How do you walk away from something you’ve spent your entire life preparing for?
A beloved coaching client is a professional musician. He’s played since he was 3 years old, studied music in college, worked in orchestras his entire adult life. He has $80,000 worth of instruments in his music room.
Several years ago he earned a (nonmusical) professional degree and discovered another career that he loves.
For a long time, he balanced both careers: professional job during the day, long drive to rehearsals at night, performances on the weekends and vacation days. He was tired.
And then he and his wife began talking about starting a family.
“This isn’t going to work,” he told me. “I can’t add a baby on top of all of this. I feel sick about this.”
He was at a career crossroads. Here’s how he navigated that excruciating decision:
List every option. He came up with a list of every conceivable option, including hiring nannies, quitting or going part-time, and leasing apartments in different cities — to name a few.
Game out each option. We carefully talked through each option as a thought experiment. How would he manage three different apartments? How would he and his wife care for a baby while he was at rehearsals night after night? How would he negotiate for part-time hours? We explored every angle, problem solving for each scenario.
What are you looking forward to? We identified what he was happy about in the different scenarios, what he was looking forward to and couldn’t wait to do. We paid attention to where he had a lot of energy for problem solving, and where he was going through the motions because his career coach asked him to.
What are you afraid of? We talked about how he was afraid of letting down his friends and family, as well as his fellow musicians, conductors and music directors, if he were to quit his music career. We worked out a communications plan of how he would tell people, exactly what he would say or write, and in what order he would tell people.
Let the decision evolve. At first, he oscillated wildly between quitting his professional career and quitting his music career. Over time — over several months, in fact — those oscillations became tighter and tighter as his decision to quit his music career became firmer.
Baby steps toward the decision. He took small actions toward making a final decision: he said “no” to a music gig; he told a close friend what he was thinking. We debriefed.
“So what did you tell that conductor?” I asked. He had to make a commitment to a large city orchestra for the following year’s rehearsals and performances.
“Oh, I quit,” he said off-handedly. “Easy decision.”
First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.