The Power of Your Imaginary Lives


Many (many) moons ago, I was a young orchestral fellow at the New World Symphony down in Miami, FL.  I was living the life. I had my own apartment on South Beach just a few steps from both the beach and the celebrity-laden hot spots of the day.

I mean, you all know my George Clooney story by now, right? No? okay, another day. Promise. 

Anyway, here I was, debt-free, earning a monthly income, with my rent and most other expenses paid for. I was surrounded by great friends, incredible musicians, and world-class artists. I was getting choice chamber music assignments, sitting principal for big important concerts, and feeling valued.


So why was I unhappy?



I was strolling down Lincoln Road one day trying to figure out the answer to that, and I walked into the famed Books & Books. Browsing around the semi-chaotic maze that all great independent bookstores are, I came across this interesting paperback that I had never heard of. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I flipped through it and it instantly knew I had found my answer. Or, at least the key to figuring out the answer.

On the surface, it looks like it was written for the accountant who secretly wants to be writing screenplays, but I’m telling you, this book saved my professional career. In a lot of ways, it saved my life, too.

It is, essentially, a 12-week guided process. Half inspirational stories, half workbook asking you to push yourself through some uncomfortable exercises. If you’ve ever heard anyone refer to the act of writing in a journal as “doing their morning pages”, they’ve read this book.

Obviously, I’m a fan. I’ve recommended it many times on this blog already.

But one of the exercises in the book really opened my eyes, and I refer back to it whenever I am feeling slightly out of alignment. You know that feeling?  Like, everything seems to be going well, and yet….

…you can’t seem to figure out why you’re in a funk?


Sit down and write about 5 imaginary lives that you could be living.


This exercise comes in week 1 of the book, and then it comes back a few other times as well. Here’s what Cameron writes:

“If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? ….You might be a SCUBA diver, a cop, a writer of children’s books, a football player, a belly dancer, a painter, a history teacher… Whatever occurs to you, jot it down.”

Then, one of that week’s tasks is to take one of those 5 lives and incorporate a bit of it into your week. For instance.  If one of your lives was to be a painter, grab some paper and some watercolors and just start making some crappy art one day for fun. Or if you imagined being a farmer, start growing a few seeds in some indoor pots.  Dig in the dirt–even just tossing the end of your celery in a bowl of water and watching it grow new stalks will put you closer to that world.



The idea is that as adults, our lives quickly start to center around and then become taken over by our chosen career. Between our partners and children, houses and friendships to maintain and our actual Jobs, there’s little time left over to give to the small quiet inner parts of us that could have been something else.

Especially as musicians. We start doing this from such a young age.  Many of us gave up thinking about being anything OTHER than a musician when we were in middle or high school. Yet, growing up, there were all of these things we naturally loved to do. In high school, I loved art history so much that I did an independent study because the Honors Art History class clashed with orchestra. I would fantasize sometimes about quitting the cello and becoming a museum curator.


I often forget that.


But sometimes, when I’m feeling off-kilter, all it takes is a visit to a museum, basking in the collection, the open spaces, the sense of history between the then and the now, and that quiet, little, inner part of me feels seen and nurtured.  Sometimes, all it takes is reading a book about art.



One of my favorite things to do was to take my list of 5 lives, and go over to a place like CVS.  I would give myself a $5 limit on each “life”, but I would buy a small thing that THAT person would buy. A writer might buy a notebook or a nice pen.  A kindergarten teacher might buy some stickers, a photographer might buy a frame or print out a favorite shot they had taken. an IG foodie might buy some large poster board to use as a background for photos, etc. etc.

And so I pose the question to you, friends. If you didn’t do what you currently do, what are 5 OTHER lives you could be leading? What is a small thing you can do to bring those hidden parts of you into your current life? 


Have a great week!




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