November 4, 2021
(NEW YORK) — Betty Ming Liu’s career has been a winding path through journalism, blogging, and teaching, but there’s always been two constants: Her search for meaning and acceptance of her identity.
All of these journeys have culminated in her recent work as a life coach, where she teaches people how to connect with their inner child. But her passion for writing is very much intact. She holds writing workshops and free webinars while still blogging and teaching at NYU, the New School, and Westchester County College. In a recent conversation with The Click, Liu discussed her expansive career in journalism, her struggles with her Asian-American identity, and what she recommends to young journalists navigating the world today.
What first brought you to the field of journalism?
I needed to find a way to write without being what my father said — he said, “You can’t be a writer; you’ll never make any money.” So journalism was a way to get paid to write.
What gave you the urge to want to write in the first place?
I knew I was a writer from the time I was in elementary school. I just love storytelling. I loved reading stories, and I loved writing. It just came to me so naturally.
In your blog, you mention how your parents, as traditional Chinese immigrants, wanted you to go into fields like law or medicine. Did they have a lot of pushback when you wanted to pursue journalism?
My father died when I was 19, and I don’t know what would have happened to my life if he had stayed alive. He was so controlling, he picked my courses in high school and college. When I was younger, he said to me, “What are you going to do with your life?”
I was so bad at math and science — that was my way to control the situation. If I did bad in math and science, I could not apply for medical school, right? That was my only form of power.
I wanted to write stories, and he said, “Nobody cares about what you have to say as a Chinese person.” You have to remember I’m 65. At that time, there were very few Asians in this country.
My mom was a little more flexible in her thinking, but she didn’t think it was impressive until I got a job at the New York Daily News. She said, “So when do you apply to The New York Times?” She was OK with it finally because the security guard in our building in Chinatown would say, “I saw your daughter’s name in the paper!” It became something she was proud of.
Another thing that you are an expert in is life coaching. How did you get into that?
I had already been in therapy for more than a decade. But I needed something more specific to help me with being Asian American.
Around 2015, on Facebook, somebody I knew was talking about this life coach named Gloria, who was Asian-American. I contacted Gloria, and I told her I needed to find my Asian-American identity. I saw her for a couple of sessions, and she said, “A friend of mine and I have a diversity institute for training coaches; you should come and get trained! You already know so much about coaching from helping students. The training would change the outcomes you can offer your students.”
So I went for training; I cried through the whole thing. It took me to a whole other level. Coaching was a way to look at my life totally differently. Then I decided this is what I want to do.
What did it teach you that made you look at your life so differently?
First of all, I always want to help people. And what I saw in life coaching was, I could just carve out my own identity. This is still kind of a crazy field. There are no rules. Yeah, it’s not licensed. So I can draw on all my experiences and create my own unique way of coaching people, which I have.
Do any of the things that you talk about or teach in life coaching or just in your experience as a life coach impact how you navigate the world as a journalist?
Yes, it impacts me because I’m less judgmental of people. I’ve really learned not to judge, and I feel like I’m much more compassionate. And I listened differently. I just know how to ask different questions.
What advice would you have for young journalists today?
I would ask them to look at who they originally were. Look at the kid who still lives within each of us. What you want to do is get to what that kid needs most, and they need three things: emotional and physical safety, unconditional love, and play.
I would say the most important thing for young journalists is to really trust your instincts and look for play. What you need to do is get in touch with what makes you happy. You’ll find what you want to do. And that’s really hard because there’s so much pressure to be competitive, to just get out of bed every morning and do another day. Wake up and say, “What do I feel happy about this very second?” It could change the whole day and your whole life.