Has my career change later in life been worth it?
There is no guidebook on how to change careers later in life, nor is there a rule of thumb as to how many job changes in a lifetime one person can make. This is my experience, and my hope is that it either helps you, makes you feel even more solid in your own steady job path, or at the very least entertains you.
The parking lot was almost empty. I honestly don't know how I ended up there, under a flickering lamppost, peering up from the steering wheel where I had been banging my fists minutes earlier. I opened the car door and walked up the sidewalk into a brick building with no name. Wandering down a hall in search of a restroom, the tears started streaming again. How was I supposed to know how to find my purpose in life if I couldn't even find a RESTROOM?
“Hello? Can I help you?”
I heard a slightly nervous-sounding voice coming from a small office. I stopped and stood in the doorway, looking at a young and pleasant young lady, and thought I was probably old enough to be her mother. That promptly caused the all-too-familiar feeling of drowning in my thoughts of being childless, single-AGAIN, and at another crossroads.
Searching for meaning and purpose in life
I'd like to say I sat in the chair opposite her desk, but in all actuality, I likely dramatically flailed my body there as I started talking to this complete stranger about my plight. These are the things that came out of my mouth:
- I was almost 40 years old.
- My 4th publishing deal for songwriting had taken a sudden unexpected turn due to my being cast in a pilot for the reboot of HEE-HAW. (Yeah…that's 100% true.)
- I had purposely only gotten a BA in music in college because I was NEVER-EVER going to be a teacher.
- I had written a children's music program that I was passionate about but had NO idea what to really do with it.
- My love affair with the country music business was going the way of an old country song…and I desperately needed help with my ‘thinkin' problem.
Sometimes age is wisdom. Sometimes it's not.
Before I tell you how that conversation ended up – let's take a brief look back at how I landed in that office in the first place. Shall we? We shall.
Jump Ropes. The metal ends of seatbelts. Hairbrushes. All microphones to me.
Pre-internet in small-town Kentucky, the biggest dream I had was to be in a show at Opryland in Nashville. I got a big NO three times, auditioning while in college.
Then, in my senior year, my dad died. Cancer is the devil. I put my music degree to immediate use by – moving back home and becoming a waitress at a little cafe called HRH Dumplins. (She said, laced with sarcasm) There was also a 2-shift escapade at Wendy's that ended in me throwing my visor down in a rage and picking up my check through the drive-through – it involved my slight misuse of the microphone and a salty grill cook.
Then – just like in the movies – the phone rang. Destiny was on the other line. I got hired as a last-minute replacement for a show in Metropolis, Illinois that was cast by…OPRYLAND.
That show was canceled a month later. But as a consolation prize, I was offered to be in a show AT OPRYLAND.
I was in HEAVEN. Rip-away costumes, four shows a day – yes, please. I was HOOKED.
Then. Opryland. CLOSED. (moment of silence. playing of Taps.)
To find meaning in life – or just find a job
To say I struggled, meandered, and was constantly on my mom's prayer chain might be a severe understatement. I decided that since my first love was lost – I should probably just get married. Not too smart. That ended faster than my Opryland employment.
The list of jobs I held in this time period is – comical.
- wedding consultant
- census worker for the year 2000
- ‘seasonal specialist’ at Dillards (coats and swimwear)
- clerk at a Christian bookstore
- balloon blower-upper at a car dealership
- camp counselor and recreational planner
- Liz Claiborne specialist
- Prom fashion show emcee
- full-time nanny
- florist assistant for funeral sprays
- cardiologist front desk ‘faxologist'
- front desk receptionist at a milk company
- I had previously waited tables at TGIFriday's – complete with flair – and had almost burned down O'Charleys by not taking plastic off a bread tray before popping it in the oven
Imperfect humans = perfect songwriting
While at Opryland, it was made known to me that people got paid to write songs. Say what?
I had performed at my high school’s Mardi Gras night with an original song to get my boyfriend back (it worked by the way – but the date I was with wasn’t too pleased), but people can do this for a JOB?
After my prodigal daughter years went by the wayside – and before traditional publishing deals went the way of the dinosaur, I was lucky enough to hold 4 of them. And my random life adventures provided ample songwriting fodder.
As I was writing, I fell into session and background singing, got courted for record deals, sat in the room and became buddies with the likes of Eric Church and Chris Stapleton, and sang the demos for countless songs, including “Before He Cheats”. I was even a backup singer for Gwenyth Paltrow in the movie “Country Strong.”
Not bad for a girl who just wanted a rip-away sequin costume at Opryland.
So…WHY would I want to stop? Well, music went online. The industry got turned inside out. And BIG hit songwriters couldn't find a deal for more than 18k a year. I had this tornado inside me that was picking up speed, telling me that I needed to press pause.
And now, we are back in the office in the brick building with no name.
Losing my dad to cancer when I was in college left a massive hole in my heart. I know for a fact that my marriages (yes – another one happened in the era of the comical job-holding) were unfortunately doomed from the start. Every random and poor choice I made in my 20s stemmed from me trying to fill up that gaping hole – which left me digging my way back out time and again.
When I was in my 3rd publishing deal, I was in my 30s. Time to stop running and start dealing with my ‘stuff'.
And now…a word from our sponsor. Well, not technically. But figuratively.
Let me take this moment to speak on the benefits of finding a GOOD counselor. Not a “yes- you're right, and everyone else is wrong” kind of counselor. One that kindly says the HARD stuff – that if taken to heart and put into action can CHANGE YOU. (Margaret. Thank you for saving my life! The current chapter I'm living in wouldn't have taken place without all of the many hours spent in your care!)
Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.
To honor my dad, I wrote a children’s music program for elementary schools called “Colors Say” – based on a song I’d written with my friend, Candy Cameron. Watching that program come to life truly sparked something in my heart. I just didn't know WHAT exactly.
Was that an angel in that brick building?
That brick building? It was on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. I had been driving around Green Hills after a tense conversation with my then-publisher, having just been offered the pilot for the reboot of Hee-Haw. I should have been on cloud 9! Instead, I had to pull over and wait for the storm to pass. (Me. I was the storm.)
That brick building? It was the education building. That sweet young lady? I can't tell you who it was. I know that she listened to a stormy stranger droning on about her plight. And she said, “May I make a suggestion? Maybe you should take an education class, just for a change of scenery while you have this unexpected gap in your employment waiting on the pilot to shoot?”
I left that office signed up and ready for a class. One curiosity class at Lipscomb university led to my master's. That led to “just a year in the classroom as a special education assistant for a change of pace.” I blinked, and now I'm in my 10th year teaching kindergarten.
Career Change Later In Life…Coincidence or not?
I'm being 100% honest by saying I don't know who was in that building after hours, acting as my neon sign and pointing me in the direction I needed to go. My advisor was amazing, but not the same lady. An angel, perhaps?
Sometimes a career change late in life is way more effective than that same career may have been early on. I remember sitting in college classes with a rare 30 or 40-year-old, thinking, “WHY are they here? They must feel out of place.” Well – my words came back to bite me.
I was that 40-year-old. I definitely felt out of place. And…I also didn't care. I have never been so proud of an achievement in my life. I finally felt like an adult! (Well…ish. I honestly am stuck inside as an overgrown 5-year-old.)
How to change careers later in life
I didn't have a handbook to make a career change later in life. I didn't have guide posts or cliff notes, and I don't have a pdf for you to print out to follow my lead. But I can say, wholeheartedly, that if you get still, get stormy if you must, and PAY ATTENTION to what your heart is trying to tell you – you'll get it right.
I have felt such unexpected joy in this second career. For me, a career change late in life was exactly what I needed. I know that my circumstances were unique – being single and having no kids of my own allowed me to put ALL of myself into teaching. And, then I also ‘accidentally' found a partner in life who had also put in the work on himself, as I had done.
Becoming Mrs. Scott has been the smartest, luckiest, and most imperfectly perfect decision I've ever made. So, although this is not about finding love later in life – against all odds and a crappy track record – let it serve as hope that if I can find it…SO CAN YOU. (That's another story for another day!)
So music's out. Teaching's in. Right? Eh…
How many job changes in a lifetime can one person have? Well…let's just say I'm not finished yet. Teaching kindergarten – well, they're my PEOPLE. But music? I still moonlight in the country music world singing demos – and…
My pal, Nathan Meckel called me up one afternoon and asked if I had a second. I did. He launched into a persuasive monologue about his boutique record label thinking about adding artists to the roster for children's music.
“I know country music was your bread & butter…” (In my head I silently yelled, “YES, BUT….”)
“It might not work, but you could give it a ….” (Still in my head I cheered, “NO-BRAINER!”)
“Maybe you could think it over and just…” (About to erupt from my mouth, “SIGN ME UP.”)
We wrote, recorded, and released “Dare To Be Me” in August 2020. It went to #1 on the Sirius XM Kids Place Live countdown! Say WHAT? In 2021 and 2022 we've had 4 more top-5 singles and a Christmas song!
Country Music Career + Kindergarten Teacher = THIS.
And whatever THIS is – It’s AWESOME.
Wrap it up
I could have never in a million years charted my career path the way it's gone. And isn't that ok and kinda beautiful? I have discovered and rediscovered things that make life JOYFUL for me, and I love to learn and grow and try new things. I am ok with being the oldest chick in my Pure Barre class. (Most days ;))
If you have something on your heart to try…it's ok to be scared. But do it anyways. You may find some kind of happy you never knew you always wanted!