Your Gifts Won’t Make You a Living—Now What?

There are the gifts that you can use as part of your money-making life. The things that you love doing that you can monetize in our current socio-economic climate. Usually, that’s what I work on with clients—figuring out what their non-legal gifts are, and then discovering which ones they want to use in their day job. But I also push my unhappy lawyer clients to pursue their not-very-monetizable gifts, too.

man playing guitar at home

Play with your gifts, even if you don't think you can make money from them. Photo courtesy Stockvault.net and Kerim Mutlu

What a lot of career coaches don’t like to talk about is that not every single one of your gifts can or should be monetized. There are lots of reasons for this. Not every gift is created equally. Some things we just aren’t going to be good enough at, or get lucky enough, to make money from. The time may just not be right, culturally. There was a great discussion about this recently on The People’s Therapist—turns out the author, Will Meyerhofer, went to high school and even played in a band with Trey Anastasio of Phish fame.

Some things we have a gift for are simply meant to be enjoyed.

Sing Anyway

For me, that gift is music. I’ve always enjoyed singing, but I never had an urge to be a performer or a star. I didn’t think of myself as a singer, for lots of reasons. I just sang, badly, in my car and to my baby son. Well, there was the Christmas pageant solo when I was 6. But until 3 years ago, I never pursued singing.

Then, the choir director ran the usual “want to join choir?” blurb in the bulletin at church, and mentioned really needing tenors. So I pushed my husband to talk to a choir lady who came to chat with us one day after service. Instead, what does he do but tell her “My wife has a beautiful voice, she should sing in the choir.” Ummm, what?

So I did end up joining the choir—3 weeks before Easter. Yeah, Easter, which with Holy Week is the biggest holiday of the year for church choirs, even more than Christmas. I felt a lot like the frozen guy in the Mustang after that first rehearsal.

And holy hell, I sucked. I can now read music like my first-grader reads books; then, I didn’t even do that well.  Somehow, I made it through 4 services and at least 6 utterly new pieces of music. Complicated stuff, like the Hallelujah Chorus, and a piece by Lee Hoiby. My fellow choir members—many of whom were music majors in college and are semi-professional musicians—were kind enough not to laugh. Actually, they’re still kind enough not to laugh, and I love them for that.

The Gift of Magic

Singing has a magic for me that I still don’t understand. Despite the fact that I largely sucked and could barely make it through 1 measure, let alone 2, without needing a breath, I stuck with choir, because I just enjoyed the heck out of it. I took some voice lessons so that I would have a very slight clue.

To my amazement, I’ve gotten better. I even have the tiniest bit of vibrato now. I can hit a high C more often than not, assuming I’m warmed up and it’s not the height of allergy season. I’m actually looking forward to working on the Durufle Requiem over the summer, even though parts of it are wicked indeed for sopranos. Mind you, this doesn’t mean I’m going to sound awesome, but it will be fun and moving.

While pursuing this particular gift hasn’t advanced any career goals, it has made my life incredibly richer and more meaningful. I’ve made some dear and fast friends that I never would have otherwise. As Dr. Brene Brown tells us, connection is why we’re here on earth. So pursuing what tiny bit of musical gift I have has led to one of the most valuable things in life, connection. That’s a pretty sweet payoff.

Plus, as part of choir, I add to the spiritual experience of many at our church. I am part of a little village that helps its members through life’s difficulties, like the members in the past year or two who have lost family. If I weren’t using my musical gifts, I would have missed those opportunities to help others. Sometimes your gifts lead you to places you need to be, rather than the gift itself being the help people need.

As for worrying that you may be mocked for exploring and using your gifts? Honestly, tell the people who would do that to eff off. Yes, even if it is most people you work with, your entire family, or all your friends. Don’t let their misery dissuade you. I am reminded of a great quote from Henry Van Dyke:

Use the talents you possess – for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except for the best.

Get out there and sing your hearts out, my friends, in whatever way your gifts pull you.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on discovering and reveling in all their gifts. She offers discounted sample sessions for those who want to explore where their gifts can lead them in their careers and their lives. Contact Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule your session today.

8 thoughts on “Your Gifts Won’t Make You a Living—Now What?

  1. Alvey says:

    “So I pushed my husband to talk to a choir lady who came to chat with us one day after service. Instead, what does he do but tell her “My wife has a beautiful voice, she should sing in the choir.” Ummm, what?”

    My wife keeps trying to throw me into choir (in which I have no interest – after 12 years, you know if you have an interest in it or not). I think I will try this approach to turn the tables.

    Thanks!

    • JP, I left out the discussion of how me pushing my husband to join was actually me wanting to sing but not being able to admit it. So maybe it will be helpful with your wife!

  2. I love writing, and am largely over the fear of being mocked. But singing scares the living crap out of me. I can’t hold a note that isn’t flat, my voice has a huge gap (like no noise comes out at all) between a lower register and a higher one, and I grew up with a former choir-superstar mother who always remarked on how strange I sounded (and how the singing teacher for my one lesson in high school looked ill afterwards). So no singing. Maybe I should try again…

    • Well if what is between you and singing is fear, then yes it could be worth trying again. Find a really gentle voice teacher–no perfectionism allowed. Someone who works with rank beginner adults and *likes* doing that–that’s who I would look for.

      But if deep down you don’t have a desire to sing–meh, it’s truly not for everyone. Whatever gift imparts magic for you, even in tiny amounts at first, that’s the thing to pursue.

  3. I didn’t sing for 15 years before moving here and joining the choir at church. Now I don’t know who I’d be without singing…certainly not who I am today… AND I like me.

  4. I just had to revisit this post – realized that while I’m the type of geeky person who gets a lot of passionate interests (in a type of art, music, sport, hobby, cooking, collecting etc.) I’m always terribly disappointed when it doesn’t seem like I can work in my passion – that I only can do it in snatches of free time. Probably not alone in this, and have no idea what to do with it. Grow my expectations up? Never give up hope?

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