Rick on Rick
It's a complicated world. I try to simplify it.
As Chief Business Correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, I explain how the momentous changes sweeping through the economy affect ordinary people--and what you can do about it. My latest book, Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success, explains how nearly everyone can get better at bouncing back from the adversities that are inevitable in business, avocations, relationships and life. I’m also a frequent commenter on networks such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and NPR, where I try to extract meaning from the torrent of information that flows out of today’s media.
Business guru Tom Peters says that curiosity is one of the most powerful assets anyone can have. Journalists are lucky because they get paid to indulge their curiosity. In more than 20 years as a journalist, I’ve ridden on submarines, flown on Air Force jets and tromped through mud with soldiers while covering the Pentagon. I’ve walked the halls on Capitol Hill and interviewed many of America’s top political and business leaders.
On September 11, 2001, shortly after I moved from Washington to New York to cover business, I saw the twin towers burning from a distance--then got summoned to Washington to help cover the Pentagon, which had been my beat just a couple months earlier. That evening, I watched the Pentagon burning from a distance, a perverse twofer. It felt humbling and inspiring to have a role covering the most newsworthy event in the nation in at least a generation.
One of the biggest ongoing stories I cover today is the way globalization and the technology revolution are upending life and business for many Americans—a powerful set of forces that may still be gathering. My career path hasn't been scripted, but that has probably made it a lot more fun.
When I covered the Pentagon, I won the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. I've also won awards from the National Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists and the International Association of Firefighters. And I've been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and the National Magazine Award.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, which makes me a stalwart citizen of Steeler Nation. I graduated from Boston College in 1988 with degrees in English and economics, and wrote my senior thesis on Henry James. I recently came across that thesis in a stained cardboard box in my basement; it reminded me that liberal education is an underappreciated privilege. The Jesuits like to say that learning how to learn is the most important thing students can gain from education. These days, learning how to speak Chinese might be a close second, but when it comes to journalism, at least, the Jesuits are right.
My first book, which I co-authored with Don Shepperd, was Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It’s about a fascinating group of pilots who flew extremely hazardous, top-secret missions over North Vietnam in the late 1960s. Researching and writing that book taught me a lot about America’s most unpopular war, and about America itself. John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, wrote the foreword. (That was before his 2008 presidential run.) Don was a great partner whom I still count as a valued friend.
After that, I wrote Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9-11, with Patrick Creed, a volunteer firefighter and Army Reserve officer. Although I spent many days in the Pentagon after 9-11, this book was Pat’s idea. We met serendipitously and decided that with his knowledge of firefighting and my experience working in the Pentagon, we’d make a good team. While we were writing the book, Pat’s Army Reserve unit got activated and sent to Iraq for a year, ending up in a dangerous area during one of the bloodiest times of the U.S. operation there. Pat’s unit suffered some serious casualties and Pat himself was injured in a roadside bombing. It made our work on the book harder, but more meaningful. Pat has recovered and we both feel gratified to have provided the most detailed account on record of what happened inside the nation’s military headquarters after American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building on 9-11. Writing that book with Pat was a moving and important experience.
With Rebounders, I left military topics behind and shifted to socioeconomic issues that directly affect millions of Americans. For many people, it’s getting harder to get ahead. What I discovered while researching Rebounders is that the ability to bounce back from setbacks—resilience—is a key determinant of success, and one that’s more important than ever. Resilience is also misunderstood and overlooked in an age when shortcuts to success and cheery slogans have irresistible appeal. My goal with Rebounders was to deconstruct the anatomy of resilience and show how we can all get better at surmounting adversity. Quite often, the lessons we learn from those tough experiences can provide a powerful advantage down the road, distinguishing the Rebounders who break through from the Wallowers who can’t seem to stop struggling.
I’m not sure what big projects I’ll work on in the future, but humanity provides so much rich material that I feel confident I’ll find fascinating work for as long as I'm lucky enough to practice journalism.