9 Lives for Women Blog

Back to Work: One Risk at a Time | October 23rd, 2012

About 100 years ago when I worked with Emily Laux at Institutional Investor, I was impressed by the fact that she knew exactly what was going on in every corner of the world. Not so unusual for an American woman who was born in Vietnam and had a State Department father—but I still found it fascinating that she knew not only what was happening, but also the whys of major political and economic woes.

With such a global view, it has not been surprising to see that Emily has remained engaged both in and out of the workforce. An accomplished writer, researcher, PR pro and photographer, she has found ways to keep her hand in the game—for 4 hours or 40 hours a week—throughout both married and now single motherhood, a decade of ex-pat living in London and Hong Kong, and, most recently, critical times when a family member needed urgent care.   

Like other mothers, Emily often felt that all-consuming, full-time work was not an easy option. She readily admits she would have returned to full-time work ten years earlier if she could have predicted a costly divorce. But not “working” at all in her areas of interest—in either volunteer or business capacities–was never an option. Over the years she has consistently pursued her passion for photography, a “hobby” that carried her from one life stage to the next, kept her technology skills up-to-date, and fed what she calls “an essential creative need.” (That’s one of Emily’s wonderful photographs on the right.)

“Be selfish about investing time in one personal passion. Having the proverbial ‘ten thousand hours’ in a specific field leads to surprising opportunities,”

Emily says. Her photography paved the transition from stay-at-home mother to part-time and then full-time work–first in art education, which then led to several years working at a regional arts center, where her writing background filled a need for arts communications.

Emily’s work experience is patchwork of diverse pursuits: generating research to launch an Asian investment group, building a photography portfolio, teaching art for a YMCA after-school program, several other roles in the arts, and developing a consulting practice that helped clients ranging from a textile design firm to a mutual fund company grow.

Some of these roles were part-time and others full-time plus—but all were sewn into the fabric of her family’s daily life. These rich experiences were possible, I strongly believe, because Emily was always willing to take a chance, to see where something might lead, to put experience before prestige, to make a little less money than she hoped—and to see that work is not only a traditional, black-and-white full-time job, but also many shades of part-time.

For every confident risk-taker there’s always a bigger mountain to climb. A year ago, Emily decided to explore  a solo move to her beloved college city of New Orleans. “With my youngest off to college, and my house recently sold, I had a window of time to try living and working anywhere I wanted.”

She rented a furnished apartment, rekindled friendships, began networking and interviewed for jobs in New Orleans. A self-imposed four-month deadline was the time-frame to sample this possible new life. In the end Emily decided not to make the move—but the experience unleashed what she calls a tidal wave of creativity and new career ideas. Most of all she showed herself—in an even bigger way—that she’s not afraid to move well out of her comfort zone to find a viable new life direction.

Though Emily’s diverse jobs disqualify her for the “returning professional” moniker, she believes her New Orleans experiment was a significant step toward a full-time and permanent career. Her plans are to go back to school to enhance her new media skills, building on her photography skills and editorial marketing experience.

What’s Emily’s advice for other women itching to work again?  She says a return to work does not have to come at the end of a long “Eat Pray Love” analysis and transformation.

“Find your career and life paths through the actual doing, not just thinking. Don’t delay the process–keep jumping in. And know when to jump out. It’s like sailing race: knowing when to change tacks is just as important as rounding the mark. You don’t have to make a lifelong commitment—but you do have to keep moving toward the next reasonable step.”  –KAS

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