"As a kid, I had this fantasy of being on television because I grew up without a lot of money," journalist and television host Lisa Ling started, as a way of explaining what attracted her to her chosen career path. "The TV was always on in my house. It was my favorite babysitter. I thought 'If I could get on TV, I could have a better life one day'."
Ling started in this business extremely young; at only sixteen years of age she was already covering news stories on-air and getting her feet wet in all kinds of serious, hard news stories. But that is exactly why My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture finds her such an inspiration. At an even younger age, I, too, was looking at the television as my salvation, yet I wasn't setting out there to actively work on anything just yet. It is Ling's determination, ambition, and ability to fully immerse herself in the world, no matter the odds, that should be mirrored in whatever it is that you want to set your mind to do. Having a dream is great, but actively going after the dream is a whole other story.
Ling's determination took her from the "small" program of Channel One News to the nationally syndicated daytime talk show The View, where she was hired to be the "young voice" again and sit at a table to talk politics and other tough topics with seasoned journalist veterans like Meredith Viera and Barbara Walters. It could be a daunting task, but Ling took it all in stride and made herself a household name by managing to keep calm under pressure. Well, sure; she had already visited actual combat zones, so those women couldn't be too intimidating.
But Ling has a few other traits that are necessary for success, too, such as the ability to recognize complacency and the courage to squash it. When she found herself spend a few years in her mid-twenties stuck in that studio for The View, she realized there were stories she was missing and that her true skills could be getting rusty. So she gave up a comfortable, cushy gig to go back into the trenches for National Geographic, and later, the Oprah Winfrey Show. And Ling definitely feels it paid off because now she truly gets to do the show she always wanted to, again for Winfrey and her OWN Network, Our America.
"I always go into every story with a preconceived notion of what the people are going to be like; I think we all do," Ling admitted, of the shortcomings of journalists. "But inevitably, as soon as we hit the ground and start interacting...I realize there's so much complexity to every story."
And Ling noted that any journalist worth his or her salt owes it to themselves, their subjects, and their audience to actually dig deeper-- past their preconceptions, past their own personal biases, past the "easy" story on the surface. For example, in the premiere episode of Our America, Ling took a look at faith healers, a topic on which she had very strong opinions from the moment it was brought up.
"I'm someone who's always been very skeptical of religious movements, and I'm particularly angered when I feel like people's faith is manipulated because people-- especially people who go to a faith-healing conference like this-- they go in their most broken state, in their most desperate state, and they go for the opportunity to possibly get healed or to get some hope," Ling pointed out. "When I first arrived...I was ready to engage in fights with people or defend people who were being manipulated because in my mind, that's what these places did...[But] by the end of that experience, I walked away feeling so differently about the whole notion."
The episode may not be the most controversial, considering the series looks at topics such as transgender children, mail-order brides, and a community of sex offenders, but it may just be the most emotional. At the end of the episode, the one man Ling got closest to throughout her time at the conference-- a man who believed God had spoken to him and told him he would walk by the time it was over-- never got out of his wheelchair. He could have been dismayed, but instead he found himself offering Ling words of encouragement.
"He put his hand on my head and said 'You can't lose your faith' and that-- you can't script something like that!" Ling said, getting a bit choked up once again.
Ling's "dream come true" show now is not only teaching her to let go of assumptions or to look at other people and foreign situations with a more open mind, but she is also looking inward a little differently, too. And really, the best television is that which has the chance to change us.
"I grew up getting made fun of a lot for being Chinese," Ling shared. "I grew up in a very non-diverse community, and I was always teased. I was a fairly popular kid-- I had a lot of friends-- but I was different, and everyone liked to remind me of that. And so...judgment has always been a challenge for me, overcoming judgment. But I feel like this show is allowing me to finally do just that."