The title speaks for itself, so here goes:
1. HAVING THE COURAGE TO LEAVE MY HORRIBLE JOB
There was a time when I worked as a sales secretary at a small courier company.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I hated it. But, I was married (to first husband)… and there was debt… and bills… and I just couldn’t afford to quit. The sales secretary job paid well – but I didn’t want to be a sales secretary. I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to actually… gasp!… enjoy my job. So… through a series of events… I left my horrible job and completely changed the direction of my career.
It was scary decision to make because I was young… and everyone was telling me how stupid and irresponsible I was being.
After all – who walks away from a “good and secure salary” to start from scratch earning next to nothing in the creative industry?
Additionally, I had quit school early… and I didn’t have the right “qualifications”. People told me that I wouldn’t be able to make it without that special piece of paper from a learning institution that supposedly “qualified” me.
As it turns out, they were wrong.
2. HAVING THE COURAGE TO QUIT WORKING FOR OTHER PEOPLE AND TO START WORKING FOR MYSELF
I’ve worked for myself for over 20 years now.
Over the years, my work-from-home situation has ebbed, flowed and evolved. I started out as a freelance graphic designer… and also a freelance musician and vocal arranger. Later, I launched a business called COPS Creative Corporation and employed a number of people… and then shut the whole lot down after my epic bathtub moment. Over the years, I’ve been a public speaker, a musician & singer, a creative social entrepreneur and designer & initiator of huge projects (which I’ll talk about later).
Leaving my stable job in the creative industry was a brave move.
Mostly because I was still soooo inexperienced and only one client. But I have always loved a challenge and I’m great at learning-on-the-hoof… and looming deadlines have always been the best antibiotic for my natural tendencies to procrastinate.
Without a doubt – deciding to quit the job and to become a freelancer was one of the scariest decisions I’ve made. And one of the most rewarding.
3. HAVING THE COURAGE TO WALK AWAY FROM MY MARRIAGE
My first marriage was very, very tough.
I was young and naive and I got married at the age of 19 to a man 10 years my senior, believing that he was my handsome Prince Charming and that we’d live happily ever after and everything would be wonderful.
I hold no grudge against my ex… so I’m not going to go into any gory details about what happened in our marriage or what went wrong. But I will say this: it was scary to walk away. Marriage offered all kinds of familiarity… comfort-zones… (and this included a newly renovated home where my studio was based… and my two cats… and a shared circle of friends… and a familiar routine – not to mention all of the financial implications).
All of this changed when I moved out… and I slept on a couch in the tiny spare room at my mother’s house until I could get back on my feet.
It was scary! And humiliating.
But it taught me a thing or two.
I wasn’t a doormat. I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t dependent on my ex. I could manage on my own. I could pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again… and I did.
4. HAVING THE COURAGE TO AUDITION FOR A BAND
Another defining moment.
When my marriage fell apart at age 24, I felt decades older than what I really was. My self confidence was at rock bottom and I spent a great deal of effort trying to… hide… from the world.
I wore long, baggy, dreary clothes… I tried not to make eye contact with strangers… and I avoided public spaces.
So… when news came that a local band needed a new keyboardist – my heart leapt with excitement (at the possibilities)… but also with fear and dread… and a gazillion “What if’s?”…
- “What if they hate my voice?”
- “What if I’m not good enough?”
- “What if they laugh at me?”
- “What if my dreary old-lady image puts them off?”
- “Who the hell do I think I am, anyway?”
It took every ounce of courage to rock up at that audition with my keyboard and to sing a song that I had composed.
(And thank goodness I did!!! Because that’s where I met Nick! He was the bass guitarist in the band… although we didn’t start dating until about 8 years later…)
5. HAVING THE COURAGE TO SING SOLO
I enjoyed playing in a band – and I soon found that it offered it’s own security… it’s own comfort zone.
My favourite part about being in a band was the process of creative collaboration.
I loved sitting in a room with 4 other musicians… each of us with different talents… and composing and creating something new. I loved the music-part of the band… however, the performance part came with a whole set of fears and insecurities. At gigs, I would (as my mother used to say) “hide behind the pot plant”… and allow others to take centre stage.
I was way too scared to sing “out front”.
I didn’t want to sing out front. I wanted the band leader to hold that position… and I could just harmonise from my comfortable place… somewhere near the back of the stage (hopefully where I wouldn’t be too noticed).
This arrangement suited me just fine.
Until I ended up at a music conference & competition in Port Elizabeth.
The plan was to enter the competition by handing in a song that our band had recorded on CD. But only once we arrived, did we realise that CD entries weren’t eligible. Bands needed to be present and to perform live.
Since 3 of our band members had day jobs and couldn’t be at the conference… I was left with a decision. I could either pull out of the competition completely (which is what I wanted to do)… OR… I could – for the first time – perform as a soloist and sing one of the band’s songs whilst accompanying myself on the keyboard.
Nick and his brother, Dino, persuaded me to go it alone.
I was SO scared! My knees were shaking and my fingers could barely play the chords. But I did it… and then I won.
A Nashville producer (one of the judges) offered to produce and record my song – and that’s how I ended up recording in Nashville (the following year).
Making that (very!) scary move… of standing on the stage alone… and presenting only me to the world… was one of the scariest (and yet most defining) moments of my life.
6. HAVING THE COURAGE TO TRAVEL ALONE
The following year, I visited the States with Nick (we were still very platonic friends at the time).
I recorded the song in Nashville – as the producer had promised… and I was introduced to the whole music scene.
I was very insecure about my abilities but that trip stretched and challenged me, because I was invited to perform – solo – at a number of venues and, as much as it terrified me, I knew it was a great learning curve.
After 2 months of travelling, learning and performing (with Nick as my travelling companion) I was back in South Africa… with a gazillion unanswered questions about my life and what I wanted to do with it.
I made a decision: I wanted to go on a journey of discovery.
I wanted to forcefully hoof myself out of my comfort zone – and deliberately put myself in a challenging position where I would be forced to grow.
By that stage, I was happily ensconced in another comfort zone. I had a lovely little townhouse, situated just down the road from all my family and friends in Benoni – furnished perfectly to my taste – with my studio (where I freelanced)… and a nice little paid off car.
It was a nice life… but I felt as though something was missing and I needed to find out for myself whether this “music thing” was for me.
So I recorded a demo album with 3 songs… sold my car, sold all my furniture, rented out my home – and set off on a solo trip to England and the USA .
I remember how scared I was. There was a constant knot in my stomach – and, at times, I would feel panic rise… and I’d ask myself (repeatedly): “Heather, what have you done??!“
Elaborating on those 4 months of solo travel (and learning) would take up too much of this blog post. I still remember the rawness of it… and the loneliness. The tough… tough… lesson of learning to rely on myself – instead of leaning so heavily on family and friends for support, encouragement and upliftment.
I used to be a very needy person.
A very needy and clingy friend (especially after my divorce). I used to be try to drag compliments out of my friends (because I was so insecure) – and I was a draining person to be around (ask Nick!).
My solo travel expeditions cured me.
Seriously. Travel grew me up. Travel opened my eyes. Travel showed me the Bigger Picture… and it expanded my confidence and understanding in ways that I’ll never be able to fully articulate.
It’s the one thing that I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone: travel, travel, travel.
7. HAVING THE COURAGE TO MOVE TO A DIFFERENT COUNTRY
Once I was back in South Africa after those very challenging, stretching, lonely 4 months – I felt such relief. I was back in the familiar places… back with family and friends. Back with people who got me.
But I hadn’t been home for a month when I was contacted by a pastor in a church in Ohio – who invited me to move to the United States and work at his church as Worship Leader / Music Minister.
(I used to be a very dogmatic Christian, by the way. But that’s another story entirely).
Again… remembering the loneliness and the ache of the previous 4