The Path to Success

Some of the things I’m most grateful for are things I did not plan for and could not have imagined for myself. For example, as a young musician, I hoped/dreamed/planned to be a full time flutist performing in a significant professional orchestra. Yet, along the way, I stumbled into radio and fell in love with the medium. It changed my perspective and my life for the better in ways too numerous to list. In hindsight, I even question whether I would have been truly happy as a full time orchestral musician, and I deeply appreciate the many “happy accidents” that steered me on such a satisfying path as a broadcaster AND professional musician.

Most of us have had path diversions of some kind, and they are not always “happy” either, or at least they don’t seem so at first. Years ago I interviewed the remarkable pianist Leon Fleisher. He was a child prodigy who grew into an astounding rising young concert pianist, when he lost the use of his right hand due to focal dystonia. As a result, he had to completely rethink his career and forge a new path. He focused on performing the left hand piano repertory and becoming a conductor and esteemed teacher and mentor. He has an extraordinary life and career, and I asked Mr. Fleisher if, in hindsight, he wished he could have done it differently. His telling answer was: no! He embraces the remarkable result of that initially painful change in his plans, hopes and dreams.

I recently spoke with a young musician friend who is at a crossroads right now in his professional and personal life. He is a talented American singer who is enjoying success abroad, albeit not in the quality and quantity he hoped for, nor on the timetable he expected. Like many of us, he internalized the message that if one follows a certain script — “Do A, B and C … and you will achieve X, Y and Z.” — one will achieve the prize. Now he is staring at the reality that things don’t always go according to plan, and don’t necessarily bring the happiness and satisfaction one expected, and he is struggling with those assumptions he made and what to do next.

My advice to him was to be open to opportunities, take some chances, keep doing his homework about his options, think broadly about his many skills and experiences, and eventually … take a leap! I reassured him that many successful people arrive at their success through circuitous paths that were not what they planned or imagined. In fact, I’d guess that is true to some extent for most successful and satisfied people.

What’s your story? Did you have some “happy accidents” that set you on a different path than you’d planned for yourself? How did it work out for you? What pearls of wisdom would you share with a young friend at such a crossroads?