As I’ve shared my plans,  I’ve been relieved to discover how many other Shaker moms have gone back to school or switched fields at mid-life.

By Beth Friedman-Romell

Music notes

This fall, as my older son boards a plane for study in Japan, and my younger one marches off to begin 9th grade at Shaker Heights High School, I’ll be catching the Rapid down to Cleveland State University, to begin my training as a music therapist.

My career path has taken several turns I never anticipated. My degrees are in theater, but I’ve worked as a writer, editor, cantor/spiritual leader, Hebrew and Judaics teacher, and even did a brief stint in development and public relations for a non-profit.

I’ve been fortunate to find work I enjoy, and a schedule which has given me lots of time at home with my family. Work-life balance is the main reason I never pursued a tenure-track job in academia, as I’d planned.

But there have been tradeoffs. Now that the boys are nearly grown, I’d like a position with full-time pay, a short commute, and employee benefits. But full-time jobs in my current field are getting scarcer by the year, and almost certainly would require me to relocate. I’ve been thinking for quite a while about what my “next chapter” might be, all the while fearing that the job market has left me in the dust.

It used to be that if you could write and speak well, and had some connections, it didn’t take long to find work. We all know that world is gone. Employers want people who are already doing exactly the job they’ve posted. Over 50? Overqualified. Changing careers? Sorry, you don’t have the right piece of paper for that.

Ironically, my parents insisted that I major in English alongside theater in college, “to have something to fall back on.” What I’m actually falling back on now is my earliest and most enduring passion – music.

As I’ve shared my plans with others, I’ve been relieved to discover how many other Shaker moms have gone back to school or switched fields at mid-life. (Allison, Sybille, Caroline, Molly – you are my inspiration!)

I thought about all the times I’d experienced the transforming power of music to lift mood, ease suffering, facilitate learning, and make connections between people, and how I’d wished I knew how to do it all so much better.

Anyone contemplating a career shift does a lot of soul-searching. Listmaking, too. I listed the things I love to do: teaching, learning, making music, communicating with and helping people. I reflected on whether or not I was willing to sit at a computer or desk all day, every day. I factored in the reality of my chronic illness, which flares only under extreme stress. I thought about all the times I’d experienced the transforming power of music to lift mood, ease suffering, facilitate learning, and make connections between people, and how I’d wished I knew how to do it all so much better. Finally, my childhood friend Laura pushed me over the edge.

“You’re too old to be entry-level at something else. The minute you walk into the room, they’ll think you’ve been doing music therapy for years, even if you haven’t. They’ll trust you. You should do this.”

Blunt, but it seems to be true that my age and experience won’t count against me in this field. It will take me three years to complete my coursework, internship, and certification.

For now, I’m keeping my current job, and my fingers crossed that I won’t collapse or run out of money.

When I visit CSU’s campus, I feel both exhilarated and daunted. How will I fit in with the traditional undergraduates? Will I struggle in classes like Statistics and Anatomy? Will I measure up musically in this environment? I admit it – despite all my years of playing and performing, some part of me still feels like an imposter.

I’ll be turning 50 in January. Some people would celebrate this by going on a big trip or throwing a party. Me? I’m getting another bachelor’s degree.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Fall 2015