I was a music major for my first two years of college. I finished the major except for 1 credit of choir. I didn’t take that credit because by then, I knew I wasn’t a good enough pianist to play professionally. I didn’t seem to have any talent for writing music or orchestration and my voice was okay, but nothing special. Some of this was self-realization. Certainly my recognition that I wasn’t good enough on the piano to make it a profession and I didn’t want to be a piano teacher. Also, by then, schools were already cutting back on programs like music and art, so unless I went all the way to Ph.D. and hoped I could get a job at a college or university, I was going to wind up playing in a bar. And I couldn’t even sing well, so even that wasn’t a great prospect.

Around the second year of my musical studies, Dr. Herbert Deutsch, who I liked very much (he was the co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer, by the way) sat me down for an ex-parti chat.

He said: “You get good grades. Mostly As, a few Bs, but you master your assignments and obviously have no problem with them. You are doing fine. But you have a problem.” And he looked at me. “You aren’t INTO it. You heart isn’t there. You aren’t involved in music. You should get into it, or get out of it. Music is not for the half-hearted.”

He was right. He was absolutely right. Knowing, as I already did, that piano was not going to be my instrument, why wasn’t I working at finding another instrument and working on it? Why wasn’t I taking voice lessons? I was far more engrossed in my psychology, sociology, and religion courses than with music. I was much more interested in those subjects, too. That should have been a clue, but until Dr. Deutsch sat me down for a chat, I didn’t think about it. I was getting good grades and having fun. I loved music. I went to lots of free concerts because music majors got free tickets to many concerts — and I lived in New York, so there was really good music and I got to hear it. I spent a lot of time in the rehearsal halls at Carnegie Hall. If you didn’t know, Carnegie has the main stage, but it also has smaller halls. Young performers frequently use these halls, so I got to see a lot of later-to-be-famous musicians before they were.

I didn’t take the credit of choir and did not graduate with a degree in music. In fact, it turned out that nothing I studied in college got me a job. I planned to be a writer and I started in advertising and book publishing, then moved into technical writing and there I stayed. My official degree was in Drama and Speech. I’m not a bad public speaker, but I never had any interest in speech. What I really wanted was to GET speech therapy. I had a couple of serious lisps which were fixed during two years of heavy duty speech therapy which was part of the degree. I never took a writing course. I took my required history courses for which I never had to open a book because I was miles ahead in history which was my hobby even back then. None of that mattered to me because I was going to be a writer.

I would have stayed in school for years more if they had let me. I wanted to take another B.A. so I could take a meaningful masters degree and Drama/Speech was not what I needed. They made me graduate anyway. I had completed my major, I had all the credits and I was a graduate, like it or not. I never understood that. I think today they would do it differently, but it was 1967 and a lot of things have changed since then, especially at colleges.

But that little pep talk from Herb Deutsch was the best advice I ever got. Because of it, I remembered that I had always intended to be a writer. I went back to writing and never wobbled off that path again. Music was fun, but writing was my way. Thank you Herb. You helped get me back to where I belonged.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

8 thoughts on “THE BEST CAREER ADVICE”

  1. Good for you, Marilyn, that you realized, with Dr. Deutsch’s help, that your “dream” career wasn’t really your dream after all. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a nurse. Until I volunteered at a local hospital. I didn’t mind the blood and gore; what I couldn’t handle was the suffering – and I absolutely refused to work in the children’s ward (all those crying little faces). But at least I learned that lesson before I enrolled in nursing school. I won’t say what I ultimately went for, but where I am now has absolutely nothing to do with where I was then. Writing and photography are what make me happy these days, and nowhere in my career years did I use either of them.


    1. I wonder how many people study one thing and do something entirely different. I know several lawyers who never practiced law and doctors who took up profession musicianship. For that matter, musicians who became doctors. I think we try to make life decisions when we are too young to know ourselves. Maybe a year between high school and college would be a good idea. A chance to get to know the world a little before making lifetime commitments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dr Deutsch was a real Mensch…. and a wise man. It’s astonishing what ONE PERSON can do for a student’s life if both are interested in their ‘job’.


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