A couple of months ago, I decided to get a new tattoo. Already the bearer of two tattoos I didn’t care for, I wanted to get something that actually had meaning and significance. I wanted something that would bring the same sentiment ten years from now that it did on the day I got it. I was going through something personally at the time and it caused me to reflect on another instance in my life when I had to Brave the Storm and Seize The Day.
In 2007, I was working at a local pharmaceutical company as a Clinical Trial Administrator. Basically, I was a glorified admin who was highly unsatisfied with my career. Here I was – over 30K in debt from college, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications/Journalism, graduate degree credits towards my M.B.A., yet at the bottom of the totem pole in my department. As inspiring as this path may have been for some, it was not MY path…not even my plan B. You see, I KNEW I was going to be a singer…a recording artist…a STAR. I knew that any course I took in college was merely something to ‘fall back on’ in the event music didn’t take me where I wanted to go. A journalist or publicist –yes, I would like that. Nonetheless, I didn’t give too much thought to my plan B, because doing that would take away too much time from my PLAN A.
Despite these grand plans, I was – at that time – a married mother of a 1-year-old son. I already had a few successes in my career – singing background for Christina Aguilera, Faith Evans, Mariah Carey and others – but had hit a 3 year stall. Moreover, I had family and responsibilities to handle; my dreams weren’t materializing into the dollars that could support them. So instead of fancy lights and big stages, I was staring down at another kind of bright light….the one that gleams across the glass as you are making photocopies and scans. In lieu of a microphone, my instrument was a staple gun and hanging folders. My stage was a 6×8 gray cubicle that I refused to hang pictures in or personalize because I didn’t feel I belonged there. And even when I tried to make amends with my career there, I was being turned down for opportunities that I was more than qualified for, and that better complimented my education, skills and desired income. I longed to get fired, but couldn’t even succeed at that. I was DEPRESSED; so much so that I wrote a song that remains in my personal archives – Lord, Send Your Rain – asking God to show me SOME SIGN – ANY sign that my dreams would one day come to fruition. I would hum this tune to myself on occasion while sitting at my cubicle. March 15, 2007 was no different.
As I left work that day, I checked my phone to see that I had a voicemail. “Ah – I’ll check it later”, I thought and drove off to choir rehearsal. While sitting in the parking lot, I looked back at the phone and decided to check the message. It was a message from Melonie Daniels – my mentor, famed vocalist and former background singer for Mariah Carey. You know the theme song from the UPN television show, Half and Half? Yeah, that’s her singing. Anyhoo, her message said “Tiffany, Kim Burse called me looking for you. She is trying to contact you. I don’t know what it’s about, but I know it’s for a gig so call her back. Here’s the number…“. I knew I didn’t have any time off of work and didn’t know if this ‘gig’ would be worth me getting in trouble for taking a day off, so I delayed calling back. Two year prior, I had met Kim as she was auditioning singers for a Beyoncé performance. By the time I got there, the singers had already been selected. Kim graciously allowed me to sing something for her so my time wouldn’t be in vain and said she’d call me if another opportunity came up. She wrote my number on this super small Post-It note, so I didn’t take her seriously. She’ll lose that before she leaves the building, I thought. I was right. She did lose that post-it. But she DIDN’T lose Melonie’s number.
About an hour after hearing the initial message, I called Kim. “Hey Tiffany”, she said with a southern accent, “please tell me you’re not on the road and are available right now.” Finally another audition, I thought. I told her I was available and she asked if I’d be interested in a 6-month tour with Beyoncé. HECK YEAH!! She then advised me to come to NYC the following night to meet with the other two singers. The next evening after work, I went to the ‘audition’ and sang with the other two singers. These chicks could SANG – they were official. I recall wondering how lucky they were to earn such an opportunity and honored to even be considered for it. After all, there were probably 20 other chicks after me who weren’t filing papers by day and were grooming themselves non-stop for this moment. Once the evening was over, the other two singers gave me hugs, a stack of lyric sheets, told me they loved my voice and were so glad I was here. Wow – so warm and inviting – talking to me like I already had the gig!
When I left that night, I touched base with Kim to tell her I was done. She said great and that she’d see me tomorrow at 5. Yes! I made it to the callback! Round Two!! Get it Tiff!! I hung up with her, then began to wonder when they’d be making a decision and how many rounds of auditions they were anticipating before a selection. Praying this wouldn’t cast me in a negative light, I called back the next morning to ask. “Well, the rehearsals for today and tomorrow begin at 5, but are at noon everyday after that.” Uh oh! I knew I wouldn’t be able to make all of these auditions because I had a day job. I couldn’t risk losing my job if this opportunity ended up like that last audition. I advised her of my dilemma and she replied:
“Tiffany, these aren’t auditions. You had the gig when I called you. See you tomorrow at 5.”
WHACHU TALKIN ‘BOUT WILLIS??~BLANK STARE ~
I think I sat there for 20 minutes trying to take it all in, then burst into tears. I screamed! I yelled! I danced! No more paper clips and photocopies for me! I was hitting the road!! Singing for Beyoncé! Leprechaun kick! Still in corporate mode, and in between shock and la-la land, I called back to advise Kim that I would be late during the weekdays for the next two weeks as I had to give the standard two week’s notice to my job before I could start rehearsals. My mom always taught me not to burn any bridges and who knows if I would need to come back here later. I’d definitely be able to join them in rehearsals full time after two weeks, though.
(laughing to herself) “Umm, Tiffany, I’ll see you tomorrow at 5 and THIS Monday at noon.”
Oh…. In other words – quit that job by any means necessary, but get your tail to these rehearsals now.
I went through a boatload of emotions that day leading up to rehearsal due to the excitement of leaving a job I hated, the excitement of working in music full time, the excitement of singing background for BEYONCÉ, the fear of embarking on something new, the fear of being away from home, the fear of leaving my 1-year-old son…
Wait a minute… I’M NOT LEAVING MY SON FOR SIX MONTHS! Dream gig or Not!
This wonderful opportunity came with tremendous sacrifices. Although it allowed me to leave my dread job and walk through a door of possibility where I could begin to realize life long dreams, it meant that a critical part of my life had to shift with it. It meant sacrificing tender moments with my son in his formative years. It meant stepping into unknown territory, quitting my job and taking the risk of a lifetime. I remember sitting in a local park for 2 hours crying and debating over whether to go forward with the gig or not. I remember telling myself I couldn’t do it and hoping those around me wouldn’t think I was crazy for turning it down. I remember my then husband telling me that if I turned it down, he would understand, but that decision would signify that I didn’t really want what I claimed I wanted so badly. He and my mom both reminded me that big dreams required big sacrifices. To whom much is given, much is required. If I did not brave the storm of sacrifice, the fear of unknown and sadness of leaving home – and seize this day, there would be no validity to my complaints on Monday morning when I’m back to making photocopies. Was the risk of chasing my dreams greater than the risk of missing out on them??
I went to rehearsals that Saturday to tell Kim to her face that despite her thoughtfulness and the possibilities of this wonderful opportunity, I would not be able to take the gig. It was just more than my head and heart could bear. Kim was running late that day, so I had to wait and decided to run through rehearsals with everyone until she got there. During that time, the other background singers and band embraced me, brought me up to speed, told me stories about their families and careers and even stories about their children. Yes, like me, three of the band members were mothers. They’ve walked in my shoes and shed the same tears and fears as I. They’ve endured long distances, yet maintained unbreakable bonds with their children. Moreover, they’ve not only taught their children to dream, but showed them how to capture it. I thought about a proverb I’ve heard over and over at church: If God brings you to it, he’ll bring you through it.
Shortly after my chat with the band, Kim walked through the door. She asked how everything was going, and I confirmed that it was all good. My last day at work had in fact been my last day. Promise had taken the place of Provision. I quit my job and left the corporate world by email that Saturday afternoon and never turned back.
In every circumstance, through every hard break and heartache, March 17, 2007 taught me to…
Brave The Storm. Seize The Day.