This Founder’s Career Heartbreak Led to a Career Breakthrough

What makes you angry?

List all the things that get under your skin right now.

Then think about your skill set – what are you good at? Maybe you’ve had a series of odd jobs that don’t seem to connect. List all the skills required to be successful at those jobs.

If you’re wondering why I’m asking you these questions it’s because this week I interviewed Casey Erin Clark, Co-Founder of Vital Voice Training.

Casey's breakthrough

Here’s what I learned from speaking with Casey:

Anger + diverse skill set (the ones you think make no sense) = mission-driven career.

Steve Jobs said we can’t connect the dots looking forward, but only looking back. What happens when we can identify the common thread in our past experiences? And how can we leverage that to create the work life we want?

In addition to the valuable insights that Casey provides, Casey’s story resonates with me on a personal level.

If you’ve experienced any sort of heartbreak in your career (maybe you really wanted that job but didn’t get it, or maybe you had a different vision of who you were going to be), this interview is for you. 

Meet Casey, and learn what it means to build a mission-driven career.

Give us some background. Where are you from, and where did you start out?

I grew up in a very small town in southern Illinois – I sang in church from the time I was 4 years old with my family, Von Trapp-style.

I got my BFA in Musical Theater at an awesome small liberal arts college and moved to NYC to “make it on Broadway”!

In addition to the million odd support jobs you have as an aspiring actor (tour guide, executive assistant, temp, babysitter, camp counselor, passing out Disney fans in Times Square), I was really fortunate to do a couple of Off-Broadway shows, spend 18 months on the national tour of Les Mis, and perform on the Oscars with the film cast.

But, when I got back to the city after tour, I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis moment.

Can you tell us what happened?

After the end of the tour, I dove back into full time auditioning.  I got invited as one of only 10 women to sing with the Les Mis ensemble on the Oscars (!!!), and then they announced the Broadway return of Les Mis.

I thought “here it is! The Broadway dream!!”

So I audition, get called back many times, am then put “on hold” for several weeks, and eventually find out that I did not, in fact, get the show.  

It broke me for awhile.  

The statistics for success in acting are insane – not many professions have that much disparity between a supply of talent (huge) and demand for said talent (tiny).

I had NOT booked shows hundreds of times before. But this was the show I was “supposed” to get – all the signs were there in my heart, even if my brain understood it was a long shot.

How did you get through this difficult time, and what did you do to pick yourself back up?

I ended up doing a lot of soul-searching  – why did I do theater? Why was the dream Broadway, and could that be broader and more inclusive of all the other things I enjoyed doing and that made me money?

After reading “Body of Work” by Pamela Slim, I started to see everything – my acting, my experience as a tour guide and executive assistant and all the other weird stuff I did – as part of a harmonious, purposeful body of work in the world.

All my experiences could be part of a comprehensive skill set, and I could find the thread that united those things to make more purposeful choices moving forward.

That’s incredible! Can you share more about your work and the mission behind it? 

My passion is centered in my knowledge of and passion for the human voice.  

There are three things I believe passionately about your voice:  

  • Your voice is truly one of a kind and representative of everything that makes you YOU.  
  • For a variety of reasons (social habits, rewards, and punishment for speaking up and standing out, cultural trends, feeling the need to wear a “take me seriously” mask in the workplace, etc.), most people only use a small part of their real voice.
  • Your voice – your real, full, supported, courageous voice – not only deserves to be heard, the world NEEDS you to use it.  We can help you do that.

Can you recall any experiences you had that pushed you to your mission?  

Among those odd support jobs were teaching singing and acting to both kids and adults – something I always thoroughly enjoyed (and still do).  But the speech coaching came along as a happy accident.  

I went for an interview at a company that I assumed wanted me as a singing teacher, but it turns out they needed a public speaking/speech coach. My immediate thought was – yeah, I think I can do that!  

My first client was a podcaster who hated the sound of her voice – but had the most awesome things to say.  We played with breath, intention, musicality, landing the ends of her sentences and both of us had a blast.  It turned out I LOVED helping people speak with more confidence.  

I didn’t, however, love the company I was working for.  

Two things happened at the same time as that growing disillusionment – one) I read the book “Half the Sky” about the 5 major issues facing women worldwide and got angry AF.  

What could I do about these massive, thorny, overwhelming problems?  I majored in singing and dancing!

Well, I could help women speak with confidence so that their stories, their ideas, and their contributions could be heard in the world.  And two, I met Julie, my co-founder, who shared both my frustration with traditional speech coaching and my passion for under-heard voices.

What advice do you have for 20 to 30-somethings who want to make an impact through their work but are currently feeling stuck?

(1) Exercise your enthusiasm muscle.  

We have a strange cultural bias right now towards “conscious coolness” – Julie calls it “caring is creepy”.

Yeah – some of what you do is boring and may feel arbitrary and beneath you, but consistently doing a good job with a killer attitude can buy you a lot of respect – and the permission to take on bigger and cooler responsibilities and projects.

I’ve always loved the Anne of Green Gables quote, “I believe you can enjoy almost anything if you make up your mind firmly to.  Of course, you must make up your mind VERY FIRMLY.” 

And what you are easily enthused by?  There is information to be mined there and possible connections to be made where no obvious connection lies.

2)  Learn to speak up (you probably saw that coming).  

Got ideas but feel intimidated by the “he who is loudest wins” atmosphere in work meetings?  Practice taking a full breath and jumping in.

Find an ally who can throw attention your way (and reciprocate!)

Understand that just because you SAY words doesn’t mean people HEAR them – so learn to land the ends of your sentences with confidence.

3)   Learn to listen.  

As an enthusiastic extrovert from a family of interrupters, this continues to be a learning process for me.  If you are like me, keep a few extra brain cells toward reading the room and when you might be taking over or doing too much.

Exercise your curiosity about other people and share the spotlight.  Making people feel seen and heard creates more rapport than anything else on the planet.

4)  Find your tribe.  

I have surrounded myself with some seriously badass women who are always helping each other in the stuck moments.  

You can’t do it all yourself – and why would you WANT to, when other people and other perspectives might make the process some much easier and more fun?

Thank you, Casey! To learn more about Casey, check out Vital Voice Training. And now, share with us in the comments – (1) Have you experienced heartbreak in your career? If yes, how did you handle it? (2) Can you look back at past experiences to find the common thread?