Vanderbilt Grad Teaches Others to ‘Own Their Joy’

by Paul Frankenberg on March 29, 2013

Meg MurrayMeg Murray

Vanderbilt University, BS, Human and Organizational Development
Graduated June 2009

How did you pick the college you attended?
I grew up in a large family in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  My dad is one of eight, I have three younger sisters, and I have 30 first cousins.  When we were about five or six, one of my cousins, Whitney, and I made a ‘cousin pact’ that we would go to college together.  She’s a year older than me, but when she selected Vanderbilt, I knew I wanted to follow suit.

What or who influenced your decision?
I never had a desire to get out of Cheyenne as quickly as I could, but when I graduated from high school and had the option of experiencing life outside WY, I was definitely excited for that.  After finding that I’d been waitlisted at Vanderbilt, I embraced the option of going to Texas Christian University, as I’d received a scholarship and would be able study musical theater and broadcast journalism, two things I was really passionate about at the time.  In the middle of the summer, however, Vanderbilt called and said they had a place for me.  I had of course heard from my cousin about how much she loved Vanderbilt, but I’d actually never visited the campus itself -or Nashville-, so I had a big choice to make.  I needed to give Vanderbilt an answer within just a few days, so in the course of those days, I did some extensive soul-searching and came up repeatedly with, “Go to Vandy! Try it out!” So I did.  I’ve been in Nashville ever since, and it’s been perfect for me.

What did you go to college to study?
I was undecided at first.  I ultimately chose a major specific to Vanderbilt called Human and Organizational Development (HOD), which is basically a combination of business, communications and psychology.  I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to better understand people and organizations, and HOD was a perfect fit for that.

Did you change majors in college and why?
No, I stuck with Human and Organizational Development.  I found the coursework interesting and highly applicable to daily life, and I supplemented my major with everything from songwriting to studio art to poetry to creative writing courses, so I got to do a little bit of everything I love.

What activities did you engage in and what internships and / or jobs did you have while in college?
My freshman year, I was part of a group called “Original Cast,” a group in which 14 students work to stage, costume, choreograph and produce a Broadway review show.  It was a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with OC, but it was also very time consuming, and I wanted to have time to learn guitar and do a few other things in my free time, so I only did it for one semester.

During my sophomore year, I started a stationery and greeting card business.  I called the cards Joy Cards and sold them to anyone and everyone who was interested.  I created packaging and marketing materials and really had fun with it.  I still sell them during the holidays; I love the art of a hand-written letter and to be able to share my passion for that and make a little extra money has been fun.

During my junior year, I studied abroad in Siena, Italy.  I took art history and Italian classes and absolutely loved it.  There is so much to be learned from living in a new culture and seeing new parts of the world.  I highly recommend studying abroad to anyone who has the chance.

Senior year, I interned for a music publishing company.  This was an incredible experience, as I learned ins and outs of the publishing world and what goes into a song becoming a radio hit.  Working here sparked my interest in the possibility of pursuing songwriting professionally.

During my summers, I did a variety of things:  after freshman year, my family was living in a tiny town in Italy called Lucca, so I visited them, which was magical.  I wrote for a few hours every day and really cultivated a passion for journaling/writing, which is very much still something I’m passionate about today.  Between sophomore and junior year, I waited tables and made and sold stationery as my full-time gig.  I think waiting tables is so fun, and it’s such a valuable experience for learning how to relate to and deal with all sorts of people.  After junior year, I worked at an all-girl camp in North Carolina called Camp Greystone, where I was a counselor and taught guitar, fitness, and dance.  After senior year, I worked in Chicago as a teacher and music leader for a youth retreat program.  I learned a great deal from all four of these experiences.

Tell me how you landed your first job out of college?
A week after I graduated from Vanderbilt, I moved to Chicago and worked as a speaker and musician for an organization that puts on retreats for elementary through high school-aged youth during the summer.  I fell in love with the work of engaging youth through music and speaking, and I felt myself more alive and aligned with purpose than with any work I’d done before.  I knew I wanted to do this – engage, educate, and empower audiences through a combination of music and speaking together- for the rest of my life, but I also knew I wanted to create my own content and ultimately develop my own programming/presentation.

I kept having recurring dreams of speaking and performing for auditoriums full of teenage girls and thought, “Okay.  What if I sent out a marketing packet to schools advertising myself as a speaker and singer-songwriter with a presentation aimed at empowering young women to recognize their worth and beauty in a culture where that’s difficult to do?”

I started networking as widely as possible, expressing my idea and calling schools, and slowly, things started to fall in place.  I moved back to Nashville (after my summer in Chicago), waited tables at a restaurant called Burger Up and nannied for a few families, and at the same time, I continued writing new songs and developing content for the school assembly program I kept dreaming of.  I wanted to put together something especially meaningful and memorable for students, so I really took the time to craft a program I thought would be effective on many different levels.   In the midst of this creation process, I was craving more structure and stability, so I started working for a yoga and running company called Lululemon Athletica to incorporate some routine into my day.

I loved my work at Lululemon – I was leading frequent goal setting and health/wellness workshops in my role- and I enjoyed the stability and structure I had in the realms of this company, but my passion for going full-time with my own music and speaking career grew daily.

In the spring of 2012, after lots of thoughts along the lines of, “Ah! Can I do my school assembly program full time? Is it smart to cut ties with my ‘safe’ job and go completely out on my own?  What if it doesn’t work and then I don’t have a job anymore?” I silenced all those voices and said, “Meg, this can work! GO for it!”  And I dove all in.

I quit working at Lululemon, made calls and calls and sent emails upon emails to schools and people I knew across the country, and little by little, things snow-balled so that this school assembly work is my full-time job today!  My presentation is called “Own Your Joy” and the goal is to empower youth (girls and boys) to be kind toward others and confident in themselves.  I show up at a school with my guitar and the school provides a piano, and for 45 minutes, I perform songs I wrote, share the stories behind the songs, and equip students with specific tools and exercises for them to incorporate positivity into their daily lives. If you’re interested, you can visit www.megmurraymusic.com to read more about what a typical presentation looks like.

What can you say about the journey from college graduation to where you are now?
It’s been both challenging and amazing.  Amazing because I’m getting to do what I love, but challenging because there’s been no clear-cut path on how to get here.  There were definitely times where I lacked both clarity and uncertainty about how to spend my days.  For a while, for example, I thought I wanted to put the school assembly program on hold and focus my energy solely on writing songs and getting a music publishing deal.  At another point, I thought about applying to graduate school for a counseling or teaching degree because I was craving that stability and routine again.  At another point, I wanted to apply for consulting jobs and get some experience in the corporate world.  I learned that it really takes time to figure out what we all want, and sometimes the process of figuring this all out can feel scary and overwhelming.

I can recall countless times thinking, “Oh my goodness, is this going to work? I feel like I need something more stable!” And then, in the midst of something more stable, thinking “Ah, I still haven’t found what I really want.  What DO I want?”

This is totally normal.  These feelings are actually wonderful, because they are opportunities for us to create what’s next, try something else and be open to new possibilities.  Something that’s really helped in those moments where I’ve felt uncertain is just to be open and realize that I don’t have to have it all together –no one does- and that I can learn something new and powerful every day.  I believe that everything works out if we take baby steps toward our goals (or toward figuring out our goals) and that it’s okay if the process is messy.  It’s good that way.

What does your job look like now?
Now, I’m on the road full-time with my Own Your Joy program, and I’ve started a life coaching practice on the side.  I spend March and April booking and then I tour throughout most of the summer and school year.  I’m based out of Nashville, but I typically fly to a city for about a week, present for several schools/churches, come home to Nashville to regroup for a few days, and then fly to another city.  I love getting to travel and see so many parts of the country this way.

I also lead goal setting and health and wellness workshops for sororities and have recently started a life and leadership coaching practice, which has been really rewarding and exciting.  I received (and am continuing to receive) training through a program called Accomplishment Coaching in NYC, and I’m really enjoying that.  I work mostly with creative, motivated individuals who feel stuck in life and/or who simply want support figuring out what’s next in their life.  They might be trying to start a new career, break unhealthy habits and replace them with healthy ones, better manage their time or finances in order to pursue their dreams, etc.

I coach individuals for one hour a week over the phone, and I work to help them rethink what is possible, remove limitations that are keeping them from achieving their dreams, and implement practices to help them become more aware of what they want and how to get it.  I can be reached through www.megmurraymusic.com if you are interested in learning more about this; I’d be delighted to chat with you!

So, let’s frame it – when you think about “Own Your Joy,” and think about what you’re doing, what is your passion or your dream for this?
My dream is that “Own Your Joy” becomes one of the most sought-after school assembly programs in the country in the next few years.  I want to raise up and empower a generation that lives out the quote, “Be kind.  Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” (Plato).  I’d like to see bullying go down, eating disorders go down, depression and self-harm rates go down, and kindness and confidence go way up.  I believe that if we start educating students about the power of kindness and about specific ways they can be confident in themselves early on and in meaningful, memorable ways, we will indeed see these intended results.

With my coaching practice, my dream is simply to support my clients in getting present to their greatness and taking on whatever projects their deep-down hearts desire.

Go back to your sophomore, junior or senior year of college.  Does your current role fit with the professional passions you identified in college?
Yes.  I always knew I wanted to work in a capacity that allowed me to both create and lead, and the work I’m doing today is a unique combination of the two.  To be able to incorporate my love for music, speaking, performing, and equipping audiences with tools they can use in their daily life all at the same time is really a dream come true.

Were there any big surprises in your career thus far?
I think the way everything has fallen into place is the biggest surprise.  It’s better than I ever could have ever orchestrated by myself.   There’s that quote that says, “When you want something badly enough, everything in the universe conspires to make it happen,” and I feel like that is what happened with my career. I am really humbled and grateful for this.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you provide to a current college student?
Don’t be afraid of taking a leap and doing that thing you want from the depths of your heart, that thing that that might seem crazy or impossible, that thing that is your absolute dream job.

Be willing to be messy. Put yourself out there. Don’t be hard on yourself and try not to compare yourself in way that leaves you feeling like you’re incapable or not enough.  Be open.  There’s so much to be learned from any experience, and it is okay to go about things in a manner different from what everyone else is doing.  Take lots of chances, and realize that a lot of people act like they have it all together but they don’t – we all are working through things.  Be willing to be real and vulnerable and okay with working through the not-knowing and figuring-out processes.

Overall, be authentic.  Set out to do what resonates with the deepest part of your heart, and when the process of doing that gets scary or feels overwhelming, come back to the fact that you are not alone.  We are all on this journey of self-discovery and life fulfillment together, and with patience, persistence and consistent steps toward your big goals every day, they will become real in time.

Interview conducted February 2013
Meg’s comments were audio recorded, compiled and condensed by:

Paul Frankenberg
Co-Author, Burn Your Resume: www.BurnYourResume.com
Buy Your Copy: http://burnyourresume.com/order/

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