Are You on the Wrong Train?

“Have you ever had a conversation that seemed innocent enough at the time, but with hindsight you realize was one of the most monumental moments of your life?”

Years ago, when I was still living in Boston, I was living a double life. I was 100% cellist-performing recitals, playing with a few big orchestras and contemporary ensembles in town and teaching a roster of private students. I also had what was, on paper, a part-time, but in reality, a full-time job as director of strings, orchestra and chamber music, and an admissions officer at a prestigious private school outside of the city.

I loved it there.  The faculty, the students, my office (oh, can we talk about my office? Because seriously, what musician has an office that large, with so many windows, a DOOR, and a coffee machine?)

It was a fairly straightforward job. Running the orchestras and the chamber music program I could pretty much do in my sleep, and the admissions work I found extremely enjoyable. Recruitment came naturally to me through my network of local teachers, and I loved interviewing families. The only challenge was having a limit to the number of incredible applicants we could admit.

As a classical musician, I had spent the previous 25 years in a constant state of intensity. Between the competition, rejections, practice hours, and constant need for betterment, the ease of my school job was a welcome respite. I could arrive in the morning, make myself a (free) coffee, chat with my lovely and unneurotic colleagues and do my work. The work took up time, but it wasn’t difficult. And I loved that.


But there was one morning I will never forget. One of the senior faculty members was retiring and the school was planning their retirement surprise (a school tradition). My colleague turned to me and said “oh, Your retirement is going to be so much fun!” and started tossing out ideas about bringing alums back to perform, etc. etc.

I say etc. etc. because honestly, shortly after she started talking about my retirement I felt myself having a mild panic attack. I felt short of breath, slightly dizzy, and like I needed to get outside and into some fresh air immediately.

It wasn’t the idea of retirement, per se. I’ve never ever been one of those people who wanted to “perform to the bitter end.”  I like the idea of slowing down and spending days on end reading and sailing and gardening, without the pressure of practice or performing.

It was the idea that in 30 years, I might still be there, doing that job. The one that however much I loved it, was never going to be a catalyst for growth, and in my heart, was never going to be #1. It was always going to be my side hustle. It wasn’t fulfilling in that “My work is aligned with my soul’s purpose” kinda way. It wasn’t taking me where I wanted to go.

I had somehow gotten on the wrong train.

And if I was already heading in the wrong direction, where was that train going to end up 30 years from now? I was too afraid to find out. It was a great job, and it deserved to be held by someone whose soul’s purpose was to be doing THAT job. Someone who wanted to be on that train. As for me? Well, I needed to go find a different station.


So I did.

And now, a few years later, I am living what is pretty much my dream life here in Bermuda. I have pivoted away from certain jobs and leaned into others, shifted the balances of my performing (more solo and chamber music) and teaching (fewer, but more dedicated students) lives, and started working with other musicians and artists as a coach to help them pivot towards what they truly want to do.

I do work that not only matters to me (because working with my awesome students at that school mattered a lot!) but feels like work I was meant to do.  Every day feels like a freaking gift (okay, maybe not those really damp, cold, rainy winter days) and I am so grateful that I made the change when I did, while I still had time.

So, how do I want my career to end? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.  Life has a funny way of presenting opportunities and growth that I can’t even imagine right now.  But I’d be happy if I was doing what I’m doing right now. I’d have no regrets, and that is a very good start.

What about you?  Would you be content to continue doing what you do until you retire, or did you always assume you’d eventually do something else? Start your own home teaching studio? Record a few CDs? Start a music festival? If it’s the latter, why not start doing that “something else” right now? What are you waiting for?


4 Comments on “Are You on the Wrong Train?

  1. Great story and well told! I thought I had the right train, until hearing loss dictated my disembarking, (pesky genetics). Now I find myself at a unfamiliar station; and at an age when finally capable of making allowance for mistakes, feeling as though I don’t have the luxury of time to make mistakes…

    • Thank you so much, Dave. I’m glad this resonated with you. I’m so sorry to hear about your hearing loss. And don’t worry–there is always time to do something you love, and there are plenty of stations up ahead for all of us! Life is just one big experiment, after all.

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