(This story is sponsored by SFU.)
As a professional gymnast and acrobat, Vancouver’s Laura-Ann Chong had mastered the art of performing aerial feats. But the global pandemic led her to take a daring leap into a new career—and make a successful landing, thanks to the online public relations program at SFU Continuing Studies.
Chong had always had a plan mapped out for her life: she would train as an Olympic gymnast then eventually work in physiotherapy. While she made Team Canada as an alternate for the 2004 Games, she didn’t manage to get into the physiotherapy program of her choice. The roadblock forced her to rethink: “I had to ask myself, is this what I really want to do or do I just think that because physiotherapy was my only plan for so many years? Maybe there was another path out there that was better suited for me.”
Pivoting, Chong discovered a new passion for performing when she joined the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil. For seven years she toured the globe as an acrobat with the troupe.
During her time with the company, Chong’s interest in PR was sparked when she had a chance to intern with some of the Cirque publicists while on tour and help organize their media events and special appearances. “I realized I could really see myself doing this,” she recalls.
When COVID-19 forced performance venues worldwide to shut down, Chong found herself re-evaluating her career goals yet again.
“I went from living and travelling all around the world, performing in 19 different countries, to being grounded and stuck at home. It was so tough,” she says. “So, when I found SFU’s public relations program online, it was a light-bulb moment for me and I knew I wanted to explore and invest in a career in PR.”
Going back to school so many years after finishing university wasn’t an easy decision. But being able to complete the intensive program online in only nine weeks, which included a practicum, appealed to Chong. She found the support she received from instructors invaluable, especially from her practicum facilitator, a veteran in Vancouver’s PR industry. “I never had a traditional corporate job before so having her guidance was fantastic,” says Chong. “It made me believe that I can do this.”
Since earning her certificate in late 2020, Chong has secured a position as the PR and social audio coordinator with the agency Citizen Relations. Putting her new communication skills to work, she also cofounded the Projet Lumière Project, a safe online space for fellow entertainers to access mental-health and professional-development resources. Because she’d experienced firsthand the mental toll of being grounded and isolated as a performer, she realized that many of her colleagues were also in need of support.
Chong’s plan for her life may have taken a whole new direction but she can now look forward to growing in her PR career—and perhaps even getting on stage again soon.
“You’re not a failure for changing what you want to do or become,” she advises anyone considering a different career. “Take time to have self-compassion and realize your passions and plans can change.”
Visit SFU Continuing Studies to explore a wide range of flexible programs and courses designed for working professionals.