11 Quick Questions for Lisa Ling
‘This is Life’ host is always looking to tell someone’s story
On This is Life, Emmy award-winning journalist Lisa Ling, 49, travels the country to immerse herself in diverse communities and investigate some of our country’s most pressing issues. On Season 9, currently airing on CNN, Ling explores topics such as mental health and substance abuse as well as how technology is shaping love, sex and human relationships.
What do you do to decompress after covering heavy subject matter?
I don’t say that I ever take a break from it. I am an intrinsically curious person. This morning, there was a woman living in her car, and I spent two hours chatting with her and learning all about her life and the challenges she's dealing with — navigating housing vouchers and so on. I guess my answer is that I don't really think about my work as work. For me, it’s just this opportunity and this honor to be invited into people’s lives, and with the opportunity and ability to try and tell their stories as responsibly as possible. This is why I have agents, because they know I would do this work for free.
What are the top three things you never leave home without?
I always carry a $13 ab roller. It’s like that wheel with two handles. It goes everywhere with me. It’s not so much that I have firm abs, but it really helps me with definition in my arms. I always have a couple books with me, and my laptop so that I can work and write and binge shows when I have long trips. I just finished [Apple TV’s] Ted Lasso and Tehran
Do you try to at least read some light stuff while you’re covering all the hard stuff?
[Laughs] No. I never read light stuff. I just feel like I'm wasting time by reading light stuff. I like beautifully, beautifully written fiction. You probably read The Red Tent. It was written 20-something years ago, but I’m reading it now. It’s pretty captivating. I’m not someone who tries to read the latest New York Times bestsellers. I just read what’s interesting. I always have books with me.
What's your worst travel experience?
I lost my luggage — or my luggage wasn’t delivered — when I landed in the most isolated country on earth, which was North Korea … so I had to go to this sort of community department store and ended up wearing these school uniforms and office uniforms — because that’s all they sold — for my shoot. I never got my bag. I was reporting undercover. You know, it was probably for the best that I didn’t get my bag, because I had a Western fashion magazine inside, and I probably would have gotten in trouble had that been discovered in my belongings.
And the best?
Every experience is the best experience, which is why I think I'm a fairly decent journalist. Every story is the most important story to me when I’m in the field experiencing it. I’ve never ever regretted a trip that I’ve taken or an experience I’ve had because it’s just been something to add to my experience list. During those times where I’m feeling miserable or the food tastes inedible, I just think I’m going to be grateful that I did this.
Planes, trains or automobiles? What’s your preferred method of transit?
To get to the places I want to go, I prefer to take planes, but I'm a sucker for a good road trip. I definitely love long car rides where I can blast ’80s music. I sing the entire time to the dismay and disgust of my family. We end up reaching our location far sooner than we anticipated because I think my husband and my family just want to get out of the car. I love a road trip because when you're in a vehicle or car you can see things in ways that you can’t see when you're flying.
Speaking of talented women, you’ve had some formidable bosses, including Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters. What’s the most memorable advice they gave you?
When I first started working with Barbara Walters, I was 25, 26 years old, and during those moments when I had some alone time with her, I would just want to pepper her with questions, like how she secured the interview with [Cuban leader] Fidel Castro or what her recent conversation with [American diplomat] Richard Holbrooke was like. And she would always say to me, “Lisa, I appreciate your ambition, but the one thing that I have to impart with you is: Don't neglect your personal life. Don’t not think about it.” She was emphatic about saying that to me, because I think she saw in me that ambition and the zeal that she had at my age. And she did have to make some really incredible, heartbreaking sacrifices in an effort to get to where she was. It was really important for her to impart those words. I will just always appreciate that.
What I will always appreciate about Oprah was what a great listener she was and still is. When she asks someone a question, she will sit there and stare into their soul and really listen to what they say. I have interacted with so many high-profile people who feel this need to pontificate endlessly because they like to hear themselves talk. Neither Oprah or Barbara Walters are like that at all. They are genuinely interested in what you have to say, and those encounters with both of those women have made me a better listener and a better journalist.
You’ll turn 50 next summer. Any big plans?
I’m not that celebratory. I have no qualms about turning 50. The only thing that makes me sad about it is that I'm that much older than my young children [ages 6 and 9] because my husband and I started [having children] so late. I’d like to just gather some close friends and have a nice dinner. I don't need a big party, but my gut tells me my husband is trying to plan something. I interact with so many people with such regularity, I like to just keep my circle smaller. You know they always say, “When you’re young, you want to change the world.” I'm not young anymore, and I still want to do my part to elevate humanity. I’m not disappointed. I don’t fear aging by any means. It just means I may have less time to do what I want to do.
Renew your membership today and save 25% on your next year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.