At the request of a reader and beloved former client, today I’m doing something a little different. I’m pulling back the curtain on my own experience of investing loads of money, time, and dreams into one career, only to realize that my truest desires and needs would never be met by that career.
I’ll share where I started, where it all blew up, and where I am now in my process, and hopefully my story and perspectives offer something valuable to those on a similar path.
My story involves everything from generational trauma, institutionalized abuse, and people-pleasing as a way of life, to my breakthrough moments that led to my (still very much in process) healing and self-actualization.
I also have no intention to portray my industry or experience as unique. Having worked with dreamers and doers in the arts, in medical fields, in multi-million-dollar corporations, and virtually every kind of industry in between, I am keenly aware of just how many of you have left (or want to leave) a career behind to follow your true passions. I am also increasingly conscious of the role my privilege has played on my path, and how lucky I have been to have options, resources, and support in my darkest moments.
To me, this is the work of becoming.
It’s the messy path of self-discovery that so many people avoid traveling, because it brings up more questions than answers… like who the hell am I, and what do I actually want out of this life? Two of the most challenging and illuminating questions we can ever entertain, in my estimation.
I want to frame this blog post with my story predominantly, and at pivotal moments, I’ll put on my coaching hat to point to some core frameworks that I believe might help those in the process of a major career-shift.
So, to speak about my decade-long career in opera, I must address where it all began: my family.
I would be willing to wager a hefty sum of money that most of us who started off in a career that wasn’t ultimately our calling were heavily influenced by our family and/or mentors growing up.
My family is very musical, you see.
Instead of the stereotypical parent-trope of warnings against an arts career for not being “practical” or “where the money is,” I was raised to bond, love, and worship through music.
My family blended when I was 11, and playing out-of-tune Christmas carols with our 6-piece band by the fire was how my parents fostered a sense of bonding among us four new siblings. (Two flutes, a clarinet, a trumpet, a bassoon, and a trombone made for a surprisingly balanced ensemble!) My Baptist-preacher step-dad and Episcopalian-raised mother found common ground in faith through singing cherished hymns and sacred music together with us at every holiday. And when it came to school, it was a non-starter for our family re: sports versus music. We were simply asked which instrument we would choose in symphonic band and in marching band – it wasn’t up for debate.
Music was life.
So you can tell that my roots run deep with this sense of identity, community, and love language – so much so that all four of us kids received music scholarships to college (thank goodness, because my family couldn’t afford great educations for us otherwise). Two out of four of us even went on to become successful professional musicians.
Now, I go on record in saying that I have my musical background, family, and communities to thank for shaping me into the person I am today. Music is a divine language, and to ‘speak’ it as we do is sincerely a gift. I will, in fact, forever be a proud band nerd and grateful for my roots in music.
I will also go on record that my parents’ unfulfilled dreams to use their musical gifts professionally became an unconscious mission for us kids to vicariously carry out.
Every great parent desires for their children to succeed in ways the parents didn’t and to experience more joy than suffering in life. For many of us, what gets lost in translation is how to measure that success and joy.
Our parents model for us what they prioritize in life, and pass on their metrics for “what a successful person looks like” and “how to be happy.” Often, those two visions can become collapsed into one – that to be successful equates being happy.
It is our work as adults to become conscious of our unconscious minds, i.e. what our external influences and environments taught us to believe. Then, when we separate what we leaned or inherited versus what comes from within, we can decide for ourselves how we measure success and happiness. This is not an act of rebellion, but rather a process known as individuation and self-actualization.
As a people-pleaser to the bone, I didn’t realize until about 8 years into my career that I wasn’t singing for myself.
I was singing for this broken family made whole, these lost dreams made real through me, and the safety I felt when my family and mentors praised me.
I had a masters and a robust resume that included the great halls of Lincoln Center, the Kimmel Center, and ancient Roman teatri before I realized why it felt like the further I traveled down this path, the more I was losing myself.
So, in my late twenties, I realized that my need to please and earn approval from those I love and respect was holding me back from claiming what I truly wanted. But awareness is only the beginning; the even greater challenge is figuring out what it would take for me to not only leave behind all that I know, but also discover my own sense of purpose and vision of success.
When it dawned on me that I wasn’t in love with opera, I sought out mentors and opportunities that would nurture me rather than control me, all while keeping one foot in the illustrious network of directors, voice teachers, and vocal coaches who preyed on massively talented approval-seekers.
As with any abusive dynamic, I played my part in staying in toxic relationships, environments, and situations longer than I should have. I didn’t know how to leave or where to go.
And like most professional artists, I was so used to emotional manipulation, “tearing you down to build you back up” rhetoric, misogyny in the workplace, and transactional relationships in disguise as sources of love, that I didn’t know a world without it.
“At least I know how to be successful in this bubble,” I remember thinking.
My voice teacher who played a big role in my healing process, Ruth Hennessy (a groundbreaking breathwork + bodywork specialist and spiritual-mentor-disguised-as-a-voice-teacher), did everything she could to help me find joy in singing again, because she honored my unique artistry, beautiful voice, and soulful gifts.
She encouraged me to steer clear of the abusive directors and coaches and made introductions to wildly talented and connected contacts… but by then, it was too late, as I had already realized that this career wasn’t for me, for reasons far beyond the bad eggs in the industry.
And so, I slowly stepped away – only singing for those who nurtured me and my voice without taxing my mental health – and had, all the while, started building a coaching business on the side.
My “big breakthrough” was shortly after hiring a life coach.
You see, I had existed in a world where I was the victim of many things – I was undervalued in my industry (I kid you not – one of the most successful contracts with an opera house for pro singer with a masters paid $2500 for two monopolized months of our time); I was emotionally abused by many of my mentors; and I was stuck in a winless game of people-pleasing where my best wasn’t enough and my inner voice was silenced.
Enter: the coaching world.
It is truthfully full of people genuinely there to help, enlighten, and uplift – and to those who are used to being “beat down” and “put in our place” like many artists I know who become coaches, it’s euphoric entering a community like that.
The mission of ontological life coaching is for self-discovery and self-actualization – so for someone completely and totally lost, hiring a coach is truly a game-changer. It felt like finding a lighthouse after wandering endless miles of dark shores.
The work I did to figure out who I am, what my purpose is, and what life exists outside all of my familiar patterns rocked my entire world.
It was like something in me came alive for the first time, and I saw myself, my life, and my career in a totally new light.
I saw the gifts of coaching change my relationship with my significant other, my friendships, my money, my singing, my spiritual life, my physical well-being – truly every facet of me – and I was on fire with the idea of spreading this gift to the singer’s world.
If this could change my life, it could change all my friends and colleagues’ lives too!
So I became the artist’s coach – after all, if I couldn’t find true joy in singing opera, at least I could find joy in uplifting my community of peers!
The “big breakthrough” that occurred to me with my coach was that no one else can know who I am or what I want… only I hold the answers. All my life, I thought people knew me better than I knew myself. People could see things I couldn’t see – in my talents, in my intelligence, in my gifts.
Working with my coach was the first time in my life where I claimed the power I had been giving away all my life through people-pleasing, approval-seeking, and trusting others more than I trusted myself. And while my answers to those kinds of existential questions of “Who are you, and what do you want?” started with “I don’t know…” I found that if I stayed in the question long enough, I would sense some glimmer of an answer emerge. Still to this day, my answers evolve and reflect something new I see in me, which is one of the many reasons I will always have a coach.
So, life coaching helped me find me, and as I change and grow with each passing year, I continue to discover and claim new parts of me.
It was also a bit of grace and luck that I fell in love with the process of coaching others.
My coaching career has been a funny, full-circle path – the short version is: after years of wanting to change the classical music industry, but feeling like artists were committed to their trauma cycles and self-victimization just as I was, I ventured into working with leaders of many industries and business models, discovered my love for powerhouses who want to lead a life of their own design as business owners, and now have found a home with entrepreneurial creatives once again.
You see, many of us who leave a career to become entrepreneurs tend to start by trying to fix the industry we just left. And while I understand and admire the noble cause, trying to fix what we don’t like about the world instead of rooting ourselves in these most important questions – who am I, and what do I want? – is going to take us back into the patterns we want to leave behind.
Instead of people-pleasing driving us, people-fixing can easily become the insidious new mask for our purpose. It took a few years to identify that for myself, but it can take many a lifetime – so I honor the journey I’ve taken, and just keep coming back to answering with more and more honesty:
Who am I?
What do I want?
Many of my clients hire me because they have everything that should measure up to success and joy, and yet it doesn’t feel like they are fulfilled and happy. Coming to terms with that is a process, as is answering the question, “Now what?”
One of the most powerful parts of my method of coaching is separating what we do from who we are. Those concepts are enmeshed, especially in the American culture that lauds achievement and work ethic over quality of life and intuition. As high achievers, we often feel lost and even worthless when we strip away the awards, accolades, and affluence we use to measure success, and simply explore the question, “Who are you, outside of what you do?” It’s powerful having a partner to wander that unknown with you.
I believe that our life’s purpose is not measured by what we do. Even the most impactful leaders in history were not put on this earth to accomplish what they did – they simply chose to follow an inner calling, and the result of that was a changed world. Leaders and legends become who they are because it is who they are. When we align, we inspire.
The truth is my journey continues to feel like stumbling through the dark until I spot a glimmer of light and follow it. My life’s purpose is to be, have, and create Heaven on Earth. That may not make sense to everyone, but to me… it is the perfect description of me being in alignment with the things that make my heart swell, that connect me to a higher consciousness, and that make the world a better place.
Lately, the vision coming clearer into sight involves singing once again, but on new terms… my terms. I can see singing covers and original music on new stages anywhere from local bars to The Voice, maintaining my life coaching practice, starting a family, and expanding passive-income streams as creative outlets, such as Youtube and Airbnb hosting! Our NY Airbnb is set to bring in 6-figures of passive income in its first year, y’all! The artist in me has things to say and create, and I’m listening within for my guidance. After all I’ve learned through my life’s journey so far, I know now that my creative flow, personal joy, and wealth building lie all on the same path – and they are all defined by my measurements of success and happiness.
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