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Episode 209: Relaunching With Resilience After a Divorce & the Power of Positivity, with Lucy Chang Evans

Lucy Chang headshot

Episode Description

Lucy Chang Evans is a civil engineer who also worked as a U.S. Secret Service agent before going on career break to build a family. Ten years later, she found herself in the middle of a divorce with three young kids. She first relaunched by returning to her original career as a civil engineer. After nearly six years in that role, Lucy went on career break again last year to focus on the online MBA she was pursuing and to help her children navigate e-learning during the pandemic. Lucy describes the vulnerability she felt at the beginning of her relaunch and the steps she took to “put one foot in front of the other” to turn things around. She also discusses the valuable relationships she developed as a result of her unsuccessful bid to win a city council seat, her advice for people relaunching as a single parent, and why positivity is so important.

Links to Episode Content

Time magazine article by Joanne Lipman in which Lucy is mentioned:
The Pandemic Revealed How Much We Hate Our Jobs. Now We Have a Chance to Reinvent Work

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman, Cohen, CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch, and your host. Today, we welcome Lucy Chang Evans. Lucy is a civil engineer, but the most unique employer on her resume is the Secret Service.

After seven years as a civil engineer, Lucy decided to make a career change to fulfill her patriotic duty by becoming a Secret Service agent. It was a fulfilling experience, but after a year and a half, she made the difficult decision to leave the profession to build a family. Ten years later, Lucy found herself in the middle of a divorce.

She had been a stay-at-home mom and had no relatives or professional contacts nearby. Her kids were ages eight, five and two. After months of job searching, Lucy landed her first job interview in 13 years. She got the job and got her life back on track. Lucy was able to overcome the ten-year gap in her work history by returning to her original career as a civil engineer.

Last year Lucy left the workforce again. This time she left to pursue an online MBA and help her children navigate e-learning at home during the pandemic. She also ran an unsuccessful bid to win a seat on the city council in Naperville, Illinois. And we're going to talk about what comes next. Lucy, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Lucy Chang Evans: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, we're very excited to have you. I remember that we first found out about you and your relaunch story in an article that Joanne Lipman wrote for TIME magazine, where there was a brief feature about you in there. And then later, a series of posts that you made on LinkedIn that talked very frankly about the challenges of relaunching as a single mother. And I want to know if you can recount some of that experience for us, just so we have a little background.

Lucy Chang Evans: Okay, I should probably start a little further back. My background is as a civil engineer. I got hired as a civil engineer right after college.

And, a couple of years later, staring down the barrel of 40 years of that, I made the career pivot, as you mentioned, to become a Secret Service agent. So that was a very stressful job. I was dating my first husband at the time. So after a year and a half of that career, I decided to leave the Secret Service to start a family.

And, 10 years later and three children later, we decided to divorce. And that's where I ended up having to relaunch for the first time. It was daunting to think about even getting back to work. You know, I thought I was done working and I knew that the only way to support myself was to get back to work.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And so you knew you had this career gap, you knew you had three kids at home, you're a single mom. Were you afraid? What were your emotions?

Lucy Chang Evans: I would say that I had never felt so alone. And I had so many cards stacked against me. Like I said, like you mentioned, I had no family in the area.

We had moved from Washington DC, to Illinois where I knew no one before we came here. So, restarting my career was tough. You had a TED talk where you had mentioned that when you leave the workforce, time stands still for the people that you used to work for. So that's one of the things I did was I started to reach out to everyone I had ever worked with, because my self-esteem was in the dumpster. Not just not working, but being a mom takes away some of your identity and having been out of the workforce feeling irrelevant. So it was really nice to get in touch with people I used to work with and get some encouragement that way.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You're touching on a couple of really key topics and themes that we focus on at iRelaunch. I remember myself, when I was returning, feeling very professionally disconnected, feeling a diminished sense of self, and part of that is what you're talking about. And I've talked about this before that our identities, in our society, our identity is very closely attached to what we do for work.

And when you take that out of the equation, you sometimes don't feel whole. So it's a very vulnerable period to begin with. And then, I want to emphasize just for our audience, that you were getting back in touch with people who you had been out of touch with, I'm guessing, for a dozen years, 13 years.

And can you talk a little bit about what the reception was? Were you worried they wouldn't remember you, or were you worried that they would be like, "Why are you all of a sudden getting in touch with me now?" How did those conversations go?

Lucy Chang Evans: Well, the nice thing is I had kept in touch with some of them.

I lived most of my professional life, actually all of my professional career had been in Southern California. So I love Southern California, so I used to go visit every once in a while. And I would love, every time I could, I would still meet up with my old coworkers and friends.

So I had kept in touch with them over the years, but not in a professional sense. We didn't talk about work or anything like that. So it was a great reception back and they were very helpful when I was asking them, "Hey, can you be a reference for me? And what do I need to do? Because I know no one out here. Do you know anyone out here?" No, no one did. But, one of the things that was brand new was LinkedIn. So one of my former coworkers said, "Go on LinkedIn, find as many of us that are on there as possible," because not even very many of my friends were on LinkedIn. But that was helpful just to get me networked again.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So a few comments on what you said, first of all, I'm a Southern California native myself, born and raised in Long Beach, California, and my whole family is still there. So I know what you're talking about. I love it there too. And the idea that you got in touch with people from the past, they had that frozen in time view of you, they had the enthusiasm about your prospects that you didn't have for yourself, to the point where they agreed to be your reference, even though you had a working relationship so many years before. Again, just wanting to call this out to our listening audience, because people wrestle with this and get worried about getting back in touch with people from the past, especially if it's years and years ago. And then this third piece about using LinkedIn to find all those long lost people from the past, and especially, now more than ever. You're talking about a number of years ago, this LinkedIn is an incredible tool to find people from your past. And if they have a profile on LinkedIn and you can search by your employer, they're going to pop up. So it's a very helpful tool. So I'm really glad you're highlighting all of that.

So, that feels like maybe it was the first of a number of vulnerable moments that you had to move through in this process. And can you talk about others, and then did you feel less vulnerable over time as things started to move forward? Or was there a lot of rejection, and how did you manage that emotionally as well as strategically?

Lucy Chang Evans: Well, first of all, I would say it got worse over time. It got worse over time at the very beginning. I call my first two months of my divorce as the time I cried for two months straight. I didn't even think about applying. I was like, "Okay, fine. I'm just going to have to live in poverty off of child support because no one wants me." I felt so unwanted. I felt so useless and irrelevant. So after I put on my big girl pants and started, I applied for everything, like admin assistant positions, I put in my application to Costco. I did not think I would be able to get back into engineering because it had been more than 10 years.

And, I thought technology had passed me by. But I went ahead and decided to apply for my Illinois professional engineer's license anyways. But, the process of putting one foot in front of the other did pull me out of that nose dive into, "Everything's ruined, you're you're never going to get out of this hole again." So it got worse. Not only did I not get rejections, I got nothing. Everything that I applied for, I got zero. So I wasn't sure if I was just sending job applications into a black hole or what, but I got no responses for the first several months.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And can you give us a little bit of a timeline on that? So you were doing that for a while and you said that you then went to, what did you call it, the professional engineering license? What exactly is that?

Lucy Chang Evans: So, in California, most engineers, it's like passing the bar for an attorney. So in California, I had a professional engineering license and I always kept that up because I was like, "For a hundred bucks a year, I'm keeping it."

Carol Fishman Cohen: Everyone listen to that. That's another tip. If you have licensure or some sort of credential, and there are especially minimum requirements to keep it current, make sure you do, because if you don't keep it current, it's a much bigger process to start all over again.

Lucy Chang Evans: Yeah. And I should point out that I could not pass that test today if I wanted to, it's a very difficult exam.

And so I studied, I put so much work into it. That's why the nice thing about when I got my PE license in California is that I don't have that requirement to get PDHs to maintain the license. That's a requirement now.

Carol Fishman Cohen: What's a PDH?

Lucy Chang Evans: I'm sorry. PDH is a professional development hour.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Like continuing education?

Lucy Chang Evans: Yes. Yes. So you need to learn what's new, go to seminars and continue your education to maintain your license. I don't have the requirements so I just pay the money every year to California.

That's all that's involved.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So when you were going for that license in Illinois, what was the process? Did you have to do any academic studying or simply transfer it?

Lucy Chang Evans: Yeah. The nice thing is I thought I was going to have to take the test again, or I didn't know what the process was. So, that's one of those things. Don't be afraid to look into it. So once I looked into it, I realized that every state takes a California PE license.

It's not reciprocal, but a California PE is good I think in pretty much every state. So in Illinois, they said, "Show us your licensure and you can apply through us." It only took about four months to get that whole process. I think I had to get references and of course pay a fee, and get my college transcripts.

I had to provide a lot of paperwork. But once it was done, at least I didn't have to take that test again, and I did get licensed.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So it feels like that was kind of a milestone moment. Did that make you feel like you could officially apply for engineering jobs? Did that change your trajectory and how you were approaching your job search?

Lucy Chang Evans: It didn't change the trajectory so much because by the time I looked into it, I already decided the only thing that I can do to support myself and my children is to go back into engineering. So I already started looking at engineering jobs. Once again, I applied, at least I got responses from about half of them, well, just a couple of the firms that I applied to saying, "No, thank you."

But, I knew that at least I was getting responses. For the other jobs I didn't get anything. I decided I wanted to work for the government because it's easier to work for a government agency than to work for a consulting firm when you have young children. The stress level is lower, you don't have to worry about being billable all the time. You don't travel.

So, I kept this database of every municipality within driving distance of my house. And I checked, they don't advertise these jobs except on their own websites. So I checked every municipality's website, every government agency's website, at least once a week to see if there were any new jobs. And sure enough, starting in the spring, several jobs popped up which I hadn't seen in the last few months. I started applying to those and I finally received two job interviews. The first one was for the picture that was captured on LinkedIn with me going back to work. That was my first job interview in 13 years.

That was for DuPage County and did not get that job until I think, wait, that was in February, four months later. That's how long it took.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You got the job.

Lucy Chang Evans: I did. Well, I took a different job in the meantime. This was another self-esteem building thing. I was waiting to hear from DuPage County. Meanwhile, I applied to another job, the village of Hinsdale. And they hired me right away. So I took that job thinking, "Okay, I might never hear from DuPage County again." Took the job, worked a couple months and then DuPage County called back and said, "Hey, we want to hire you." And I said, "I already have a job. I'm not going to take it." The Hinsdale job was only part-time though, and I didn't have benefits. So after a little back and forth, I decided to go ahead and leave the short stint that I had at Hinsdale. I felt horrible for doing that, but I left that job and then took the DuPage County job, the full-time job.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That was a full-time job. How did it feel your first day back on the Hinsdale job before you took the full-time one? The work that you were doing, did you have to scramble and research and do a lot of upskilling in the moment? Or you didn't?

Lucy Chang Evans: No, you know, what's crazy was that I thought, "Oh my God," I didn't even have a smartphone. This is 2015, no, 2014, I was the last one of my friends to get a smartphone. But the nice thing about engineering is that very little changes. The technology is now changing, but at the time, the biggest, mindblowing change in the workforce for me was really nice copy machines, photo copy machines.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's funny. Our engineers who work in a range of different types of engineering jobs, some of them will report that there is this, even if they've been out for a long time, that there's this underlying feel of familiarity, that some of the problems we're dealing with are still the same, but there's an overlay of some sort of technology or analysis layer, and that's the part that they need to learn.

Lucy Chang Evans: Absolutely. Yeah. That's why I applied to the government. Things don't change in the government nearly as quickly as in the private sector. Computer-aided drafting is so completely different. Hydraulic modeling software is different, even just using Microsoft teams. Excel was so much different than when I remembered it to me. So that kind of stuff was definitely different, but I didn't have to use it quite so much. Mine was more managing consultants and managing projects. So I could do that. I spoke the language of engineering and I'm a water resources engineer, so water will always flow downhill and that'll never change.

Carol Fishman Cohen: As I'm looking out the window at a torrential rainstorm pass through. So let's just step back for a second, I'm curious about what was going on the home front during all of this transition, while you were going through this vulnerable period, not knowing how it was going to work out. Then starting months later, you got one offer, the part-time and then the full-time. How were you managing this with your three children? And did you involve them, did you try to shield them from your emotions? What happened to that?

Lucy Chang Evans: I think it was scary for them to see me crying all the time, but nothing lasts forever. It wasn't a long period of time. And, me getting back to work, I was on top of the world. That just, I felt like I was Lucy again, I'm back. It really was one of the biggest achievements that I feel, the biggest magic trick, I think, ‘cause I just didn't think I could make it happen.

I did feel like on top of the world. I felt like everything was going to be okay, and my kids could see that. And it was tough for them because this was the first time I had to put them in a daycare. The first summer I worked, we hired a nanny, but then we had to put them in daycare. They hated it. I felt horrible about it. But, otherwise they adjusted well and my message for any stay-at-home mom is that I loved going to work and being able to drink coffee without being interrupted and doing my thing and not wiping any butts. Yeah, it was lovely.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you for putting out there the reality of how you're feeling in that new environment. I can totally relate to this part about feeling on top of the world when you're back at work, and feeling like you said, feeling like Lucy again. So feeling like a more complete person. And of course that's very different for people, but I'm thinking people who are actively looking to relaunch their careers after some sort of career break, and it could be for childcare reasons, might be nodding their heads in agreement and that they're feeling very similar.

So can you talk a little bit about how you use LinkedIn as a communications tool while you were going through a lot of this process, and even now I see posts from you. There's such authenticity and honesty, and I want to say vulnerability to what you put out in the public domain. And I was curious how people reacted to it and how you felt even going public with some of the posts that you make?

Lucy Chang Evans: Well, you know, I never used LinkedIn as a communication vehicle until I ran for Naperville City Council. Actually that was just me being, me exploiting, and I'm like, "Okay, I'm going to campaign to whatever professionals might be in Naperville on LinkedIn. I'm just going to put some messages out there." And, so it was just my own selfish messages. Not selfish, but my own messages that I thought were for a very small audience. I think I had only, maybe a couple hundred LinkedIn contacts at the time that I started posting.

And then, after I lost the election, I decided to start posting things about my campaign failing, my fundraising. I hate fundraising. Trying to be financially responsible as a politician and people really responded to those.

I thought, "Oh, I'm going to put these little messages of, little inspirational messages." And, one of them came after the campaign, I lost the election and I thought, "It's nice to put out a nice little message every once in a while." So I posted about having been out of work for 10 years and not interviewing for 13 years.

And I put out that message that, "Hey, don't give up hope. I did it. And maybe you can too. And either way I wish you well." So that just got me so much, it was like I was raised by a sea of positivity from everybody who reacted to that. I thought it was just wonderful. And I got to hear other people's stories.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So people responded to you in a very personal way and told you their stories too?

Lucy Chang Evans: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of people were like, "Ah, this resonates with me. I'm going through the same thing," or "I went through the same thing." And some of the stories I'm just so impressed by, because people were much worse off than I was and did even better than I did.

Kudos to everyone who has been through it and was able to get past it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, I have to say, one of the most gratifying parts about the work that we do is when we hear from people who have struggled to relaunch their careers and then were later successful in how they did it. And we hear from them pretty regularly and it's super emotional for me, because I remember going through it myself.

But also the stories, they're so powerful as you're saying. They have a big impact on me, on our team, and I think on the whole iRelaunch community, as you're saying, we lift each other up when we share these stories. That's so true. You have such resilience and I see it in your messages. I see it in the relaunch story that you tell, and talking to you right now. And I want to know if you can give some recommendations for women and men who are relaunching careers after a divorce, as a single parent, specifically someone who is in that situation.

Lucy Chang Evans: Well, I would say reach out to other people who are in your situation. I actually stumbled upon an online divorce support group when I was going through my divorce, and it was a lifesaver to me. At the time, none of my friends were divorced. Actually one friend was divorced, but she didn't have kids, another friend had been divorced, but that was before. I was the only person that I knew that had gone through it with children and in my area, where I lived. So I felt really alone. And even though my friends would listen to me, they didn't know what I was going through. So this divorce support group was great. Knowing that, just going through it with other people.

And, so I would say reach out to other people. There are many support groups out there, or, Facebook groups like yours for the relaunchers, for relaunching. So if you can find like-minded people, everyone likes to help each other out. And listen, sometimes you just need a compassionate ear.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Absolutely. And you're referencing the iRelaunch Return to Work Forum, which is a private group on Facebook, and now has about 7,500 relaunchers in it, but it's so vibrant and so active and very supportive. So it's exactly what you're talking about Lucy. And by the way, anyone who is looking to join that group, you have to answer three questions to join the group.

And we do that because we want to make sure that only relaunchers are in the group and not people who want to sell services to relaunchers or something like that. Definitely look that up as a resource, and there are other resources similar to it that are out there too.

So Lucy, I want to jump to that moment where you left your first relaunch role. I don't know, can you talk to us about maybe how long you were in that role, and then you decided to leave it and run for office? Can you give us a little bit of the backstory there?

Lucy Chang Evans: Sure. The backstory is that a lot can happen in five and a half years.

So from the time I started my relaunch job as an engineer, again, I call it engineering 2.0, I finished my divorce. I bought a new house. I traveled the world, actually. One of the things about shared custody is I got a lot more time off. So I went and reconnected with a lot of my friends and I started dating.

I met my now husband two years after my divorce, and we were married a year and a half later. So I remarried. And once I got remarried, I started thinking, we both made great money and we're living in my tiny house with this tiny mortgage. So I'm thinking, what do I want for myself?

I think I would like to do something else. So I looked at MBA programs and decided, I had always wanted to get an MBA and this was a good opportunity. I chose the University of Illinois because it's an online MBA program and it's very flexible, with three children, that’s three children and a full-time job. So I started when I was still working full-time. And then I went ahead and decided I'm going to go head-first. I'm going to really pour myself into the program and take more classes. So this is all within the span of five and a half years. And after I left my career, this run for city council was actually on a whim.

My friend Christina just kept poking me and she kept coming after me saying, "You really should run for city council. You know so much about how municipalities run, you know about engineering, resiliency." And so finally about a week and a half before the petitions were due to become a candidate for city council, I said, "Fine. I'll do it." I ran out of reasons to say no. And, I pounded the pavement. I walked all over Naperville getting signatures for this petition. I think I had to get 300 plus signatures. But I did it just in time to get my petition in and I went ahead and ran and I came from nowhere.

I did not understand the political landscape. I like to describe myself as a dog that became unchained and started running stupid around the neighborhood. I messed up everything for, I apologize to the other candidates who were running, who were like, "Who is this? You're not part of a political party. We've never heard of you before. And here you are running your mouth." But, it was a wonderful experience. And I now have great relationships with city council, my fellow candidates, and a lot of the community who is much more plugged in with politics.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that. And I love that you come away with it so positively, and thinking about what an enriching experience it was. So I'm curious, now you are post-election, you are still in your MBA program. And , where do you think you are now in your career journey and what do you have your eye on next?

Lucy Chang Evans: I'm not sure. What's interesting is I thought, "Okay, I need to get my MBA because I can't make a career pivot without it," which I think is true for the most part. But once I started the program, I'm looking around. I'm a little over a year and a half into it, and I have about a year to go, and the possibilities really are endless. Now I realize how big the world is, what skills I have, and what skills I'm still going to learn, and that there are so many roles that I can fill. So my job is to narrow things down and decide what I want to do. But, I've gotten positive feedback, especially from my MBA cohorts.

And, I don't know yet, but, I'm sure I'm going to find something good.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, that's really exciting. And the idea that you are using an online MBA degree, that you were in that program while you were working full time, and I'm sure how you spend your time in the program is different now, but there are options because of that. And it fulfills that same purpose that a traditional in-person MBA would fill, in that it allows you to step back and reframe how you think about where your career might lead, and potentially allows you to make a career transition if that's what you decide to do.

That's very exciting. And how much time do you have left in the program?

Lucy Chang Evans: About a year. I should graduate in August of next year. However, the nice thing about this program is like during the election, during campaign season, I was so busy that I dropped my class. I had two classes. I was taking two classes and I dropped one because I just couldn't concentrate on it.

And it was fine. It set me back, but not by much. And right now I'm only taking one class and it's perfect because my kids are back in school and I'm learning other things on the side. So, the flexibility of being able to, I still have this goal, it might take me a little longer to get there if I keep doing other things outside of it, but it's been wonderful.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And then when you left your engineering job, did the pandemic have something to do with that?

Lucy Chang Evans: No. Interestingly enough, the pandemic shutdown happened one day after my last day of work.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow.

Lucy Chang Evans: Yeah. And the MBA program had no disruption because it's already an online program. There was no disruption in my classes.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Interesting. Well, we're running out of time now. I love having this conversation with you and I wanted to know Lucy, if you can answer the question we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is, what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today?

Lucy Chang Evans: Well, my best piece of advice is, and I borrowed this from my husband. Positivity attracts positivity, seek people out that want to see you succeed, and make sure that you want to see other people succeed too, and good things will come your way.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great advice and a great attitude to have about yourself that spills over into your relationships with other people.

Lucy, can you tell us what your LinkedIn profile is called? And do you have many followers now from that original group of 200?

Lucy Chang Evans: Actually I think around the time I campaigned, I was like, "Oh, I think I should probably get 500, have the 500 plus." So by the time I started my campaign, I networked with everybody from University of Illinois for my MBA program and other people that I already knew.

And, I got 500, so now I am right around 4,000. And that was all because, almost all of it was because of that one post that went viral, it's got like 3 million views and a lot of reactions. I think a hundred thousand reactions. So once again, positivity attracts positivity.
People like that message. So that's why a lot of people have asked me to keep writing positive messages. So I put out something every once in a while.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great. Well, that's a great place to wrap up. Lucy, thank you so much for joining us.

Lucy Chang Evans: Thanks for having me. This has been wonderful.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, for me too.

And thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board, access our return to work tools and resources, go to iRelaunch.com. And I'll mention that registration is open for our conferences coming up in October.

And if you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on Apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.

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