Letter to the Graduating Class of 2019

To the Graduating Class of 2019,

I celebrate and honor you as you pursue the life you dream of.

Over the last several months I’ve given many guest presentations and talks on career development, conquering stage fright and mastering group dynamics and there are a few universal themes that emerge again and again that I would love to share with you.

Let’s start with this thing we call “career”.

Your career is no different than what you’ve been doing all your life.

All throughout your education you have been:

  • Building relationships

  • Showing up to rehearsals

  • Taking auditions

  • Entering competitions

  • Participating in festivals

  • Taking lessons

  • Writing papers

  • Filling out applications

  • Collaborating with others

  • Performing

Your professional life is no different than this.

What’s different after school is that you are in charge of your own decisions, how you manage your time and how you manage how you choose to get paid.

As you review the list above, you’ll have a clear sense of what you loved, what you would like more of, what didn’t work, etc. This goes for people, music, places, projects, mentors, venues and more.

What is success?

Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

The definition of success is as unique as you. You may look at someone else and think they have achieved so much. But are you sure that is actually what you want for YOU?

So many times people let others define success FOR them. This is very dangerous because if that definition of success is not congruent with who you are and what inspires you, then you will be chasing after goals that are not yours, trying to please others instead of fulfill what actually matters to you. I call this empty success.

The worse part of empty success is that it comes with a hidden sense of unworthiness and not feeling “enough.”

You must decide what success means for you and ONLY YOU.

  • What does it feel like?

  • What will achieving that give you?

  • What impact will it have on others?

  • What goals do you have to set and how can you strategically plan them in a realistic and achievable time frame?

  • Who has achieved what you dream of?

  • Who can help you learn what is required to achieve these goals?

Learn to listen to yourself.

The truth is that you are in charge of how all of this goes. You and only you.

It is big, fat myth to think that the external world is in charge of your life and your success. No one else is in charge of your life, your career or your success. You are your own gatekeeper.

You have a nervous system that will give you feedback on whether you are on track. When we set goals that are congruent with our vision, we get energized and the feel good hormones like dopamine get released.

When we are forcing ourselves to achieve a “should” (someone’s goal, standard or outcome that they think is best for you but is not congruent with what you deep down want inside), then you’ll procrastinate, hesitate, doubt yourself, self-sabotage and be unfocused. What’s worse is that when you achieve those goals you may feel a momentary pride, but then you’ll feel exhausted and unfulfilled.

Getting criticized and judged is inevitable. EXPECT IT.

Following your vision is not a walk in the park. It’s probably the scariest, most courageous and difficult thing you’ll ever do.

I promise that you will get criticized, judged, rejected and challenged. THIS IS UNAVOIDABLE, no matter what path you choose.

If you live your life trying to avoid these things you will live a life in the smallest range of experience and will also avoid the truest sense of belonging, inspiration, fulfillment, gratitude, joy and passion.

People will judge you, criticize you and be threatened by you no matter what, so make it worth it!

Getting clear on stress and hard work.

Knowing your vision is essential because otherwise how will you know where you’re headed?

Once this is clear, the next steps involve strategically planning those goals and outcomes.

  • Make them measurable.

  • Commit them into space and time.

  • Hold yourself accountable.

  • Pay attention to what is working and what’s not working.

Hustle is essential. All things worth achieving will take persistence, discipline and consistent work.

Stress however is feedback. There is eustress and distress.

Eustress comes from setting goals that inspire you. It’s what we call inspired stress. It’s the kind of stress that makes you have to grow beyond who you were into the person you want to become who is capable of achieving the goals you set.

Distress is that feeling of overwhelm, frustration, anger and irritation that comes from doing things that are uninspiring. Sometimes it’s obvious, like waiting for an hour at the post office waiting to send a package or sitting in rush hour traffic when you’re already late. It’s subtler forms come with tension, lack of engagement, or worrying about what other people think instead of staying true to what you are focusing on.

This all leads me to this: 


Somehow in the music profession we have understood that we are not supposed to fail.

And yet, all creativity, innovation and inspiration comes from a place of vulnerability, authenticity and creativity.


Failure is feedback. It helps us learn. We cannot learn through intellectual hypothesizing. We learn by falling down and getting back up. We learn through things not working out as we expected or how we expected. We learn by how our actions impact others. It’s a living system of continual feedback.

Rather than set goals to achieve and thus avoid failure, be curious about your failures and discerning of your wins. Both are telling you a lot about what is working and what is not. Listen deeply with curiosity.



It’s not your performance, it’s not your resume or GPA or awards that make you significant.

It’s who you ARE. There is only one you. Your only measurement for success is YOU because comparing yourself to anyone else is futile unless it inspires you to fulfill who YOU are.

Let your goals be benchmarks for your own fulfillment, growth and evolution. Let the people you impact be the feedback for your contribution. Do not let anyone ever tell you your worth and value.

Your voice matters. Your inspiration matters. YOU MATTER. The world needs your unique authenticity.

May you always see the support and challenge present in every moment.