“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

— Helen Keller

A year ago I quit my job. The stated purpose was to start a freelance graphics business and sing jazz at night, but I was lying to myself. I didn’t want to be a designer anymore. I just wanted to sing.

Singing always came easily – too easy. I was gifted with good pitch and a pleasing voice, and I loved singing more than anything else in the world. It was the first thing I was good at. But build a career out of it? Silly girl. I thought I was ugly, short and had no charm. Everybody knows performers are tall, glamorous and feminine. Instead, I took a consolation prize, dressed my little artist self in a gray suit, and 30 years ago became a graphic designer. I was good, but never great.

Passions have a funny way of persistently itching and mine would not let me go until I scratched it. At midlife I owned what beauty and charisma I had, and learned to love myself as is. I left the corporate design job ostensibly to work freelance and sing, but actually started an inner battle that shook me hard. This became a tug-of-war between doing something I did well and doing what my singing demanded – taking a leap into the unknown and believing in myself. At first I did both half-heartedly.

I posted in a blog: “Every day I get up and ride two horses. When I spend time on music, it feels as though I am cheating my business. When I work in advertising and design, I feel like I’m taking the easy, well-worn path of success and not devoting myself to my passion.” Clinging to the ruse of being graphic designer by day and a jazz singer by night ensured neither would flourish.

A saying kept haunting me: “Burn the boats to take the island.” It refers to historical incidents where a commander, having landed in enemy territory, ordered his men to destroy their ships, so that they would have to conquer the country or be killed.

I hadn’t burned my last boat. I kept swimming back to my graphics career and clinging to it. I was afraid to trust my singing and my ability to make it succeed – afraid of failing at something so beloved and desired.

This fear had a point. The music business has never been easy, especially in Western New York, where most musicians supplement their income with teaching or another job. Even low-paying gigs are ferociously competed for and guarded. However, hard work, competition and challenge had never stopped me before. Why should they now?

After a year of divided attentions, I still had no advertising clients. The few design jobs I pitched landed with dull thuds as the client probably sensed my heavy heart and lack of enthusiasm. A previously strong suit was now dragging me down.

Meanwhile, music was succeeding in ways never thought possible. I had regular gigs at clubs, scored spots at festivals, was playing with some of Buffalo and Rochester’s best musicians, and had selected and memorized songs I loved, could master and deliver with feeling. Most importantly, I was connecting with my audience on a deep level and building a fan base at each gig. The answer was blazing a hole in me.

One year after quitting my job, I officially quit my old career and faced my terror – closing the door on the one sure thing that was not so sure after all.

The American Buddhist nun Pema Chödron writes: “A teacher once told me that if I wanted lasting happiness the only way to get it was to step out of my cocoon. When I asked her how to bring happiness to others she said, ‘Same instruction.’ ”

Today, when asked what I do for a living, I answer without hesitation: “I am a jazz singer.” I finally believe it.


The things that change our lives often come when we are not looking for them. It could be a book we read; it could be a sermon we heard, or it could be the confidence expressed in us by a parent, teacher, or mentor.

We would like to hear from Western New York women about the defining influences on their lives for Women’s Voices. Send your essay (up to 700 words) to and include your name, email and daytime phone number. Submissions must be by email and cannot be promotional in nature or anonymous.