Working with a host of high-profile clients as an entertainment executive, Jennifer Musselman learned a whole lot about big business and strategic communications. While she expected to learn and learn fast, Jennifer was perhaps less prepared to act as confidante. Feeling both ill-equipped to thoroughly address more personal issues and drawn to "a higher purpose," Jennifer left her business-centric job to earn her Masters in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University.
"Fear will hold a lot of people back," Jennifer asserts. "What I find is most challenging about making a career change is making the decision to go for it." So that's just what she did -- following her heart to do what she wanted rather than what seemed safe. It was a big, scary decision that more than paid off.
Now, as a life therapist, Jennifer uses her communication background in concert with her passion to help clients from all walks of life flourish both personally and professionally. Additionally, Jennifer played a big role in launching a nonprofit aimed at alcohol recovery. It's a whole heart job that is both emotionally taxing and incredibly rewarding. As Jennifer is quick to point out, it's all worth it when you "get to make a difference in someone's life!"
“You have more control when you stop trying to control so much.”
You did a career 180 in your 30s. Could you tell us a little about the path that led you to your current position?
Working in entertainment communications was a very exciting career and it taught me a lot about big business. But I realized I had a calling to a higher purpose; more of a connection to humanity. This, compounded by being a confidante for several high-profile talent and producers, made me realize I wasn’t equipped with the tools to help them beyond their needs in communication. They really needed someone prepared with those tools to help them heal personal relationships and reach professional goals.
What does your job involve on a daily basis, and what types of responsibilities do you have in your position?
I’m really lucky in that I now combine both of my years of experience in strategic communications with my knowledge and passion for helping people. Launching my private practice as a life therapist/psychotherapist and in helping to launch the non-profit drug and alcohol recovery facility called Conscious Recovery by CLARE allowed me to flex my business savvy and entrepreneurial skills for a good cause!
I spend part of my day helping clients steer their careers; negotiate couples’ relationships and sexual ambiguity; offer dating advice; and deal with death, loneliness, emptiness and overall anxiety about the challenges life presents. Our time together is sacred; we connect and I get to join in the journey to see my clients shift and flourish. It can be emotionally taxing -- when you really experience their emotions -- and incredibly rewarding when you experience their accomplishments with them. I get to make a difference in someone’s life!
The other hours of the day, I get to exercise the analytical side of my brain writing communication strategies, working with the architect to design the Conscious Recovery facility, writing PR and marketing collateral and designing the clinical recovery program to ensure a compassionate and effective recovery system. I also do a lot of research on the latest neuroscience and psychological findings, attend networking lunches and present at engagements.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
I admit that work is my addiction. I have to make a concerted effort to take time for me and to take care of myself. I’m not perfect at it, but being an entrepreneur now allows me to design my day. This helps tremendously in the work/life “balancing act.” But a simpler, everyday tactic is to put my smart phone and laptop in the living room before I go to bed. If I lay out my workout clothes the night before, I put them on first thing when I wake up and then go get in a run, hike with my dog or practice yoga before I even take one look at the flurry of emails in my inbox. I wouldn’t say it’s fail-proof, but it certainly stacks the odds in my favor.
What has been the biggest learning experience in your career, and what did it teach you?
If I trust in myself and take strategic risks, I can tackle anything life throws at me. I may not always do it perfectly. I expect to stumble a few times along the way. But I know I'll come out of it stronger and closer to meeting my goals.
I work with people who are immobilized by their fear of failure. I’ve really seen how it can cripple someone from striving for success. I think I’ve been able to be successful at what I put my mind to because I expect to get knocked down.
I actually think having five older brothers and sisters who, as the toddler of the bunch, used to form a circle around me and throw pillows at me. I’d fall over, of course, and optimistically get back up and take another pillow to the face. I never learned to just stay lying down. Call that stupidity or resilience, but it’s how I tackle life and work challenges today.
What advice do you have for women interested in making a career change of their own?
It can be overwhelming at first, especially if you don’t know what you want to do. Be mindful of the activities you enjoy or like reading about. Start with a class, intern or volunteer on weekends or nights. Request informational interviews with accessible thought leaders in the industry. Attend industry conferences and network. Let people know you want to absorb their knowledge by helping them.
These tactical things are easy strategies once you’ve decided to make the change. What I find is the most challenging about making a career change is making the decision to go for it. Fear will hold a lot of people back. Fear of many things: loss of money, of losing an established identity in your former career, fear of starting all over again, failure, or perhaps worse, judgment from others. Making the leap to go for it is actually the most challenging hurdle for most people. Sometimes adjusting to new lifestyles can be tough, too. But if it’s truly in your heart, people do what people want. Period.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Courage is a big value in my life. A college professor once said to me, “Without fear, there is no courage.” So I guess by proxy, fear also plays a big role. It drives me. I like living a little outside of the comfort zone. Too much comfort bores me after a while. Now, there are times I've just wanted to “coast," so comfort was just what I needed, but I can’t sustain that for long.
In order to grow and flourish as a person, my spirit requires constant learning. Constant learning requires a willingness to not know everything, to seek out new information, to be curious and adventurous. Sometimes I get exhausted that I'm constantly pushing the envelope, but I know that if I stop, I won’t feel alive in my soul. And this is where strategic risk-taking is important. I’m not a true adrenaline junkie; I like planning escape routes and exit strategies so that when I leap, I’m in some control of the outcome. And that's what helps me tackle the fear and gain courage to follow my heart ... wherever it may take me.
Also, you have more control when you stop trying to control so much.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I’m a little afraid to put it out in the universe; to be held accountable to it and thereby judged by others for it if it doesn’t develop this way, but I see myself expanding my therapy insights into a national brand in a wider forum, including workshops and conferences, and promoting my fourth book: a memoir of a girl finding her way through the jungle of life to become a strong but nurturing woman entitled "Growing Up With Breasts." I may also go on to get my Ph.D., but don’t hold me to that!
Personally, I see myself in a committed relationship with a partner who is my equal adventurer and who supports my aspirations, as I do his. I may have even already found him. And who knows? We may decide to bring a baby into our lives. I’m on a journey, exploring, going with the flow and enjoying every step of the way.