What advice would you give your 12 year-old self if you could go back in time? I know I’d warn little Susan not to drink peppermint schnapps at 3AM at that Halloween party in college. I’d also tell her to start learning Italian, since she’d need that language to speak to her future husband. And I’d most definitely tell her to start playing the guitar, that it would come in handy when she reinvented herself as a performing singer/songwriter.
“Huh?” She’d say. “When I’m a what?“
We’re taught to do what we love, and once we find that “thing”, that’s pretty much all we do for the rest of our lives.
But I’ve found that’s just not true.
I am the Mother of Reinvention…in that I’m a mother and I’ve reinvented myself many times over the years.
From college grad to TV writer/producer to graduate (again!) to Mom to Nashville songwriter to songwriting teacher and performing artist, I’ve worn many hats over the years. Transformation has been key to my happiness.
A wise songwriter once told me: everything you need you will find in the Beatles. So if you’re thinking of reinventing yourself, here’s a How To Guide, brought to you with a little help from my friends, The Fab Four:
Okay, so you hate what you’re doing for a living. The first and hardest choice you need to make is whether you want to change your situation or not. We spend a lot of time yearning for something different, but not actually doing anything about it. If you want to change your career, start doing the homework and laying the groundwork to make it possible.
2. Can’t Buy Me Love
What is success? Everyone tells us it’s making the big bucks. But if you don’t like your life, it doesn’t matter if you’re rolling in the dough. When changing careers, everyone tells you to save up some money so you can launch yourself into this new world. That’s important, but even more important is rethinking what success means to you. When you consider a radical shift in your career, most of the time that choice is driven by the search for something that is more meaningful or emotionally rewarding. Set yourself up for actual success by measuring success on something more than just financial rewards.
3. When I’m Sixty-Four
You’re never too old to start something new. Never. Trying new things is what keeps things interesting. Yes, I do wish sometimes that I’d started my performing career in my 20’s. And sure, I’m sometimes jealous of young musicians who can tour 200 days out of the year. Call me a late bloomer. Or actually a perpetual bloomer. Don’t live with regrets. But you don’t want to look back on your life as something you could have lived. Carpe Diem. You only live once. Be all that you can be. Ahh, so many cliché phrases, and guess what? All of them are true.
4. Within You Without You
I was lucky. I knew what I wanted to do. But sometimes all you know is that you want and need a change. Where do you start? Start with yourself. First of all, what do you enjoy doing? What skills do you have that relate to that? What are you good at? Make a list of what you love, what you’re good at, and make a list of jobs that require this skill. Think outside of the box and be creative! Writing has been the consistent skill that I’ve been able to apply to whatever discipline I’ve worked in.
5. You Can’t Do That
Yet…but it’s never too late to try! Maybe going back to school is the right way to go to help you learn a new skill. Education is sometimes just the thing to get you started on your new career path. Switching from TV promotion to music was daunting for me, because I was a singer with no formal music training. I realized that if I wanted to do this as a career, I had to go back to school to learn the language. So I quit my job to go back to school and study music at Berklee.
6. Glass Onion
What type of environment do you want to work in? Do you prefer to be in a career that requires you to be social or would you prefer to work alone? One of the things I love most about being a singer/songwriter is this balance between the group and the individual. When you co-write a song, you need to share ideas and collaborate. When you write alone, it’s just you and the guitar (or piano), and it’s a very personal solitary creative process. I enjoy the fact that I can have both.
7. All You Need is Love
Having a strong support system in place is key to making a successful career change. Find two or three people you can count on who will help you support your dream no matter what. When I made the decision to go back to school, it helped a lot that I had the support of my husband and family.
8. Eight Days A Week
You have to be willing to put in the time for the new career to take hold. Ever heard the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master something? Give yourself the patience to develop and envelope your new role. As a performing artist, I realized early on that if I was able to accompany myself on guitar, I was a whole lot more marketable (and portable) as a musician. So, after only using the guitar as a writing tool, I’ve recently started playing the guitar at shows. Only 95,500 more hours to go….
9. The Long and Winding Road
Sometimes one opportunity leads to a different outcome than you expected. You’ve got to be open to new directions that come your way. I went to Berklee as a vocal major, so that I could learn music theory etc. I never imagined that I would discover songwriting and that it would lead to a career in songwriting and my teaching there for the past 15 years. Sometimes the path you’re on leads you to different path, and this new road is the one you’re actually supposed to take.
10. Here, There and Everywhere
The key to finding success in any industry is the community of people who are in that industry. I hate to call it “schmoozing or networking”. That implies insincerity on your part. It’s really making new friends and staying connected to the people who are part of the world you want to join. Make contacts and become part of your new community. Think about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. As someone coming from a different world, you can probably provide a new perspective, and help them as much as they can help you.
11. I’ll Follow The Sun
When I look back on the twists and turns of my crazy career path, one thing is consistent. I followed my heart. People change their lives for many different reasons. In my life, the changes that I made were always because I was chasing what makes me happy. You’ll make mistakes, and it will be hard sometimes. But go to what makes you happy. Because, tomorrow may rain, so follow the sun.
Bio photo by Jyoti Sackett