Why is it So Hard for Musicians to Ask for Help?

I recently started a discussion on Facebook where I asked these questions:

“Why in the music world is there a stigma on personal development, coaching, and therapy? And why are we so afraid to talk about the challenges we face such as money, stage fright, and injuries?

It’s shown that every great athlete, CEO and business owner has a coach, mentor, and emotional support system. They know the wisdom of having guidance to support their growth, face challenges and see their blind spots.

Why then do artists (one of the most unempowered professions) have such a stigma on therapy and career coaching, when in my opinion we actually need it the most?”

The responses I got were fascinating, with a full range of responses that only left more open-ended questions.

Some people completely agreed and were grateful the discussion was happening, while others said “athletes can afford a coach” and some disagreed saying that the person had nothing to do with the performance.

What do you think?

Do you think artists need help? If so, why do you think it’s so hard for us to talk about?

My experience as a performer was that I believed if I just performed well enough, the rest would be taken care of by itself.

At the height of my performing career, I suffered from tendonitis. I was terrified that my physical challenges would destroy my career success because I believed if people knew I was injured my opportunities would get passed on to someone else waiting in the wings.

At that time I didn’t have any money because I wasn’t thinking that career success was about money. I thought success was about getting the best opportunities and playing with the best people. I didn’t feel like I could afford to pay for help.

Can you see the downward spiral?

When I look at the profession it seems like we have a lot of secrets. There’s this interesting aura of mystery around topics like money, career advancement, and health and wellness. We talk a lot about these topics off the record, but a lot of it is hearsay passed along from person to person.

Where for example to do you learn how to negotiate a contract? Where do you learn how to have conversations about negotiating a congruent fee for a gig? Where do you learn how to figure out investing, retirement and how to buy a great instrument?

We often expect our teachers and mentors to pass along their experiences and hope that this is enough to get us through. But what if their experiences aren’t relevant to your current experiences for example?

Many of the professions master teachers are not faced with the financial reality that most graduates face now such as student loan debt. According to this recent article:

“Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. That’s about $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year.”

Your teacher’s financial reality and experience may be very different than what you face. Where do you turn to get advice? Family? Friends? The internet? How do you know what advice to follow?

Many performing artists seem to believe that asking for support is a sign of weakness, as if “you don’t have it all together.”

Others seem to believe that the person and the performer are separate entities. We all hear those stories of the talented genius who is a total jerk in real life. Apparently, we allow all kinds of atrocities if someone plays phenomenally well.

My experience has gone from believing all of the above to the exact opposite.

I think success is a team effort and we need all the support and guidance we can get. I have studied people that inspire me such Oprah, Tony Robbins and Roger Federer. They all have a team of people that support them personally and professionally.

The purpose of a support team is that they help:

  • Hold you accountable
  • Show you new points of view and point out your blind spots
  • Help you recover from setbacks
  • Create systems of habits and output that create success
  • Reach your goals
  • Set deadlines
  • Give you solutions you wouldn’t figure out on your own
  • Save you time
  • Save you energy
  • Connect you with people and resources you wouldn’t know on your own

Having a coach or a therapist is not a sign of weakness but rather an investment in the future you want to create and the person you want to be.

The more we as an industry address our weakness with courage, the more empowered the whole profession becomes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you are interested in personal career coaching or consulting for your ensemble or organization click here.

The WholeHearted Musician Turns 10!?!


This month marks the 10-year anniversary of The WholeHearted Musician.

I can hardly believe it. We actually made it to double digits.

Looking back, I am so grateful that 10 years ago I had NO IDEA how hard it would be as I think it’s quite miraculous to have made it to this point.

And how does one decide when an anniversary is marked, anyway?

Is it that moment when I decided that I wanted to become a therapist for musicians? Or the moment when I committed to going to graduate school for counseling psychology? Or when I graduated from psychology school and started working professionally as a therapist? Or when I earned my MFT license in the state of California? When I opened my business? When I wrote my first blog post?

After lots of reflection, I decided that THIS is what marks the start: my first class on performance anxiety at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Adult Extension: Fall 2007. The class was called The Psychology of Performance.

This is significant for so many reasons.

I was still teaching and performing full-time when I graduated with my M.A. in counseling psychology. I’ll never forget the day after graduation when I walked into my director’s office at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I entered the waiting room, saw him standing there and nervously asked if he had a minute of spare time to speak with me.

He said he had about 5 minutes and invited me into his office right then and there. So I walked in, sat down and said, “Sir, I have an idea I’d love to present to you. I’d like to teach a class. It involves psychology and musicians…”

Next thing I knew, I set the dates, put my first proposal on paper, got a homemade publicity photo, told everyone I knew that I would be teaching a class at SFCM, prayed that people would register and TA DA-the WholeHearted Musician was BORN!

Trial by fire.

That first class seemed to be graced by divine guidance. Several “celebrity faculty” members from the conservatory took the class in the interest of being more sensitive and informed teachers. Other professional musicians came because they wanted more tools for performing and taking auditions. The registration sold out. It seemed like my dream was coming true.

But then after that first semester, it was hell.

I struggled to get enrollment. I struggled with bureaucracy. I struggled with the curriculum. 

Somehow “stage fright” was a dirty word that no one wanted to talk about, yet “empowerment” was too “new agey” and made me lose credibility. How was I going to get people to discuss the real issues without talking about stage fright or getting empowered?

What I did and what I stood for was something everyone needed, but no one wanted to admit they needed.  And those that wanted to work with me couldn’t pay for it. And every place I pitched my work to said something to the effect of “we’d love to have you do something, but we don’t have the funds or support for this kind of project.”

So I struggled. For years. And years. And I almost quit.

But along the way, I had incredible friends and support.  It seems like every time I was on the cusp of giving up, someone came out of the wood work and said the right thing at the right time. Sometimes it was a word of encouragement or a shoulder to cry on. And other times it was advice, a reference or a lead. And other times it was an opportunity to speak or consult.

Eventually, I got clients. It’s taken me years to build my clientele and I’ve worked with soloists, conservatory faculty, and major chamber music ensembles. Then I started consulting and have branched out to managers, boards, and businesses.

I have now presented at almost every major music school and conservatory in the United States as well as a conferences and music festivals.

Summer 2016-2017 WHM classes on career development for UNL’s Chamber Music Intensive with the Chiara String Quartet.

September 2016 WholeHearted Musician residency at UT Austin’s Butler School of Music.
I’ve published a book.


And I still feel like I’m JUST getting started.

I’ve had incredible advocates of me and my work.  And I still get challenged-all the time. One colleague recently asked me “but does anyone actually PAY you?” as if it was so hard for her to believe that people could value my work enough to pay money for it.

But the truth is, the WholeHearted Musician exists because of YOU.

I would never be able to fulfill this vision if it weren’t for you-your courage, your vulnerability, your heart, your dreams and your overall kick-ass awesomeness.

So in honor of YOU, I will be writing a ten post blog series address the top ten things I’ve learned this last decade. I’ll also be launching a master mind group on the psychology of teaching, a course on money mastery for musicians and much more.


I can’t wait to see what we do these next ten years and beyond!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.



Open Letter to the Graduating Class of 2017 (and Anyone Else in Transition)



First, let’s start with a huge fricken CONGRATULATIONS!!!

I mean, HELLO-you’ve done a TON of work to get to this point. And I bet you haven’t taken a moment to actually pause and take stock of just how hard you’ve been working and all the many things you’ve accomplished.

You have (among many other things):

  • met deadlines
  • given performances
  • passed exams, auditions and juries
  • dealt with difficult personalities
  • faced unbelievable challenges
  • overcome procrastination (aka fear)
  • overcome doubt (aka fear)
  • overcome overwhelm (aka fear)
  • overcome criticism
  • overcome the doubters and the haters
  • faced your demons
  • didn’t give up no matter how many times you wanted to…
  • so much more…

I start with this because if you don’t stop now, right this minute, and take stock of what you’ve done, you’ll always be focused on what’s next, what’s not working, what could be better, etc. You may be putting 100% of your focus on what may or may not happen in your future and fear takes over.

Fear is the path to the dark side.

Fear leads to anger,

anger leads to hate,

hate leads to suffering.


This time of year marks important transitions. So many people are hustling towards what is next and there is little if any time to pause and evaluate. We can even judge being slow and not having anything on the books as a sign of failure or lack of success.

But here’s the truth: it’s essential to pause and take the time to really sit and reflect, assess, FEEL, process and give voice to all the things that have gotten stuffed down.

As you transition from the end of whatever it is you are leaving (school, a job, a residency, a relationship, etc.) to whatever is NEXT, here are a few points I’d love to share.

1.) YOU ARE MAGNIFICENT. You ARE. There is ONLY ONE of you, and it’s up to you to be YOU.

I cannot begin to tell you how important you are, how much you matter, how your voice and point of view is needed and necessary. But what is more important is that YOU know it and OWN It.

Our world is filled with people who are insecure, doubting themselves, afraid, playing small and terrified to step up and shine. We keep thinking that someday someone is going to give us permission to be successful or fulfilled. So let me just say right here, right now that NO ONE will EVER be able to do that for you. IT IS UP TO YOU. That’s the good news. You’re the one in charge of your own success, fulfillment, and achievement.

What matters is that you can define it, visualize it and get crystal clear on the steps you’ll take to achieve it.


You must know who you are, why you’re here, and what you want to share with the world. This connects to the first point I made about owning your magnificence.

This WHY is so essential. Because if you don’t know your WHY, you’ll spend your life doing what other people tell you to do and at best being a cheap knock off of someone else.

This video is my favorite explanation of how to find your WHY:


What you think about and thank about, you bring about. -Dr. John Demartini

Here’s what this means. When you put your thoughts on what you WANT and are grateful for what you already have, you bring more to you to be thankful for.

Another way to say this is:

Worrying is praying for stuff you don’t want. -Jen Sincero

Become a Jedi Master at mindset. This means that you are conscious and purposeful about the thoughts you think, the beliefs you choose and the words you speak.

Here are examples of things I hear people say with certainty on a daily basis:

  • “It’s so hard to make a living as a musician.”
  • “I’ll never make it.”
  • “I can’t afford to take time off.”
  • “They’ll never hire me again if I say no.”
  • “It’s rude to talk about the fee.” (Even if I don’t know how much I’m getting paid, how or when.)
  • “The only way I’ll make it is if I say ‘yes’ to everything.”
  • “If I ask for a higher fee, they will think all I care about is money.”
  • “People don’t value the arts.”
  • “People only care about technique.”
  • “I can’t set a boundary because people will think I’m inflexible and don’t care about the music.”
  • “I can’t speak up because it means I’m difficult to work with.”

OY! SO PAINFUL!  But guess what? If these are the thoughts and beliefs you have about the world then this will be the truth of your experience. And guess who suffers? YOU. I challenge you to pay attention. Listen to the words flying out of your mouth. Where did you learn this? Why do you take it as fact? Can you prove with 100% certainty that these beliefs are true? Have you taken the time to prove them wrong?


Study the people who inspire you. Many people get this part wrong. They look at someone they think is successful and then they try to repeat the steps of their bio by going to the same school, getting the same degrees, taking the same auditions, doing the same residencies, studying with the same kind of teacher, etc.

This rarely works and leads to what I call “empty success’. Empty success is what happens when you work your tail off to achieve a goal and then when you finally obtain it, you feel drained, empty and lost. Instead of celebrating and feeling fulfilled, you wonder “what’s wrong with me? I thought I’d finally feel successful when I got this job (or won this award, or fill in the blank). But instead, I feel just as bad as before.”

Instead, if you REALLY dig and thoroughly study a person, you will see they had pain, setback, failure, heartbreak, illness and the same kinds of challenge as you, but in their own way. Pay attention to HOW they overcame those challenges to achieve what they did.

True success is up to you.

But what I know for myself, is that success is a lot of small moments over time. It’s the tears of gratitude I feel when my client calls me to tell me he risked everything and rocked it on stage, or when a client celebrates negotiating a contract and is finally earning a salary that feels congruent, or when a client has joy for the first time in performance after years of fear and self-criticism.

The degrees, the awards, the bio-these are empty words if not linked to the actual moments that make a difference in people’s lives.

If you are delegating what success means to the outside world (teachers, family, mentors, social media) and letting someone else tell you what dictates your worth and value, you will suffer. You must decide what success is and what it means for you. Only you can do this.


You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

 -Jim Rohn

If you surround yourself with people who are angry, frustrated and resentful, it will be ten times harder to hold hope and see possibility.

If you surround yourself with people who sit home and complain, feeling sorry for themselves wishing things would be different but drinking beer and watching tv instead of hustling, it will be that much harder for you to hustle and go after what you dream of.

Pay attention at your next rehearsal or gig and really notice what people are saying and how they are saying it. Are people gossiping and complaining? Are they critical and judgemental? Or are they go-getters talking about inspired projects?

Do you get how this goes? You take on the energy and mindset of the people you hang out with.  It takes SO MUCH EFFORT to go against the culture and hold hope or take action when everyone else thinks you’re naive, stupid or crazy.

Go out and find your tribe. Find the dreamers, the doers, the inspired visionaries, the heart-centered people taking action.

Surround yourself with people who challenge you, teach you, and push you to be your best self.  -Bill Gates

6.) YOU WILL LOSE YOUR WAY. You will doubt yourself. You will want to give up.

Success is falling nine times and getting up ten. – Jon Bon Jovi

I promise you that success is not one big shiny moment that you finally arrive upon like an Olympic gold medal.

Success is holding hope when you are lost in the shit. Success is calling your friend to ask for support when you feeling like giving up. Success is trying again when you’ve lost your vision, lost your way, forgotten why you love what you do…

There is no successful person on the planet who has not felt unworthy, lost, discouraged, overwhelmed, insecure, insignificant, and super shitty.

Success looks great on paper when asked to sum up your life in a 100-word count bio. People don’t openly talk about their failures, their moments of deep despair, the moments of feeling kicked in the teeth, on your knees, crying the soul cry of suffering because you want to get your work out there and you’ve gotten a crushing “no”, again and again. But there is no human on the planet who hasn’t faced this pain.

It’s what you do about it that will shape your life. Some people never get up off the floor and limp through life with broken wings. No matter what it takes, pick yourself up. Get off the floor. Get back to work. One step at a time. I promise it’s worth it.

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. -Martin Luther King, Jr.


As you gather yourself together and prepare for whatever is next, I PROMISE you, it’s going to be ok. It’s going to be more than ok.

Everything you need is within you. You are not broken. Nothing is missing.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

You will get tested again and again. That’s ok.  Each gut-wrenching, heart-breaking challenge we face makes us stronger and enhances the gifts we are here to give others. There is no such thing as a person who has it all together and just glows through life. Greatness is the mastery of getting back up after falling down while not giving up on your inspired vision.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.- John Lennon

And now, when you’re ready, get back to work. The world needs you.



The Entrepreneurial Musician

I had an inspiring time speaking with Andrew Hitz for his podcast The Entrepreneurial Musician.

Here’s Andrew’s summary of what we talk about:

Dana Fonteneau, the woman behind the WholeHearted Musician and the author of It’s Not (JUST) About the Gig: A Musician’s Guide to Creating the Mindset Which Leads to Career Success and Fulfillment, speaks about getting to know your why and how that informs everything you do as an entrepreneur.

Topics Covered:

  • 5:54 – Dana’s journey from chamber musician to licensed psychotherapist, mindset coach and consultant
  • 10:43 – What exactly is The WholeHearted Musician and how she chose to structure it and what to offer (and how that’s morphed over the years)
  • 15:07 How she got her first consulting clients before she had a proven track record (and how that relates to her most effective marketing tool today)
  • 21:38 Why her book is “backwards” compared to a lot of entrepreneur classes in that it first makes you ask questions of yourself to figure out your why before starting with the how like resumes and websites
  • 29:57 – An example of someone who “made it” in the music business at an early age and was miserable because he spent no time envisioning what traditional success was going to look like
  • 32:49 – Holding yourself accountable and how all entrepreneurs can struggle with that (and the formula she uses today to hold herself accountable)
  • 42:30 – How getting to the bottom of your “why” specifically relates to being an entrepreneur


  • It’s Not (JUST) About the Gig: A Musician’s Guide to Creating the Mindset Which Leads to Career Success and Fulfillment by Dana Fonteneau
  • Susan de Weger: Episode 71
  • Brené Brown’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability”
  • Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
  • Lance LaDuke talking about his successful audition prep
  • Noah Kageyama’s The Bulletproof Musician
  • I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
  • John Beder: Episode 83
  • Dr. Dimartini’s Value Determination
  • MIchael Jr.’s What vs. Why
  • Parker Mouthpieces
  • Victor Wooten Commencement Speech

Favorite Quotes:

“Nobody wanted to hear it because I was just screaming about what I thought people needed and not really addressing their needs.”

“I still think that face-to-face connection is essential to building trust in a relationship. That’s probably my most effective marketing tool.”

“We have these external models or we have these external should’s that say ‘This is the only way you’re going to do it and if you don’t do it this way you’re a failure’ and nobody stops to questions ‘What is success for me? What would I love to do and what do I need to do it?’ So in a way I think we’re asking all the wrong questions.”

“To know ourselves is our greatest resource.”
“It’s really about failing over and over and over again and saying ‘Thank you for the failing. Thank you for the learning. Thank you for the course correction.'”

“When you have an inspired purpose, success is a byproduct.”

Here’s the link again: https://itun.es/us/r0N36.c

I hope you enjoy our discussion!

What To Do When You Feel Like Quitting: How I Took My Life in Music and Created My Own Successful Career Path

3d man standing and thinking with red question marks in thought bubble above his head concept isolated over white background 3D rendering


Have you ever wondered if you chose the right career?

Have you ever felt like tossing it in and doing something non-music or non-performing related?

After spending my life (age 2-age 29) devoted to being a classical cellist, I took a chance (that’s putting it lightly) and went back to school to study psychology.

That decision eventually led to my earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology and licensure as a marriage and family therapist in the state of California. Along with that path, I became a somatic practitioner and healer.

Finally, it has come full circle and I am the creator of The WholeHearted Musician. I write, travel, speak and teach, helping musicians become healthy, empowered, inspired and fulfilled.

The decision then felt excruciatingly difficult. But I see now that it is the mindset that I was in more than anything that made that decision torturous. I felt like I had to make a decision about being a cellist that meant I was closing the door on music forever.

What I realize now is that it was really more a process of which I was giving myself permission to create a life in music that inspired me and WORKED FOR ME. It wasn’t about quitting. It was following my own knowing and inspiration to do what I love. I then built a career and now earn my living doing what I love. Music is an essential part of that picture, it’s just that I am no longer making my living as a professional performer and music teacher.

Here’s what I can share about what it’s like to go through that personal journey and how it ended up being a major career change.

1. You must define what a career means to you.

  • Does a career equal how you make your money and pay your bills?
  • Does a career equal how you spend most of your time?
  • Does a career equal your success and achievements?
  • Does a career equal your legacy and how you make a difference?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then “career” can get blurred with “success” and that leads to measurements of self-worth. In other words, it’s so easy to feel like a failure based on vague, generalized markers of what you think a successful career should look like based on what you hear other people say or see others do.

It’s also easy to feel deflated, unfulfilled and even depressed when you actually do achieve “success” if it’s based on what someone else thinks is important instead of what is actually meaningful and inspiring to you.

2. You can never take the musician out of the person.

Whether it’s working as a psychotherapist or a somatic healer or as a career coach, I listen and relate to the work at hand as a musician. I listen for resonance and dissonance. I listen to what is said and not being said. I watch body language and pick up on non-verbal communication. Everything I learned as a cellist is directly applicable to what I do now.

Despite only performing twice since December 2008, the minute I am around music, it comes back alive as if I never stopped playing the cello.

In 2014 I engaged in “Project 40” where I challenged myself to take 40 days to get back in decent shape and perform a short cello duet (that was written for my husband and me ) on my 40th birthday.

With sometimes just 20-minutes a day to practice, I shocked myself in learning how it was possible to achieve that goal. I blogged about it daily on Facebook so that I would hold myself accountable, and shared the emotional, psychological and physical journey back to playing after 7 years away from the concert stage.

My point is that if you want it badly enough, you can always return to your music-making.

Playing the cello is not how I make a living, but I am still very much a part of the music world and my relationship to my own music making and the cello is ENTIRELY UP TO ME.

3. You are not defined by your music making.

This is by far the most important thing I learned. It took me very long time to understand that my worth and value in the world was not measured by how well I performed or who liked my playing.


There is no need to fix you, change you or improve you. Just by being YOU brings meaning and value to others.

It’s nice to earn awards, auditions, and jobs. But that can’t be the only measurement that defines your sense of worth.

When you are truly inspired and are doing what you love, success is a byproduct, not the destination.

4. You already know deep inside what the right path is for you.

Changing careers can seem scary. What I have found is that the scary part is actually giving yourself permission to be yourself and do what you love.

If there is something that you do naturally, feel inspired by and get enthusiastic about and want to make a difference with, then you and your body will give yourself feedback. You’ll have natural sources of energy, focus, determination, and hustle.

5. You don’t have to leap.

You don’t have to make a big leap. In fact, I don’t recommend it.

In my case, it started with baby steps. Then it was a long series of small decisions over years.

Here’s what it looked like from 2003-present day.

  • I acknowledged that I was unfulfilled and unhappy with my life in music the way I was doing it at the time. (2003)
  • I realized that I love psychology and human behavior.
  • I became aware that I was fascinated with the mind-body connection, particularly for performing artists.
  • I managed my extreme fear and discomfort with all of the above by talking with a therapist.
  • I found a psychology school where I could study somatic (body-based) psychotherapy that was close to the San Francisco Conservatory where I was teaching at the time. (2004)
  • I started by filling out the application and writing an essay.
  • Then I showed up for the second round of group interviews.
  • Then I did the final round of interviews.
  • Then I freaked out once I was accepted into the program.
  • Then I had an identity crisis. (sort of kidding, sort of not.)
  • After speaking at length with my husband about how I would finance the program, we decided that I could just try one semester and see if I liked it.
  • After that decision, I was invited to join a piano quartet with the concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera and I freaked out again.
  • Then I figured out how to go to school full-time while still teaching and performing full-time.
  • I started the first semester and immediately fell in love with psychology and knew I had to keep going.
  • I freaked out again.
  • I kept going.
  • Over time I earned my M.A. in counseling psychology. (2007)
  • I still didn’t know what to do but I came to realize that I could keep doing everything.
  • I started seeing more clients for my clinical training and started teaching less and performing less.
  • Finally, I realized that I had to earn licensure and chose to keep going with psychology and let the music go. By that point, I was so out of shape and exhausted trying to juggle everything that it wasn’t that hard to decide.
  • I knew I wanted to work with musicians but I wasn’t sure how.
  • I approached my former boss at the San Francisco Conservatory Pre-College and Adult Extension Division and shared my vision about working with musicians and proposed a couple of classes. The Psychology of Performance was born. (2007)
  • Over time I obtained my 2000 hours of clinical experience and I passed the licensing exams becoming a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 2010.
  • I built a successful private practice as a therapist and somatic practitioner. (2010-2013)
  • I realized that I really wanted to focus on musicians and helping to empower the profession as a whole. I learned about Brené Brown and her work on vulnerability and creativity and I was inspired to start a blog called The WholeHearted Musician™. (2013)
  • I now travel the country giving guest presentations, talks, workshops, consultations and residencies for music schools, organizations, and ensembles.

What you’ll see from my story is that it was a series of small agonizing decisions, navigating from inspiration to fear and back, over and over and over.

It’s normal to doubt things and even to want to give up once and while. I think it’s really important to stop and evaluate on a regular basis by asking the important questions:

  • Do I love what I’m doing?
  • Am I inspired by what I do?
  • Am I fulfilled?
  • Does my success feel meaningful?
  • Am I making a difference?
  • Am I healthy doing what I am doing?
  • Am I setting my own goals or am I blindly following what others are doing?
  • Am I being driven by internal motivation and inspiration or fear and “shoulds”?

Here’s what I know for sure.

If you are following your heart and inspired knowing, you can’t go wrong. It’s just a matter of breaking it down into small action steps with a congruent plan set in a reasonable time frame and then choosing courage and love over fear again and again.

You are important. Your voice matters. You have worth and value! The world needs you.

Whichever way you choose to spend your time, earn your money and make a difference is up to you.

The world is a better place because you are fulfilled, healthy, inspired and doing what you love.

Why I Have Hope for 2017 and Three Ways to Stay Sane During Uncertainty



I’ve thought a lot about the transition for this new year.  Never before have I heard on a grand scale people desperately ready to end a year and start another. Facebook, in particular, shows this sentiment where over and over people’s rage and frustration got expressed towards the year. I even know a friend who made a shirt for New Year’s Eve to express this. (Get ready for graphic language.)



It makes me wonder. Today is 2017 and yesterday was 2016. What exactly is going to be different besides the date?

Don’t get me wrong. I GET IT. I understand. There have been some really tough experiences and circumstances that have occurred this last year which are much more in the mainstream awareness than ever before.

But here’s why I have hope.

I was taking my evening walk to see the last sunset of 2016 and I saw this sign on a lawn in my neighborhood.

No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.

I’ve been seeing signs like this all over Berkeley as well.


I realize that Berkeley, CA is about as liberal a bubble as one can get in the United States.

The reason these signs give me hope is because the very issues that so many of us knew about but didn’t have to deal with directly are now out in the open and so many people are having important discussions about what’s really going on.

No longer are we in a time where we can turn a blind eye and have our heads in the sand, but we MUST GET INVOLVED.

No matter what your political alignment or affiliation, this past election year has shown that ignorance and denial of reality have made a lot of people scared, uncertain and angry.

Yet, more and more people are getting engaged, talking with others who may have completely opposite points of view and trying to understand one another’s differences as blame and judgment no longer work.

While the media will flood your awareness with death, hate crimes, and catastrophic news, there are positive things that are happening as well. This post by Col. Chris Hadfield is a perfect example documenting the successes and advances globally in 2016 including eradication of disease, former animals that were going extinct now increasing in population, the ivory trading ending and more. Read it here.

So here are three suggestions that can help you stay empowered.

1.) Be meticulous about what you focus on.

Make a conscious and intentional commitment to govern what you read, who you hang out with and what you talk about. There is nothing more contagious than sitting around talking about how awful things are, how scary it is and how it’s only getting worse.

Get informed, yes. By all means, stay current. But use that information to stay empowered and aware so that you can do something about it.

If the people you surround yourself are persistently angry, critical, negative and fatalistic and you know this only shuts you down, then find people who help you rise up. Surround yourself with people who are empowered, taking action, inspired and solution focus.

This includes what you read, who you talk to, what you talk about and what you fill your awareness with.

2.) Focus on what you can do something about.

After the presidential election, I found myself addicted to FB, news, other social media outlets with screaming headlines of how the world was coming to an end. Then I realized that a lot of what I was reading were opinion pieces that were writing about things out of context as well as other articles that were fake news.

I would get so tied up in knots, not knowing what was real and what was sensationalism. I would become so fearful and paralyzed, it was hard to get much done.

That’s when I realized that this pattern was not going to help anyone. I didn’t feel more informed, I felt more traumatized. So I made a point of picking 2-3 news sources that I could trust and designated a limited time to reading the news. Just enough to get informed but not enough to get depressed and paralyzed with fear.

All this to say is, focus on what you can do something about.

  • Connect with people
  • Get involved
  • Have real conversations with people about what you think and feel
  • Learn from people who don’t agree with you
  • Become an activist
  • Donate to causes that can make an impact for what you believe in
  • Get inspired, make a difference
  • Hold hope
  • Vote
  • Write letters to your government officials
  • Balance your news intake: for every catastrophic event you read about, find an equally empowering and inspiring success

3.) Take care of yourself.

By this time next year, we don’t know where things will be. There is so much uncertainty. But what I hope for you is that no matter what happens, you will be able to be resilient, adaptive and flexible.

This requires self-care. Loving yourself enough so that you are in optimal shape to respond with conscious intention to whatever is happening outside of you.

Diet, exercise, being with people you love, getting inspired, having meaning and purpose-these are all things that will help optimize your well-being. From that state of being, you can respond to the world around you from a place of empowerment and not victimhood or helpless/hopeless fear.

Do you know of the female activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala?

This interview with John Stewart in 2013 is phenomenal. Even under the most harrowing and terrifying circumstances, she is an example of empowerment, courage, inspiration and purpose.

We are all in this together. 2017 will be what we will make it to be. It’s not up to external circumstances, other people and things beyond our control. It is up to us, how we bring ourselves to the day, how we respond, what we create, how we act to one another, what we believe, how we take action and how we take care of ourselves.

May 2017 be an empowered, inspired, conscious, intentional year.

Keep calm and ROCK ON.

What Do You Do When You Can’t Find Your Purpose? Thoughts on Musicians and Meaning, Life Purpose and Self Worth Inspired by Pianist Leon Fleisher.


This post is a follow-up from a recent article called The Dark Side of Success: Thoughts on Musicians and the Post Concert Blues.

In that article, I spoke about the patterns so many creative people face- the yo-yo swing from elated inspiration to being down in the dumps with no energy, motivation or direction. This continues until that next big thing comes along and then the cycle repeats.

During my own recent period of such a process, I found myself devouring everything I could learn about the renowned pianist Leon Fleisher.  It started because I had found a misplaced CD of his titled Two Hands which is one of the most beautiful and profound recordings I know of.

Debussy Claire de Lune:

If you don’t know about Leon Fleisher and his remarkable journey, I recommend taking the time to learn about him.

Here is a wonderful article  titled “My Life Fell Apart…”  by Lynne Walker for The Independent

“At 16, he was ‘the pianistic find of the century’. There followed a sparkling two decades before his right hand seized up mysteriously. After a 40-year battle to regain mastery of the keyboard, Leon Fleisher was headlining the 2010 Aldeburgh Festival. Lynne Walker hears his extraordinary story.”

There is also a short documentary about his journey also titled Two Hands and finally a feature about that documentary on NPR that you can find here.

Every time I listen to this CD I have to stop what I’m doing and just listen deeply. Each time these exquisite moments of profound music-making take my breath away and bring tears to my eyes.

It reminds me over and over how stunning music, how profound and meaningful it is…

When I think of the music that moves me deeply, I recognize that it is often because the musician and or the composer is a great humanitarian who has overcome some devastating tragedy and come through it to the other side. As a result of those experiences, he or she contributed something exceptional to the world because of it.

I can’t help but think about the role of music during the times we are currently facing.

So much of our training and thinking about a musical life is about achieving, being successful and “making it.”  In the two videos that follow, you’ll hear an important discussion about this with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Leon Fleisher and violinist Pam Frank.


In particular, listen to Pam Frank’s answer on how it is to be with music after an injury and the emotional process of “having the very thing you love no longer be available to you.”

During times like now, with all the fear and uncertainty, it’s time to know WHY you are a musician. How do you want to make an impact? How can you use music to communicate with others?

This is a time when we as artists can become one community working together for a bigger cause.

Music is needed more than ever and how will you contribute?

With all the unknown and change happening now, this is one area that you can have certainty. Certainty in how you will connect with music and share it with others.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Thank you.

The Dark Side of Success…Thoughts on Musicians and the Post Concert Blues

Today’s the first day I’ve felt hopeful, inspired and motivated in about three weeks.

I’d been going non stop since last January where every month since then had some “big thing” and I never had more than a day or two to slow down before revving up for the next project, talk, workshop, presentation, interview or residency. 

I kept telling myself that the pace I was going was not sustainable, and the low grade fatigue gradually became long term exhaustion. Except, I was so inspired by what I was doing and all the growth and success I was achieving that the “soul crack” that is inspiritation kept me going and going and going…  It was that mysterious combo of inspiration and fulfillment with an undercurrent of deep fatigue. Can you relate to this?

At the end of September I finally had a break with no big things scheduled on the books until January 2017. At first I just spent a week catching up on sleep, laundry and other life stuff after having been on the road for so long. Then I got a cold that lasted two weeks. And then I was in a rut. No immediate big projects on the horizon, just day to day work as usual and two weeks spent in my pjs on the couch watching Netflix wheneveer I wasn’t working.

This does not line up with my inspired vision of The WholeHearted Musician. If I’m so fulfilled and inspired, going after my dreams and purpose, then why did I feel so blue and unmotivated?

What the heck is going on?

When I went to my chiropractor last week, after working with me she said, “Dana, you just need to rest. You don’t have to get sick or “fall apart” just so you can finally have some downtime. You need to be kind to yourself, you’ve been ON for a LONG time and it’s ok to rest and live a little.”

OOOOFFFF. How familiar is this? Not being able to rest or slow down unless you’re sick, injured or having a melt down?

I came across an article about post Olympic Depression by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro in the Atlantic.com that really resonated. All you have to do is replace Olympics with audition/competition and athletes with musicians. 

Here’s an excerpt from the article that gives you a sense of what I mean:

On August 21, more than 11,000 Olympic athletes will leave Rio, some carrying medals, others lugging the weight of falling short of expectations. Despite their varying degrees of success, many will have the same surprise waiting for them back home: a feeling that life suddenly seems ordinary.

This emotional drop, in its most acute form, might be called post-Olympic depression—or, to borrow a phrase from the sports psychologist Scott Goldman, the director of the Performance Psychology Center at the University of Michigan, an under-recovery.
“Think about the rollercoaster ride prior to the Olympics, and just how fast and hectic that mad dash is,” Goldman says. “This ninety-mile-per-hour or hundred-mile-per-hour ride comes to a screeching halt the second the Olympics are over. … [The athletes] are just exhausted; it was such an onslaught to their system. And when it’s all said and done, they’re just physiologically depleted, as well as psychologically.”
It got me thinking about the countless times I would achieve some big goal and instead of feeling euphoric I would feel deflated. 

I would feel proud/joyous/elated for a brief moment but then the listless, directionless, unmotivated, stuck-in-a-rut experience would soon follow if I didn’t have another goal or project on the horizon.

Obviously going non stop from goal to goal at a relentless pace just to avoid this experience is not the answer.

So what then is the answer?

Each and every person has to find their own way. There are some things that can help. Some are short term and others require introspective exploration.

I’m not a medical doctor, so be sure to consult your own if you have more serious concerns. But here are few logistical things that have worked for me:

  • Get ample sleep
  • Hydrate 
  • Take a multi vitamin
  • Decrease alcohol (it’s a depressant!)
  • Move your body! Even a short walk can do wonders!
  • Laugh
  • Focus on what you’re grateful for
  • Celebrate and acknowledge what you’ve already achieved
  • Study people who inspire you
  • Hug the people you love

As for the deeper internal work, I’m going to devote the next few blog posts to these bigger topics.

Stay tuned for my next post addressing the danger of identifying yourself by your purpose/calling/mission/career and what I learned by studying the life path of pianist Leon Fleisher.

I Used to Think That Freelancing Was a Dirty Word Until…


I was working with a very talented musician over the summer who after two sessions said to me, “You know, I used to think that freelancing was a dirty word. I used to think it was the last resort if I couldn’t win a job. But now I see it means that I can create the life I want, the way I want.”

That is the simple truth. As a musical entreprenuer, you get to design the life you dream of.

I define a freelancing career as a career based on self-employment vs a full-time tenured position that provides one’s sole source of income including retirement and health benefits, etc.

What this means is that you, as your own employer decide:

  • What projects you focus on
  • How much you work
  • When you work
  • Where you work
  • How you work
  • With whom you work
  • How much you charge
  • How much you earn
  • When you get paid
  • How you get paid
  • Where your money goes
  • Your vision
  • Your artistic standard
  • You are responsible for the outcome
  • And much more…

Somewhere along the line freelancing became a dirty word, as my client said, a symbol of failure because one didn’t get “a real job.”

But let’s look at what a “real job” might entail.

Now, for the sake of clarity I am going to assume that this is not your dream job that you’ve been working your whole life for and are thrilled and ecstatically fulfilled doing. I am going with what most people think of a “real job” which is a music related job that pays a steady salary and hopefully benefits.

Most people think of a “real job” as a sign of “making it” by the profession’s standards (you’re good enough), and a source of certainty (you know you have regular work) and constancy (you know how much you’ll get paid, how often and when.)

Grim, I know. I’m starting with these bleak parameters because week after week this is what I hear in my office when doing career consulting.

So let’s take a look at what a “real job” could look like. A common one that many people seek is a university or conservatory teaching job. (There are of course many other jobs, so if you prefer a different one then take these points and translate them to your specific scenario.)

A full-time position at a music school, university or conservatory can involve:

  • Teaching a set amount of students private lessons every week
  • Teaching a studio group class
  • Performing faculty recitals at least once a year
  • Performing with guest artists and other faculty members
  • Coaching chamber music
  • Coaching orchestral sectionals
  • Teaching academic classes
  • Attending students’ recitals

Other things that one may not think of are:

  • Attending faculty meetings
  • Attending fundraising events
  • Academic advising
  • Being on different school-wide committees
  • Listening to prospective students’ auditions
  • Listening to incoming students’ placement auditions
  • Faculty retreats
  • Meetings with human resources, scholarship committees, academic advising boards
  • Meetings with different department chairs
  • Filling out paperwork such as grades, time sheets, evaluations and administrative questionnaires
  • Post-concert social events
  • School-wide holiday parties
  • Graduation

Can you see how much time is spent doing things that may not be directly related to the things you love doing, such as performing and teaching? These tasks and obligations are often in addition to what is described as your full-time teaching load.

Other things to consider about a full time “real job” is that once the salary is negotiated it rarely gets raised any significant amount. That means your income is capped by your negotiated salary (after taxes) and how much you can additionally earn during any extra time you have outside of your full-time job.

Can you see how that very need for constancy and security also creates a limit to what’s possible: locking you in, year after year where someone else decides how you manage your time and how much you get paid?

As an entrepreneur, you are your own boss. THERE ARE NO GATE KEEPERS BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR DREAMS.

YES, freelancing can have a lot of instability and volatility at first until you learn how to create systems that create stability and take you out of that “feast or famine” cycle. These are not hard to do but require discipline, focus, and long-term planning. There is NO LIMIT to how much you can do and earn, IT’S UP TO YOU!!!!

It takes a lot of work, but then again, what doesn’t?! If you’re going to be busy and work really hard, you might as well be doing what you LOVE!

We have been told so many times that we have to sacrifice or compromise what we truly believe in so we can earn a living. Then we look around and search for the ways we think other musicians are making a living and decide somehow that those are the only ways it’s possible to have a sustainable life in music.

There is nothing wrong with being a full-time employee if that is what you truly would LOVE to being doing musically and if it’s what you find most inspiring and fulfilling.

But if those full-time jobs are only because you don’t see any other way to make a decent living, then I suggest you think long and hard.

Earning money is a skill set in and of itself. It involves study and discipline just like learning to play a musical instrument. Valuing money and caring about yourself enough to demand fair exchange is essential.

The WholeHearted Musician came to life because my mentor Dr. John Demartini made me sit down and answer these two questions:

  1. What problems does the world have that I am inspired to solve?
  2. How can I do what I love and get paid in fair exchange?

I am now doing what I love, designing my own inspired life and earning more than I ever did through employment. Has it been hard, yes! Frustrating, exhausting and challenging? No doubt. The difference is I’m in the driver’s seat of my life. I’m no longer waiting for someone to give me permission to finally go out and do what I love and make a difference.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”― Hafiz of Shiraz

If you need a guide to help you clarify what you would really LOVE to do as a music career and get paid in fair exchange click HERE.

For information on private career coaching with me, click HERE




“Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming!”


“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!” -Dory the fish in Finding Nemo

According to Facebook, the WholeHearted Musician blog is exactly three years and one month old today. I found an old post I wrote celebrating that it had received 1000 views.

My Blog, the Wholehearted Musician, is officially one month old today and has had over 1,000 views! THANK YOU for your support! Please help me spread the word and get this work out to musicians, dancers, teachers, composers, artistic administrators, and performing artists of all kinds. Thank you!

-April 4, 2013 www.wholeheartedmusician.com

I couldn’t believe that I had the courage to write a blog and that people were actually reading it.

In truth, the work I call the WholeHearted Musician™ began in January 2004 when I felt the calling to become a therapist for musicians and was contemplating the idea of going back to school for psychology.

I was terrified– truly scared sh!tless.

I couldn’t believe that I was considering turning my back on a music career I’d devoted my entire life to (LITERALLY, I started violin lessons when I was two years old.)

But here I am after 12 years of the craziest roller coaster path so crazy one might question “is that even a path?!  I didn’t give up, but MAN were there times I wanted to, BELIEVE ME.

Anyway, just recently I gave an interview that was featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Chamber Music Magazine.

IMG_1408         IMG_1409


This is a big deal because, for the first time in 12 years, my life makes sense and the vision I saw 12 years ago is coming to fruition.

You see, when I went back to school to study somatic psychology in 2004, I really had NO idea how on earth I was going to make that vision I had come true. I KNEW I had this calling inside, but there was no instruction manual on how to gracefully leave a full-time teaching and performing career to get an advanced degree in a completely different field and somehow bring them together into a thriving career that makes sense.

And yet, it happened. I am a licensed somatic therapist, career coach and former concert cellist (who still performs now and again) who speaks, writes, teaches, travels and has a private practice in counseling and career coaching specializing in the arts.

Here’s the best part.

I sent my mom a text saying ‘Hey Mom! I’m in print! Check it out!”

A few hours later she wrote me an e-mail and here’s what she said:


I just read your article in Chamber Music America.  I think it’s wonderful, and just re-emphasizes what you’ve been saying (and what I wish I could have heard 50 years ago)…….

So, Sunday afternoon I played in a piano quartet with a friend and a couple of other older ladies of varying ability.  We played the Mozart g minor piano quartet.

Now, normally this kind of thing would have had me in a state of paralysis for days before.  I haven’t played in a chamber group of any kind for any audience for years.  So, it was interesting to get up there and realize I was not in a state of panic, but in a state of relative calm, having a great time.  Our performance was by no means perfect, but we did start together and end together. Pretty wild.

So there goes the story about “I’m not good enough to play in public……”.  And I’m only 72.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Love, Mom

 When I got the e-mail I cried and this what I wrote back:


That is so awesome mom! You are amazing!

I have always admired how much you love music, how you’ve devoted your whole life to it, especially through teaching-how you make better people through the study of music. It has always inspired me.

I’m so grateful I can return the favor after all you’ve done to support me.



If you knew the challenges my mom and I have overcome over the years, you would understand that this exchange in itself is pretty phenomenal.

Needless to say, the gratitude I feel over things coming full circle after years of struggle, challenge, uncertainty and doubt-all while being pulled forward by the inner calling, the MUST inside that wouldn’t let me give up on the vision-is profound.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I want to remind you that:

If you’re on your path and feeling overwhelmed, don’t give up.

If you’re feeling discouraged and uncertain, don’t give up.

If you KNOW you have something important to share with the world but have no idea how to get it out there, don’t give up.

When the WHY is big enough, the HOWs take care of themselves. —Dr. John Demartini

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” —Pablo Picasso

I’ll leave you with this last quote by Steve Jobs.  It certainly describes my life and it may apply to you too.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.


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