Monday, January 23, 2012

The Great Escape

I mentioned in my last post that I have a plan in the works, which I refer to as The Great Escape. I’ve also been known to refer to it as My Big, Fat, Crazy Dream. Either way, they’re both accurate descriptions of the plan.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve repeatedly come to the conclusion that I want to make my living in music. I’ve definitely had moments where I thought I knew exactly what form this would take – whether working as a recording engineer or making it big on The Voice and going on to sell millions of records. But what I’ve come to realize is that: (a) I still have TONS to learn, and (b) I’m still not sure what exactly I want to do in music, and also (c) “what I want to do” may actually include a combination of things.

Making a living by doing “a combination of things” has been a tough idea for me to accept. It takes me back to my days as a freelance theatre tech, trying to cobble together a living by doing a little of this, a little of that (and not being all too successful at it). While some people have no problem with that, it always felt too insecure to me, not having a steady, definable job to tell me where my next paycheck was coming from. It also made me feel like I was a failure somehow: what does it say about me if I can’t make a living without having three separate jobs to make ends meet?

Side note: I am in NO way disparaging anyone who makes their living doing multiple jobs. I honestly admire them for doing what they love no matter what it takes, managing to juggle multiple priorities, being able to go with the flow, and having the talent to do more than one job successfully. I’ve just personally found it difficult to let go of the idea of job security, and to ignore prevailing attitudes from more traditionally-minded friends and family members about making a jack-of-all-trades kind of living.

But I’m getting past my own mental roadblocks by realizing a few things:

  • If I can make a living in any way, shape or form by doing what I love, it’s probably worth it.
  • Having multiple sources of income means that, if one of them goes away, at least I’ll have a security net with the other(s).
  • Maybe I’m someone who needs variety in order to feel fulfilled and engaged and have fun.
  • I have multiple strengths and talents – why should I limit myself to making a living using only one?

Looking closely at those four realizations, I’ve come to a simple conclusion:

I still have a lot of work to do to figure this thing out.

I recently read an intriguing book called Write It Down, Make It Happen, which has gotten me into the habit of putting my self-reflections and desires on paper. This practice ultimately led me to distill down all my previously vague, general thoughts and wishes to a single, very specific statement:

I want to take a full year off from working a traditional job and immerse myself completely in music, dedicating every hour possible to discovering and honing my talents, learning more about my options, and studying new areas in order to ultimately figure out what I want to do with my life.

As soon as I had the thought and wrote it down, I realized yes, this is it – not just some vague thought or passing daydream, but an actual Dream that I can work towards. Yes, it’s crazy – but that’s how I know it’s right. If it were safe and boring and predictable and easy, it wouldn’t be a Dream.

I’m still working out the particulars of what this year off would look like, and I’m definitely going to be putting together a business plan of sorts for what it would entail. But at this point, I envision it as including some or all of the following:

  • Interning at a recording studio – to observe, learn, and soak up everything about it
  • Taking voice lessons – not just once but several times a week, and getting to practice every single day
  • Taking violin lessons – I played for 15 years when I was younger, and really want to get back into it
  • Conducting informational interviews – I want to talk with anyone and everyone in music to hear their stories, find out why they love what they do, and hear about the path they took
  • Going back to school – whether in person or online, whether for performance or audio engineering (or both!)
  • Writing – continuing this blog, and also potentially publishing a book of my informational interviews to share with others who are on a similar path as me
  • Attending as local concerts as possible
  • Performing in open mic nights
  • Jamming informally with other singers and musicians
  • Singing for weddings and funerals at my church
  • And whatever else strikes my fancy

I just want a year where I concentrate on nothing else (job-wise) except music. I truly feel this is what I need to figure out exactly where my strengths lie and what I really enjoy, and ultimately how I can make my living in music – whether in just one type of job or several.

So that’s it – My Big, Fat, Crazy Dream. The reason I call it The Great Escape is because it will mean escaping from the golden handcuffs of the corporate world. Now that I’m enjoying my job much more than I used to, my need to break free feels less urgent, which helps a lot, since this corporate job is what is going to fund my Dream.

Because the thing is, I can’t take a year off to do all this musical immersion without money.

So I’ve started what I call my Escape Fund, and this is where I’m socking away as much as possible in order to take my year off. My annual bonus? Escape Fund. Any raise I get? Escape Fund. Birthday or Christmas money? Escape Fund.

So far, it’s been slow going, and my monetary goal for the Escape Fund is very ambitious, but rather than feeling daunting, it’s more of a challenge to me – to work hard and get a big bonus at work, to find other options for making side income that I can put in the Fund, and to save money wherever possible. And from that perspective, it’s been going really well. Now, I just need to stick with it, maintain my motivation, and keep my eye on the prize – my Great Escape…

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fast Forward

You know how sometimes, you’ll be watching a movie, it’ll get to a really interesting part, and then – boom – they jump ahead five years and you’re left thinking “uhhh, what just happened?”

Yeah, this post is kind of like that.

After my first three posts – which I was actually pretty happy with! – everyday life took over and I quickly lost that new-found motivation to keep at it. Or maybe I just didn’t have anything particularly pressing to say. But having recently read a book all about the power of writing things down, I feel that it’s important to get back into the blogging swing of things – so here goes!

The past ten months have been busy and interesting, to say the least. My voice lessons have been going really well, and for a while I was learning in leaps and bounds – now it’s more like fits and spurts, but it’s still a lot of fun. I feel like I keep hitting plateaus, then breaking through a barrier and making more progress – whenever I start to get discouraged, I just remind  myself that it hasn’t been that long since I started studying! When I think of how much progress I made over the course of just 9 months, that bolsters me and gives me the confidence I need to keep going.

Last year, right around the time I was just beginning voice lessons, I was also doing a lot of soul-searching, career-wise. I was extremely unhappy in my current job role, and being overworked on top of that only added fuel to the fire of my desire to find my true calling. I had several visits with a career coach, took the inevitable batch of evaluations and tests, did a lot of self-analysis and online research, and prayed constantly for inspiration and guidance. In the end, I decided that working in the events world was the best path for me – it tied into my theater background, it was interesting, fast-paced, and fun, and it was something I felt I’d be good at.

Of course, I had no idea how I was going to break into the field, and right on the heels of this decision, I started to feel that my true calling was music, so that only made things more confusing. But I do believe in the power of prayer, and that God/the universe/whatever you want to call it guides you and puts you on the path to the right experiences for your own personal growth. Honestly, what happened next felt like nothing short of divine intervention.

The group my team is a part of at work suddenly went through an unexpected and radical re-organization, and my own team – which had previously been focused on global business reporting and sales programs – was suddenly a global events team. Overnight, I went from spreadsheets, PowerPoint reports, programming and reporting (YAWN) to planning internal events for our management teams at the highest levels in our company, in such exotic locations as Milan, Madrid, and Maui. I truly can’t ascribe this amazing, timely, perfect happening to anything other than God’s plan.

Side note: Now, look, this isn’t meant to be a religious blog, and I know not everyone who reads it will believe what I believe. I’m totally fine with that – but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to edit out my own beliefs in the telling of my story. It’s MY story, after all.

So fast forward to today: I’ve been in my new event planning role for 6 months, and it is crazy-super-busy, stressful, amazingly fast-paced, and I’m on a huge learning curve – but I love it!! It’s really energized me and given me new hope that I can last in the corporate world for a while longer – years instead of months (or days!). Rather than going through the exhausting, emotionally draining and time-consuming work of trying to break into the field by finding an entry-level position with a new company, I’ve been given this amazing opportunity to learn this new field while staying at a company where I feel comfortable, and where I’ve already invested nearly six years of my life and career, working with people I know and like. What a gift!

Oh, and all my hard work, long hours, and dedication in my previous role finally paid off big-time this past year with not one, but TWO promotions and raises! So I finally feel appreciated, like I’m getting the recognition and respect I deserve, I enjoy my work, and the increase in my salary is helping me to fund my next plan: The Great Escape. Stay tuned for more on that.

In the end, I think I’m going to look back on this past year as a huge turning point in my life. Just one year ago, I was miserable in my job, felt overworked and underpaid and unappreciated, hadn’t yet (re)discovered singing, had never been to an opera or the ballet (I’ve since seen three), didn’t know some of the most amazing people and resources that are in my life today…the difference between then and now is pretty darn amazing. This past year really was all about moving forward, FAST. And reflecting on that has just made me even more excited to see what else is in store.