How I lost my career and found my calling

“Can I speak to you for a minute, Valerie?”

Samuel (not his real name), an extremely bright and talented cellist, had started showing up to class late, looking suddenly much thinner, with dark circles under his eyes. I was concerned. One day he asked to speak with me after class. We went to find a bench in a corridor in a quiet part of the building, as nowhere else was available.

“What’s going on, Samuel? I’m worried about you.”

Samuel began to pour his heart out. As I sat and listened, I knew that caring and listening to him were helpful, but I wished I had the training and skills I really needed to help this gifted young performer.

This was several decades ago, in what seems like another lifetime, when I taught undergrads at a top conservatoire in London. Although the institution was world-renowned for its training of musicians and actors, back then there weren’t many resources to support the students mentally and emotionally (I hear it’s very different now). As a faculty member, I was informed I had pastoral responsibility for a small group of students, but no one had told us what that responsibility entailed, nor had we had any training.

Here was a school full of highly sensitive and gifted artists under constant and tremendous pressure to succeed in an uncertain and overcrowded field. I knew only too well what it was like, having trained there myself. Every moment of every day counted. I put so much pressure on myself back then to be an unstoppable force that I’d already had to deal with stress and injury at that time.

Flash forwards from my conversation with Samuel a couple of years, and I was in California doing a Master’s in Psychology, determined to bring my experience and skills back to the community I knew and loved.

I, myself, had started my career as a classical pianist in London, and became much sought-after as a collaborative pianist and soloist. By 34, I had given recitals in the Purcell Room and St John’s Smith Square and played across Britain and Europe frequently, but unfortunately at this point, I had sustained an injury that had become a chronic painful condition in my arms, neck and back. So I knew a fair amount about suffering and challenges by the time I spoke to Samuel and I also was finding techniques to help myself that would turn out to be very valuable.

If I were speaking to Samuel now, there are plenty of tools I could have shared with him. These days I assist performers with a wide range of issues from relieving performance anxiety and stress to mental preparation for auditions, concerts and competitions, to gaining clarity around goals and next steps, reviving motivation, assuaging perfectionism, developing inner strength and resilience, etc.

My coaching is not just about goal setting, but fundamentally about fulfilment and wellbeing, and creating more joy and freedom in art and in life.

When I set up my business as a life coach for performing artists back in 2005, I was a pioneer. Having to let go of my performing career was a massive blow, but I eventually discovered that coaching could be equally rewarding, and I absolutely adore my job.

Now, I have been a coach for more than eighteen years, following nearly two decades as a professional classical pianist and have successfully coached hundreds of artists of all kinds, from opera singers to pianists, rock musicians, composers, designers, and writers.  

If this speaks to you and you’re interested in finding out more, check out my website and send me a message. I’ll be happy to hear from you.