Whether she’s documenting the stories of inmates in U.S. prisons, caring for her aging father or running up 250 stairs while listening to heavy metal music, award-winning journalist Lisa Ling is undeniably tough.
You don’t come by that kind of grit easily. The host of CNN’s This Is Life With Lisa Ling, which returns for its third season on Sunday, Sept. 25, at 10 p.m. ET, has spent years exploring America’s unique subcultures, from motorcycle gangs to faith healers. In 2009, when her younger sister, Laura, also a journalist, was detained in North Korea for nearly five months, Ling helped bring the story widespread attention.
“I wouldn’t consider myself brave, but I do consider myself to be extremely curious,” says Ling, 43. The former co-host of The View and mom to daughters Jett, 3, and Ray, 3 months, talked to Spry Living about what drives her to the hidden corners of the country, the power of positivity and why family is everything:
My family is grateful every day that my sister was returned to us. That was one of the most harrowing experiences of our lives. It also made us think differently about travel. There was a time when she and I didn’t think about the consequences of our trips, but now we have families. At the same time, what happened to her made us defiant about doing what we could to help people learn about other cultures.
What people think is often very far from the reality of people’s lives. I derive a lot of pleasure from being immersed in different kinds of worlds on my show, particularly ones that people have preconceived ideas about. No story is black and white.
I surround myself with empathetic people. When I’m working, the story—and how we can be most sensitive—becomes all that we talk about. We rely on each other to stay grounded.
I feel most alive at those moments when I feel nervous. I’m by no means an adrenaline junkie, but I love being exposed to different worlds and not knowing what I’m going to do next. I try to encourage people to go to places where they might feel uncomfortable, too. Doing that makes you feel alive, feel gratitude and it changes your world. It makes you a more well-rounded, smarter and better person.
To stay healthy, all I need are stairs. At home in Santa Monica we have 250 steps, and four or five days a week I’ll run them four times. When I’m traveling I will listen to heavy metal while I run the stairwell in the hotel I’m staying in—the staff thinks I’m bizarre! I don’t always have access to gyms when I travel, but I can always find stairs. It’s really important to me to stay physically strong.
Beef jerky is my favorite snack. It’s my go-to in the field—that and water and a bag of tangerines for vitamin C. I’m also a caffeine person. Coffee (with cream and natural sweetener stevia) is something I need to put into my body from the moment I wake up in the morning.
My husband, Paul, and I love running together. We’re definitely healthier as a married couple than we were when we were dating!
Family is everything. My father, who will be 80 in January, sold his house and now he goes back and forth between my house and my sister’s house. It’s hard for us, but it’s hardest for my dad—he was always such an independent person. I always try to remember that he never chose it to be this way.
My daughter Jett’s laughter brings me such joy. She derives so much pleasure from making people laugh. It’s remarkable. She laughs at her own jokes. It’s endearing and fills me with such light.
It’s important to me to stay positive. The alternative is unnerving. I think that I’m always hopeful despite whatever situation I’m in. Once you lose hope you lose everything.