This TV Queen Wants You To Know It's Okay To Fail (And Fail Again)
The Failure Chronicles: "It's really from failure that we learn the most," says Lisa Ling.
It’s hard to believe that someone as accomplished and gutsy as Lisa Ling still fears failure, but the presenter and journalist does. “No matter what job I am currently working in, I'm always thinking about what's going to happen next,” Ling says. “Some people may say that's not a good way to live, but for me...you just never know.”
Ling’s been reporting since she co-hosted Scratch—a nationally syndicated teen news show based out of Sacramento—at 16 years old. The now-mother of two also managed to land her first full-time reporting job with Channel One News while she was in school at the University of Southern California.
Ling was named Channel One’s senior war correspondent before the age of 25, and she co-hosted The View from 1999 to 2002. On top of all that, Ling’s also worked for National Geographic Explorer and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The fourth season of CNN’s This Is Life with Lisa Ling premiers on October first—but right now, Ling’s particularly excited about the series premier of CNN’s new digital series This is Sex. "It's really kind of an exploration of the stigmas that persist surrounding sex," Ling says. "It's not a salacious series, it's an extremely informative one that I'm really proud of."
We got to speak with Ling about the biggest self-doubt moments of her career, and why she's always felt compelled to hustle—even as a kid.
On growing up ambitious
Although Ling wasn’t diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) until after she turned 40, she believes dealing with ADD from childhood has absolutely shaped her work ethic. "I really struggled in the classroom as a kid," Ling says.
"What I realized because of my inability to focus ... is that I just had to work a lot harder than people who didn't have those sort of learning disabilities." And because she didn’t grow up in the most affluent home, or the most well-connected one, Ling says her background motivated her to work extra hard as well.
"My family didn't have a lot of money growing up, and we didn't have a lot of resources...so I really pushed myself. I feel like I’ve always just really not allowed myself to be complacent about things," Ling says.
On taking risks
Ling says she’s a firm believer in taking risks—especially while you’re young—but she doesn’t think that means you should ignore your gut. "If my instincts tell me that something is not right...whether it's high profile or not, I've learned to really trust my instincts." "I think that we all have that.”
Ling says as long as your gut is on board with whatever it is you want to pursue, now is the time to make it happen. Or at least try to make it happen. "I say just go for it while you can."
She continues, "When you're my age, I think you have to be a bit more cautious ... because you might have a family to support. But when you're young, I'd say if you have the opportunity, or you think that you can achieve that which you’ve always dreamt of, then I say go for it."
On leaving The View
Ling says she instinctively knew it was time to leave The View after three years as co-host, but not everyone was on board with her decision. Even Ling had her doubts. "I think people were really shocked that I would leave a national daytime talk show that is so high profile." Ling says.
"The day that I left The View, my heart kind of sunk and I went, 'What did I do? How did I make such a stupid decision? I was on TV every day on this popular daytime talk show.'"
Ling went to work for The National Geographic Channel after that, which was just getting started back then. "At the time, it's just this startup cable channel with no successes so far," Ling tells Girlboss. "Now there's so many different outlets like streaming and digital, it's such a force. But at the time, not that many people who were on networks were going to cable."
Ling says it took her some time to realize she made the right call, but that didn’t keep her from working super hard at her new gig. "I just decided that I was going to go full force into my new job and try really hard not to look back."
When she got her first assignment overseas with The National Geographic Channel, Ling says she finally knew for sure that leaving The View wasn't a mistake. "It was a piece we did about China," Ling remembers. "I just realized, this is what I've been waiting for. This is what I was hoping to get back into for a long time—to be in the field."
On never feeling totally secure in her career
Ling says she’s always planned ahead when comes to her career, because even now she fears losing her job sometimes. "I'm always thinking about what else I can be doing and I'm always trying to hone other skills, just in case something happens. And I've always done that," she says. "I've been lucky that I've been able to work consistently since I was in high school, but I think one of the reasons why is because...no matter how secure I feel at a job, I'm always entertaining conversation. You know what I mean?"
Ling says if she’s curious about something, she makes a point to learn as much as she can about it, just in case that knowledge might prove valuable later on. "I think you just have to do that these days."
Even though Ling fears failure as much as the next person, she refuses to let her life be run by the fear of failure, and that just might be the secret to her success. "If for some reason my show gets pulled or I don't get another TV job, I'll be very disappointed," Ling explains.
"It will be hard, but that will not dissuade me from working hard to rise at whatever else I decide to do. Whether it's driving Uber or working a retail job."
On fearing failure
Ling says she doesn’t want to be conveyed as someone who doesn’t fear failure—but she also feels like failure challenges us creatively, and pushes us to take smarter risks in the future. "I definitely fear failure," Ling says. "But I think if we sort of try and use it to our advantage...it may propel us to get out of our comfort zone and do things a little bit differently."
Ling feels like there’s no failure so massive that good things can’t come from it, either. "It doesn't happen overnight, but it can happen," Ling says.
Ling's advice on overcoming failure
Ling thinks our most unstable times teach us to appreciate what we already have, so she doesn’t see the point in getting too hung up on failures. "It's really from failure that we learn the most,” Ling says. “Life is long...eventually you're going to have those successes."
According to Ling, as long you’re not repeating the same mistakes over and over again, there’s really nothing shameful about "failing big" from time to time.
"Every time you fail, you learn why and you learn how to hopefully not repeat those mistakes again. So instead of looking at the negatives, think of the positives that can come out of it," Ling says.
Words: Elizabeth Enochs