the way a kid says “Daddy.” It had been a long time since they tried to get us to learn Chinese, but that one word stuck.

“Baba, you’re not going to believe what I’m looking at,” I said, staring at the blinking logo. My stomach was uneasy when I thought about sitting on CNN International’s anchor set. Their broadcasts reached more than 380 million households. “My room is facing CNN’s world headquarters right now.”

I set my alarm but struggled to sleep because of jet lag and flashing, logo-induced adrenaline. The next day, I walked to the sprawling building and was taken directly to makeup. I watched in amusement as the two makeup artists experimented with how to match my skin tone. I’m pretty sure I saw one of them Googling “best makeup hacks for Asian males,” which surprisingly doesn’t bring up a lot of results. It was pre–Crazy Rich Asians.

Then — the desk. The one seen by those 380 million households. This was where I was supposed to work my way through a twenty- minute, uninterrupted “live” (but not broadcasted) show that executives would evaluate.

“We’re going to put some stories in the teleprompter,” the producer explained. “Just start reading. I’m going to go into the control room, where I’ll be following along. Any questions?”

Yes, how do I stop this out-of-nowhere sweating?

“Do I read straight through until told to stop?”

The floor director nodded and pointed to a camera. The opening animation rolled. The familiar theme song played. The teleprompter operator jiggled the text a little to check on whether it was working. 

“Cue,” the director in the control room said in my ear. The text rolled across the screen like a reverse waterfall. My brow was catching all the mist. The audition had begun.

Because words on a teleprompter appear right above the camera lens, anchors look directly at them, but it appears they are looking at the viewers. I had done this for a year by then, but it still felt new. The way I remember it, I didn’t stumble over any unfamiliar words or names. Then a sound bite came up. A moment to rest off camera.

The producer’s voice popped into my earpiece: “Richard, we’re getting news in. A plane crashed in Siberia.” She told me scant details but included the fact the plane had been carrying 130 people. “We don’t have a lot of information.”

More nervous sweat. How was I supposed to deal with this? I hadn’t done the best job jotting down details. “How many people on board again? What was the airline? Do we know why?”

She replied into my earpiece. “Don’t know airline, only that it’s European, and ... no, we don’t know cause yet. After this sound bite is done, we’d like you to summarize. You have forty-five seconds.” That’s like forty-five minutes when ad-libbing without a teleprompter.

I jotted down more details as the tape played. “Twenty seconds,” I heard her voice say in my ear again. I grabbed one of the script pages and pressed it into my face to sop up the moisture on my face. Not conventional and barely ecological, but scripts are always around; the makeup team isn’t.

Why were they giving me breaking news in the middle of an audition? It seemed unfair. Like showing up to interview for an accountant position and suddenly being asked to pirouette. “Ten seconds.” I shook my head, taking advantage of the off-camera time to do a couple of “bumble bees” out loud to loosen my lips, and I let out a couple of performative coughs and some meditative “aahs.”

“Five seconds.” Last move — a throat clearing, replanting myself in the chair. 

Then the sound bite was finished. I felt ready. “And cue.” At that word, the rattled Mr. Hyde became the calmer Dr. Jekyll.

“We’ll get back to that story in a moment, but I need to get to some breaking news just in on CNN. We’re getting word that a plane has crashed in Siberia approximately one hour ago.” So far so good. “One hundred thirty people were on board, though we have no additional information at this time. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.” The breaking story was done. I continued reading from the teleprompter.

Then the producer’s voice in my earpiece. Again?

“There’s been a flare-up in the Middle East on the West Bank. SCUD missiles landed, unknown actor, but believed to be part of recent skirmishes between IDF and insurgents from an offshoot of Hezbollah.”

All of this is happening during my screen test? What’s next? Is the control room going to hit a button to set off the sprinklers so I can practice reporting in the middle of a hurricane, like the quintessential Al Roker?

I scribbled down the details. I couldn’t get this wrong. I was sweating badly. I wasn’t on the air. I had twenty seconds to dry my face without ruining my makeup.

Get yourself together, Richard. Enunciation. “Bumble bee, bumble bee.” I looked like a crazed man on the subway, rambling about his favorite brand of tuna. I jabbed the air like a boxer. I spit nervously. I blew my nose, honking with gusto to get out all the good bits. “Ten seconds, five ... cue.” The cameras rolled. I went from frenetic to calm. Like Jim Carrey in the 1994 anti-superhero classic The Mask — or Jim Carrey as I imagine him on an ordinary Tuesday.

I delivered the breaking news and then read four more stories. The producer came out, smiled, and shook my hand. “Thanks for coming in. We appreciate your time.” It appeared I had done okay. 

A week later, my agent called. I didn’t get the job. “What did I do wrong?” I asked. “Well, they don’t tell you what they don’t like, only that now is not the right time and to let them know when you have more tape in the next year.”

The next year? My agent could tell I was disappointed.

“How did you think the audition went?” he asked. I told him I’d been asked to deal with two unexpected breaking news stories. I admitted I was nervous but felt like I was able to work through it by doing my off-camera face yoga and unorthodox printer paper blotting.

“Wait a minute,” my agent said and then went silent for a few beats. “You know, when the sound pieces play, even though you’re not technically on camera, you’re actually on camera for the audition, right? That’s when executives watch you quite closely.”

“I wasn’t on camera.”

“You’re always on,” he corrected. “Even if the viewer can’t see what’s going on, the execs want to know how you handle the pressure of breaking news. They watch what you do as much off camera as they do when you’re on. In fact, what happens off camera could be even more important than what happens on camera.”

It took a moment to digest that. I figured they’d judge my performance based on how well I read and the intonation and quality of my voice, so I wasn’t worried when the camera wasn’t on. Images of the nose blowing, the gibberish, the face stretches, the bumble bees, the arm jabs, and the script face blotting flashed before my eyes like a slow-motion Three Stooges highlight reel.

 

 

A year later, I came back to the CNN headquarters for another audition. I did better. I got the job. And thus began the 10,000-mile journey home to America and my first US anchor job.

Five years later, I moved to MSNBC in New York. I wanted to cover political news. I live close enough to 30 Rockefeller Plaza that I can walk to work. Four years passed in New York, and my career had been moving along. Then life off camera came at me with an uppercut.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and his condition was getting worse. I had begun to travel more frequently from New York to my parents’ home in California, but I was struggling to keep up with my job while also giving him — and my mother — the support they needed. How would I keep my job and also fulfill my responsibilities as a son? My dad’s condition was horrible for him. It was challenging and taxing for my mother. It was awful for my siblings. For me, it felt like a compounded loss — I was losing my dad and potentially giving up a career he had supported me in for years.

As I weighed the pros and cons of leaving my career to care for my dad, I remembered the hard-learned lesson from long ago: what happens off camera is more important than what happens on camera. It’s one of those principles that sounds good, but at the time, it felt about as meaningful as the sentiment on a dollar bin greeting card. Growing up in a household of a minister, like some of us do, I did the opposite of what might have been expected — I went through phases of rejecting what my dad told me I should believe. At that point, I actively believed. Then I didn’t. And then I did, but differently. One thing’s for sure, it stuck at least enough to remember something he often said from the pulpit: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Of course, he wasn’t making an original statement. He was reading from the Bible, but the idea behind these words are shared in many places.

 

• “When you get, give.” — American author and activist Maya Angelou

• “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” — Russian author Leo Tolstoy

• “If you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other.” — Ethiopian proverb

• “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” — American professional tennis player Arthur Ashe

• “Helping those in need is not only part of our duty but of happiness.” — Cuban philosopher José Martí

 

 

The collective wisdom of nearly every society over time seems to agree: selflessness ties us together and benefits both self and community. When faced with a decision to aid my dad in his slow-moving, life and-death battle, did I believe all this? Would I deny myself, put aside ambition, and sacrifice my plans for someone who may or may not even know I was doing so? I had two options: stay on my path of living for myself or become a caregiver, like 53 million other Americans. My mind and heart did not agree.

 

+++++++

 

Turns out most of us believe being selfless has too high of a price.

When I surveyed 1,012 Americans, 73 percent said being selfless requires making sacrifices in their lives. A similar number thought it would mean changing their lifestyle altogether.

This despite the fact that 91 percent of us believe living selflessly can be done in small ways.

There is a perception gap — selfless acts are for people like Mother Teresa.

Turns out moving the dial isn’t always that mythical, gargantuan Mother Teresa–sized act. (Though she barely reached five feet.)

Try as accessible as every fifteen minutes. That’s how often we make a conscious choice. If we choose more selflessly for just one of these decisions each day, we’ve done something. It doesn’t have to involve huge sacrifices or a lifestyle redefinition. Small and steady can change the world.

And now I had one of those decisions right in front of me.

 

+++++++

 

The choice reminded me of another turning point that happened when I was nine years old. I approached my dad and reluctantly admitted that kids in my class were bullying me. They made fun of me for not looking like they did. My father told me I had two options. “What are you going to do — get beaten up or learn to defend yourself?”

I chose to fight. My father enrolled my scrawny, four-foot-ten-inch self in martial arts classes, which felt a little on the nose. Baba, you’re suggesting I take kung fu lessons because other kids call me Kung Fu Kid? What’s next, fortune cookies in my lunch box?

There I was — training with a former monk from the famed Shaolin Temple in China, where masters have trained since the sixth century AD. I was nine years old, and like people in generations before me, I was doing splits and roundhouse kicks in the early mornings. After five years — tada — I became a chiseled, quarter-scale Bruce Lee. A tiny crouching tiger, an easily hidden dragon. I was ready to fight.

And now, many years later, my father needed someone to fight for him. He could no longer do it for himself. It was time for me to step up and do what he taught me. I was as scared as that kid on the playground.

After several weeks, I took a deep breath and walked into my boss’s office to have the conversation that could end my career. There were no part-time field journalists. Nobody dabbles in hurricane reporting. It’s a twenty-five-hour-a-day, eight-day-a-week job. I could be leaving it all behind.

“My father is not well.” It pained me to say it. “I think I may need to spend more time flying from New York to California to help care for him.” My boss, Yvette Miley, sat up in her chair and looked me in the eye the way a news editor does, listening for facts. Not many broadcast journalists ask for less screen time, less money.

“I feel you. I also take care of my mom in Florida,” Yvette shared. “Let’s come up with some ideas.” She pulled out her reporter’s notebook and jotted down ideas based on what she was living through. Wow!

She worked with me on this plan for months. She didn’t have to. This would not make her job easier — in fact, probably the opposite. Plenty of talented broadcast journalists could fill my spot. And what I had expected to be difficult turned out to be about creative kindness. 

When I first started at 30 Rock, I had worked thirty days straight with no days off. I loved it. After this talk with my boss, I was no longer working on a daily show or going on locations where breaking news was taking place around the country and the world. My speaking schedule was cut dramatically. My annual earnings were slashed. I thought I was trading a life that I had invested years to develop, giving it up for my dad— for whatever time he had left. I was torn by this new, ironic worklife balance. The longer I was successful in fighting for my father to live, the longer my career would be slowed. What I didn’t realize is that my life would also change in ways I couldn’t have previously imagined.

This book is an exploration of that change and what it taught me, of being challenged to think outside myself in big ways, of doing the small things, and of the personal foibles I encountered along the way. It’s a halftime review. From the past — what had I done and what had I learned? For the future — what will I have to do and what might I learn?

In any bookstore, the bestsellers sit on the self-help shelves and promise to give us advice for such reflections. However, the focus of many is less on personal growth and more on how to “truly” love ourselves. Recent titles include:

 

Radical Self-Love: A Guide to Loving Yourself and Living Your Dreams

I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love

• How to Love Yourself (and Sometimes Other People): Spiritual Advice for Modern Relationships

 

Oh, and a couple of other (tongue-in-cheek) titles:

 

I’m Super Great: What the Hell’s Wrong with You?

Me, Me, Me: A Love Story, with a foreword by “My Mirror”

 

Admittedly, I have loved self-help books for years. Why wouldn’t I want to make myself better? Everyone could use a little improvement. (Two exceptions — the legends Judy Woodruff and Andrea Mitchell.)

So here I am — writing an anti-self-help self-help book. A book on selflessness, just when self-love is all the rage. Maybe for my next trick I can open a video rental store. Or sell waterbeds or pet rocks. Get into disco. Transfer my cloud data to floppy disks.

Here in this halftime breather, we find a place to jot down notes that will put things in context. What’s working? What isn’t? Like the 360 reviews some of us do at work every six months. Except this 360 reveals it’s about the 360. It’s about we.

As I set out to learn about selflessness, I realized I’m a “swing doer,” a person who wants to hear and learn more before deciding, not just be quick to the draw. I need logical, reasoned thinking, not hyperbole, polarizing words or ideas. I don’t like ivory towers. I like to hear from practitioners. I read books on how to build things around the house. I like YouTubing how to change the kitchen tile or fix broken eyeglasses. I like solutions to problems. I’m kind of a life do-it-yourselfer, learning from the contractors of human spirit. You might call it a blue-collar approach to a white-collar topic.

I’m the type of guy who doesn’t buy the car without looking under the hood. But even though I looked under the hood of selflessness and decided to buy into the concept, I didn’t, and still don’t, know what the road ahead may bring.

I am no saint. That’s Mother Teresa, who tended to the dying on the streets of Calcutta. Or Desmond Tutu, who strove for equality for all. I’m just a drip in a pail, a guy who was presented with a challenge and decided to figure out how to help his dad by slowly understanding what he had been saying all along: Being ordinary can be extraordinary. Live off camera. Is this old-fashioned principle still relevant today? I wasn’t sure. As I walked out of my boss’s office, so began the fight for the man who had taught me how to fight.

AARP Presents a Conversation with Richard Lui

Richard Lui discussed his book and how he found meaning and compassion through caring for his father during a recent virtual event hosted on AARP's Virtual Community Center. AARP members can watch a recording of the conversation here.

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