Making a shift in careers is never an easy endeavor. Ask Ailsa Chang, an award-winning journalist and host of National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered. She left a prestigious law career to begin another in radio, starting with an internship at KQED public radio in San Francisco.
Aspen Public Radio (APR) Executive Director Breeze Richardson will join Chang on stage to discuss her transition from law to public media and other topics during “An Evening with Ailsa Chang” on Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. The event, hosted by APR, will be followed by a dinner at the Wheeler’s Public House.
Chang expressed that choosing a career “that taps into the parts of yourself that you love most about yourself” is important given the number of hours spent at a job.
She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and, while attending high school, she participated in speech and debate. Chang, of Taiwanese-Chinese heritage, said her parents told her if she didn’t like math or science but liked to write, “Then, of course, you’re going to be a lawyer.”
“I fully embraced that I had this vision of being a trial lawyer, advocating for the rights of downtrodden people, and then I get to law school — still great, super fascinating, loved my Ninth Circuit clerkship…”
With a Juris Doctor from Stanford Law School, Chang began working for a law firm, where, she said, “It was clear, early on, that the day-to-day lifestyle didn’t access the parts of me that I was the happiest about: the part of me that likes to follow my curiosity, the part of me that really enjoys meeting new people, that wants to be driven by curiosity and driven by my love for meeting all kinds of people from all walks of life.”
In 2006, at the age of 30, “I just knew I didn’t want to be at a law firm.” Chang turned in her resignation. Not sure of what her next step might be, Chang went back home to San Francisco and then things got bleak.
“I had gotten dumped by my boyfriend,” and then she had foot surgery, after which she was “limping around pathetically,” she recalled.
Then, she “randomly chose” to apply for an internship at KQED radio in San Francisco. Chang recalled telling the interviewer, who thought she was overqualified, “I just need some time to think and to be inspired, to be around people that are refreshing.” The KQED internship turned out great. “I loved this freedom to follow my curiosity,” she said.
Richardson and Chang will discuss making big career changes, something Richardson said, “is so relevant in our post-pandemic culture with the Great Resignation and this shift in how we think about remote work.”
They will also delve into representation in the media. “When you hear her [Chang’s] voice, when you’re interacting with her as a listener on the air, she’s a woman. She’s Asian.” Richardson continued. “Is that a daily part of her broadcast experience? Probably not. But she’s told me some wonderful stories that we’re going to get into.”
They will discuss the impact of investigative journalism and “this idea that a healthy democracy needs a strong, vocal media,” Richardson stated.
They will also talk about everyday life. For example, Chang’s 9-year-old, black and white Shih Tzu pup named Mickey. “I know this is so cliché, but he is my best friend,” Chang told The Sopris Sun. When Chang was working as an NPR congressional correspondent, she noticed several lawmakers bringing their dogs inside the U.S. Capitol. Inquiring with the Capitol Police, she was told she could bring a dog to work.
Elated, she decided to get her first dog and, she explained, “the U.S. Capitol — at least at this time — was maybe the most dog-friendly workplace in all of Washington, D.C. So, Mickey, from puppyhood on, would accompany me to the U.S. Capitol every single day.”
Connie Baker, head distiller and co-founder of Marble Distilling Company, was asked to design special cocktails for the event. Marble Distilling’s mixologist, Rob Souza, has created two bourbon-based cocktails in honor of Chang and a third, The Sea Breeze, for Richardson.
In closing, Chang added, “It’s not every day that I’m asked to speak at such a beautiful place. I feel so tremendously honored and privileged that they want me to come out there. And, I get to see Aspen for the first time in my life.”
Tickets for the event can be purchased at www.aspenshowtix.com