Lisa Ling to Young Women: Freeze Your Eggs
Lisa Ling to Young Women: Freeze Your Eggs
By Eugene S. Robinson
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because hitting the road is not just for jack.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Somewhere beyond a desire to report the news and being famous for having done so, Lisa Ling has threaded the needle of a life lived in the mix of things — from reporting on bride burning in India to getting arrested in North Korea — to great effect. Which is precisely how she found her way to The Carlos Watson Show. Following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.
On Becoming Lisa Ling
Carlos Watson: How did you become a journalist? That was not, I assume, a foregone conclusion based on your mom or your dad or your grandparents, was it?
Lisa Ling: Definitely not. In fact if it were up to them, they would have probably wanted me to pursue more traditional career paths like a lot of good Asian kids, but I didn’t exactly show the most prowess for math and science. So I went in another direction. But growing up in Carmichael, California, my parents weren’t around a lot.
They were working, they were divorced when I was very young, and the TV was always on in my house. And so I used to have these fantasies of being part of the TV, because I thought, “Well, if I can get on TV, maybe I can have a better life one day.”
And I got hired to host a teen magazine show that was based out of Sacramento, and then I had this audition for a news program that was seen in middle schools and high schools across the country called Channel One News.
In fact, Anderson Cooper from CNN was one of my colleagues. And even though the show was only seen in schools, it sent its correspondents all over the world to cover stories. So in my late teens and early 20s, I was traveling to cover the civil war in Afghanistan and Algeria, covering stories about the democracy movements in Iran, in China. Covering stories about the drug Wars throughout South America.
So that global perspective that I was able to acquire as a very young person who would have otherwise never had a chance to travel to these places was transforming for me. And so my desire went from just wanting to be on TV to have a better life to developing this burning desire to tell stories, and communicate the things that I was seeing in the world to a wider audience.
Really, Carlos, those travel experiences in my early career propelled me onto this journey to where I still am, which is this place of wanting to immerse in cultures that are different from mine among people who are different from me, and trying to understand people better. And I think that right now in this climate of ugliness and divisiveness and vitriol, there’s never been more of an important time to try and reach across the aisle and engage with people, and I like to think that that’s what my show does.
The Asian Factor
CW: Tell me a little bit about the degree to which you think being Asian impacted your career both early and all the way through. And I don’t ask that with any preconceived notion. Now, I’m literally just curious. Did it play a factor?
LL: You know, Carlos, that’s a tough one, because it’s been both beneficial and I think it’s affected me adversely in different respects. When I would travel into the world, I think it helped that I had an Asian face. I have the kind of look that makes it hard to pigeonhole me. I don’t look so Chinese, for example. I look like I could be possibly … People kind of get confused.
When I went to Kazakhstan, for example, people thought I might be Kazakh, or one of the people thought I might be Siberian when I went to Russia. So I think that that has helped me in the field, but I do think that in the business world, because I am an Asian female, I think that that has compelled some executives in the business to not really see me in the same way they might see a white man, for example. Because I think they might assume, “Well, she’s not going to raise her voice or stand up for herself.”
And the truth of the matter is, I’m not good at that stuff. I mean, I’ve been lucky to work for so many different outlets, but I haven’t been really good about being very assertive. The truth of the matter is, I love what I do so much that I would do it for free, and that’s why I have agents who will negotiate my salary, because I’m just not good at doing all that stuff, and I think that has hurt me.
So it’s difficult to say one way or another. I mean, it has definitely benefited me, but I also think that my experience growing up in Carmichael, which was not a very diverse place … I was teased a lot. I was a popular kid, but definitely teased a lot because I was different. That kind of adversity, I think, has made me a much better storyteller. And I think it’s made me more relatable to the people that I am interacting with because I know what it feels like to be, I don’t want to use the word marginalized, but it made me feel really bad when I was constantly teased for being Asian growing up. But I think that, that has allowed me to be a bit more of a compassionate person. That was a big answer to your question.
CW: I like the answer to the question, and it’s stimulating all these thoughts and it’s making me think about some of your co-anchors on Channel One, like Anderson Cooper. … Did you ever think about going that route, meaning settling in at a CNN or at an MSNBC or a Fox or an ABC, and kind of being there for 20 years and kind of being the anchor?
LL: Yeah. I think as a young person, that was always sort of the aspiration, to sit in the anchor chair, like my childhood idol, Connie Chung. And she had a huge impact on me too. Because as I mentioned, I was so obsessed with television. She was the only Asian at a national level who was on television. And I thought, “OK, if Connie can do it, maybe I can do it too.” But again, once I got into the field, I found that when I’m immersed in communities or subcultures that are different from mine, my senses are heightened, I feel very alive. And for me, I love doing that. I love being immersed in different worlds.
Advice to Young Women
CW: Hey, I have to finish by asking you a little bit about becoming a mom, which I know is not always the easiest thing. And I know you’ve been very generous in talking about it openly. And we’re starting to hear more and more people follow your path and share. And I think that’s of incredible value to lots of families who are wrestling with this sometimes quietly. Would you tell us just a little bit about your challenges with that and how that ultimately ended up and what, if anything, you wish you had known earlier?
LL: Are you talking about the miscarriages that I had?
CW: I am. I’m sorry. I was being a little bit too opaque.
LL: No, that’s OK. No.
CW: Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to be too …
LL: Yeah, no worries. I mean, I think that it’s such an important conversation to have, because as a girl, I never had that desire to have kids. I didn’t have that biological need. And then when I got into my 30s and I married my husband, for the first time in my life … I mean, I’ve always just been so career-driven. I thought, “You know, I love this man. I think I’d like to try and have a child with him.” And then we had two miscarriages. And it was such … for someone like who’s so type A as me, it felt like such a personal failure that it had happened. And then I came to realize … and I started speaking out about it pretty early on, that miscarriages are so widespread. And I often get very offended when people say like, “Well, you have this biological clock, and if you want to have kids, you need to start thinking about it.”
But the fact of the matter is we do have a biological clock. When I say I would get offended, when I was in my 20s, I hated when people would say things like that to me. But now, having experienced three miscarriages, I do tell young women, “If you have any desire whatsoever to have kids at some point in your life, knowing that you are on this career path and you feel so strongly about your career, I would start at least just thinking about maybe freezing your eggs as kind of an insurance policy, because you just never know what’s going to happen in life. You don’t know if you’re going to have a partner when you are most fertile.”
And it’s something that I never thought I would be trying to convey to young women. But I think it’s important that we feel comfortable enough to be able to tell women that if this is something that they desire, try to employ measures to avoid, because the older you get, the higher the risk there is of miscarriage. So I think a smart insurance policy is when you’re in your 20s, if you have the resources to be able to freeze your eggs, it’s not a bad idea.