How to Escape the Road to Nowhere: an Interview with Engineer to Performance Artist Laurana Wong


Laurana Wong was a good student in high school and excelled at many subjects. Like so many of us at that age, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her life so when she entered college, she took the advice of her father and teachers and majored in engineering. She graduated and got a good, secure and lucrative job as an engineer. American dream fulfilled, right?

Not so much. It didn’t take long for Laurana to become bored. Then depressed. Then really depressed. One day while working in the lab she broke down crying and had to go home. The next day she didn’t want to go back. But she did and her life continued to unravel. She started taking antidepressants. She started chain smoking. Checking out in front of the television for hours. She looked into the future and saw her life unfolding on a Long Road to Nowhere.

She made the initial step of cutting back her work hours from forty to twenty-one a week. But that wasn’t enough. It took a full-blown mental breakdown for her to finally accept: this is not my life.

She quit her job and starting exploring her artistic side. She made connections with creative people and groups and started organizing her own artistic events. She found a love for performance art and began performing live. It was scary but exhilarating. She felt alive again and she felt whole. For the first time in a long time, she felt she was living her life, not someone else’s version of her life. She eventually sold her home and most of her possessions and spent time traveling the country before returning to Dayton to start yet another wave of her life.

She could have kept her job as an engineer, continuing to receive a paycheck, have benefits and comforting herself with the illusion that she was secure and safe. And she would have lived a very unfulfilling life. She wasn’t meant to be an engineer, but it took a lot of pain to accept that and push through her fear.

“Without the nervous breakdown, I would never have woken up,” she said. I wouldn’t wish such an experience on others, but in retrospect, it was a gift because I don’t think I could have made the drastic changes I did without it.”

Laurana learned many things from her experience and many of these lessons are valuable for all of us.

First, she shut off outside influences and stopped listening to other peoples’ advice. Instead, she turned inward. She gave full attention to her own inner voice for the first time. Second, she let art guide her. She used performance art as an experiment into how to engage with others and with the world. She wanted it to be a pure, vulnerable human experience. And this taught her much about herself. She has learned that life is a series of transitions and her experiences have taught her to embrace these changes instead of fearing them. What serves us now may not be what serves us later. Be present, awake and open to these changes.

But if you are considering making a big life change, Laurana advises taking a more gentle transition than she did. Making radical changes quickly is jarring. Develop a plan while still working your money making job. “Go exploring,” she advises. “Find the things that get you juiced up. Experiment with new things. You may fly blind for a while before you know what your passion is. Finding your truth is an ongoing process.”

Finding our truths is an ongoing process for all of us. And at times of transition, it can be quite scary. But as Laurana knows, it’s even scarier to contemplate living an unfulfilled life. And the price is high. Too high.

Find your dance, bohemians, and don’t look back. And when that dance no longer inspires you, change your rhythm and embrace the next one.