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

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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.

YOU HAVE WORTH AND VALUE EXACTLY AS YOU ARE.

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.

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