“As long as I am going to die someday, I may as well play jazz…”
That about sums it up for me.
I walked away from my career in corporate America for my kids, and all the students I work with teaching music. Sounds a bit crazy right? Most people are looking for good paying jobs? Why walk away from one?
I didn’t leave because I was wealthy and I didn’t need the money. I am definitely not financially well off by most standards. And being a musician is a struggle financially when compared to a steady paycheck and stock options. I left because my heart was sick and I felt like I was dying.
For those of you that don’t know my background, I used to be a tech guy. I spent 5 years in telecommunications, then I started a dotcom and spent 16 years growing my own company. We took it public, made money, and then lost everything more than once, built it back up. After that experience I ended up going to work for Microsoft, then AWS (Amazon Web Services).
After 26 years of doing tech, on June 15th, 2021, I logged out of my work laptop for the last time. I decided that life is too short to not do what I love, so it was time for me to leave corporate America, and pursue being a musician, first.
My statement in my resignation went like this, “Although the world of tech has been good to me, it’s music that I love. I believe God put this gift in my heart, and I am going to give it the proper attention it deserves.”
Prior to that, in January of 2021 my father and hero was diagnosed with neuroendocrine small cell carcinoma and given 4-6 months to live. Treatment was unsuccessful and we prepared as a family for my father’s inevitable decline of great health and his passing. To say that it hit me hard is an understatement. I knew intellectually that it had to happen someday, but I wasn’t prepared for then and “now.” But strangely I had already made up my mind to leave my career four months prior. I was just desperately trying to figure out how and when to make the jump?
My dad’s diagnosis put at the forefront the reality of mortality, not just in my own life, but everywhere I look. As I walked with my family through this experience, I found myself asking the question, “am I ready to die? And when I am gone, what do I want my children to say about me? How do I want them to talk about their father?” Well, I’m not sure exactly what I want them to say, but there are some things that I don’t want them to say. Let’s not go there.
I became ill through this experience. I was disappointed with myself and prolonging what was in my heart. I was tired of the pressure from all sides to “do the career thing”. That’s when the switch went off. I couldn’t suck it up anymore.
“I would rather be a broke jazz musician than a wealthy tech executive.” I said that to my largest shareholder of my software company seven years ago, and it was time to make it happen.
I made a plan and I went to work on my plan. I figured it all out and I was excited to leave. And you know what, it didn’t work out as expected. In many ways, it has been even harder than I thought, but I’ve never been happier in my life.
I quit my job because I didn’t want to tell my kids one thing and live another. I couldn’t be the hypocrite that says, “you can be anything you want to be, never give up…” I couldn’t say that if I had given up on my own dreams.
If I can be a happy broke jazz musician, you can be happy too. Remember it’s the journey, not the destination. Do what you love, with, and for the people you love.
Some of you out there say, “when I retire I’ll do…. ” I used to say that too. I’d say, “someday I’ll retire from all this, play music and teach jazz.” I learned that it doesn’t take age to get there.
On the subject of being broke, I learned what true financial wealth is. If I can spend less than I make for a long period of time, I can create financial wealth too. Sounds pretty simple. Just be careful where you put those savings because this market stinks right now.
Being wealthy is largely about controlling debt. I decided it wasn’t worth my soul to drive a new car, or buy a bigger house. I can play music, teach music and make due with my older paid for car, and our home is just perfect for us. We love it. Why go into debt for more… whatever?
I want my children to know that they can figure out how to pursue the desires God placed in their hearts, they can have a family and love and take care of them. Someday they will pass away too, and I pray they leave an example for their kids of pursuing their dreams.
I have certainly made a lot of mistakes. Wow. And I keep making them. My plans keep getting messed up as a result. But I don’t regret walking away from corporate America.
You know, someday this will all be over. I hope you are pursuing what’s in your heart.
My father told me, “It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how high you rise in rank in the world. You do what you love, and do it for the sake of loving someone else. There is nothing more beautiful, nothing more precious. Our treasures are our children, and they are the reason to live and to love.”
There you go. Make it so.
Do it for the sake of loving someone else.