Making way for the new invites a surprising letting go

It’s been five years since I left my career as an arts and entertainment journalist behind, but I’m finally ready to say goodbye.

I didn’t know I hadn’t, that in five years of two job transitions, countless new adventures and life breaking me open to beautifully unimagined possibilities, I was still holding on to some sliver of who I used to be. The writer who loved digging deep into researching every artist she would interview, wanting always to not only be prepared and thorough but to care. To bring a deep curiosity and appreciation to every call and sit-down. To ask a question that perhaps hadn’t been asked before. Draw out a reflection, a story, a learning that offered insight into their character and creative journey.

I loved listening to and sharing the stories of how musicians, authors, actors, playwrights and directors found their way to their craft — and I was most energized chatting with singer-songwriters (I even had my own music column for a while and a wild desire to move to Nashville).

To see a musician perform live after I’d interviewed them was a special thrill, as I connected to their songs with a deeper appreciation for their talents and their path. To be constantly exposed to new voices in a diversity of genres I may never have discovered on my own not only sharpened my skills as an interviewer and writer, it fueled an enlivening and joyous affinity for music that will always be with me.

When I left my job in newspapers, I imagined I’d continue, if more sparingly, doing those interviews and features on a freelance basis. But life carried me to other plans and other places, and though I occasionally felt a pang of longing for those days as a music journalist, I thought I’d moved on.

Until a recent Patty Griffin concert at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. Patty Griffin was one of the first nationally recognized musicians I’d ever interviewed. It was around the time she’d issued her “1000 Kisses” album, but in all these years I’d never seen her perform. I attended the concert with one of my favorite local singer-songwriters. We’d become friends when I interviewed her following the release of her debut album, and I’d kept up with her journey from Philly to Nashville to New York and back again. 

At some point during the night, standing beside her, leaning into her observations about the band, marveling as Patty worked her magic with her inimitable voice, I felt an almost surreal flash of time trapping me in a strange in between. It seemed as if I’d stopped writing about music only yesterday and yet as if a lifetime had also passed since I’d been collecting stories and quotes like this one from the celebrated troubadour: “I really don’t think your average person on the street is looking for a big pop single. They’re just looking for things they love to listen to and things that move them, things that make them want to dance and want to cry.”

I felt the familiar longing — more like a question mark this time — fraying the tethers to my past, and the rooting bringing me back to where I was now and where I was poised to go.

Yes, I missed being an insider in that world of musical discovery and celebration, but I heard the closing door.

Only a few weeks earlier, I’d been asked by a friend who’d been nurturing and promoting local bands for many years if I were still interested in writing about music. He’d always hoped we’d collaborate in some way. I gave my old refrain, about my false hopes for a freelance career, the time I could never seem to find to get it going, the years carrying me further and further from that particular style of journalism.

As I heard myself speak, I realized I might be done. With that chapter of my life. With the hunger that occasionally flared when I attended a concert or read or listened to a musician interview. With the pleasure that sometimes surged whenever I was still introduced as a music journalist or writer.

But it took seeing Patty Griffin live and that particular collision of past and present to truly let go. To own that just because I’d been good at something didn’t mean I had to hold onto it forever. I could be proud of that part of my life and all the opportunities it had afforded me — and still savor its gifts, including the friendships I’d made along the way, my obsession with a good lyric and my wide-ranging sonic curiosity.

And I could make way for what’s next. Because while I loved having one of the “coolest” jobs imaginable back then, what I’m most interested in now is being of service and making a difference in a way that fosters human connection, channels healing and love.

It’s been months since I was certified as a death midwife and a grief coach. And any momentum I may have felt with the freshness of those certifications has stalled. Where I was certain my energy and enthusiasm would open doors to a new, fulfilling path, I have felt stymied in how to begin. Overwhelmed by the logistics of launching myself into this work.

But sometimes it takes letting go of the old to fully embark on the new. To make room for shifting dreams and goals, we must claim and clear the space to create them. Be intentional and deliberate. Know what serves our vision and what doesn’t, embrace the calling forth of energies that align with the here and now.

I will always be a writer, a storyteller, and I already know both have a place in my work with the dying and the grieving. I will also remain a passionate music and arts and culture lover. But I am ready to step into the fullness of of my new vocation. I am open. I am willing. I am here, finally, in the unfiltered space of emergence and possibility.

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3 thoughts on “Making way for the new invites a surprising letting go

  1. Beautiful, Naila! You’re SO right–you have to let go of the old to totally embrace the new. Very happy to hear you’re making space in your heart and soul for your new venture. I’m sure music will play a part in the new work you do, what with all the research about how music reaches dementia patients and others who seem unreachable. Blessings on your way!

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  2. Beautifully expressed Naila. It is hard to let go of who we once were. But you will find that everything you have been has been woven into who you are now and contributes to what you mean to accomplish. Music flows through your language. Your sense of rhythm and cadence is tied to your love of music. And the right music can bring contemplation, peace and healing to those dealing with a challenging transition. Nothing is wasted.

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