Ah, to have Walt Whitman’s clarity! In Whitman’s words, while I can’t say my journey has always been “light-hearted” or “whimper”-free, my journey down the “long brown path” has been a good one. My path hasn’t been linear, but each step has, over time, been part of an overall progression. Perhaps the key has been making that very first step, taking that first direction down a road that is open—with no pre-determined course other than forward. Fr. Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries (the largest gang intervention program in the country), talks in his book “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship” about the advice he’s given to former gang members over the years. He tells them, “Look before you leap. But leap!”
For me, there have been a couple of big leaps that changed the course of my career and my life. One course-changer came a handful of years after college. After graduating with a journalism degree, I worked in advertising and marketing for four years. But I’d always had it in the back of my head that I’d like to work in healthcare. I applied to an MBA program that had a concentration in healthcare management. Was this a crazy idea! I’d progressed in my career and had financial independence. What if I couldn’t find a job after putting all my savings toward tuition and losing two years working? Still, I leapt. Those two years of graduate school were two of the best years of my life, as well as an opportunity to begin a career in healthcare.
Another leap came after graduate school. I’d landed the job I’d hoped for but after three years based in New York City and traveling around the country to client hospitals, I decided to take time off between projects. I wanted to spend the break doing volunteer work with the elderly and with children with AIDS. I figured I could do that in many places but after a very long NY winter I decided to do it in Los Angeles. So I turned over my NY apartment keys to a subletter and headed to LA where I rented a dumpy apartment at the ocean, and a beatup convertible from Rent-a-Wreck, and took runs at the beach every day. In no time, LA felt like home and I decided to relocate.
After my first child arrived came another transition. I had been working in consulting and travelling every week. My husband and I agreed -- that lifestyle wasn’t sustainable for our family. So I “leapt” off the career track while we raised our three kids. I knew I still wanted to contribute in some way outside of the family. So for those years, I was a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) for a boy in foster care who I still see regularly, volunteered at an assisted living facility, started a consulting practice (primarily geared toward stay-at-home mothers who wanted to find time for their own projects such as starting a business or getting their finances in order), and remodeled houses to then sell or rent.
Then two years ago, the “long brown path” led me back to healthcare. After all the twists and turns, I am again using my degree in healthcare management (leap #1), in LA (leap #2), for one of the top Neurology programs in the nation. I am honored to be supporting this outstanding faculty and staff. Together, we have begun a strategic plan for the department which will develop innovative new directions in research, clinical care, education and community engagement. Our planning stage is complete, and now we are taking concrete, actionable steps to make the plan a reality. This will be my long, brown path for the coming year.
John Irving, the author of “The World According to Garp” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, always writes the last line of each book first. Then he writes the rest of the book working toward that last line. I admire people who can name their goal and work toward it. For me, my “long, brown path” zigs and zags with memorable rest stops and milestones along the way.
Laura Brady Saade is Director of Strategic Planning in UCLA Neurology. With a BSJ from Northwestern, an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, and a deep background in strategy.