Motivated to Do Better. Inspired to Do More.

Motivated to Do Better. Inspired to Do More.

As I mentioned previously, last weekend I spent my Saturday at a Creative Writing conference. You know something has impacted you when you can’t stop thinking about it, or what you learned from it. I’ve had many moments this past week, in between my prepping, teaching, and grading commitments of my teaching job, where I would think about something that I learned; something that was shared during the event.


I have to say that of the five years that I’ve been attending this conference, this year’s keynote speaker was one of the best I’ve heard. Some might think that’s not a fair statement to say. But in fairness, I’m speaking of my own take-away, in terms of what was shared, how it was delivered, and the impact it had on me personally.

Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, sat at my table during lunch prior to her keynote address. I didn’t know how to say her name, and felt better when she jokingly talked about the fact that most people have difficulty pronouncing it. She was pleasant, and we hit it off from the start. Then I found out that Ruta used to work in the music industry. Maybe that was part of the reason for my instant connection with her.

To borrow a little from her bio, Ruta is an internationally acclaimed author of historical fiction. She is published in over fifty countries and thirty-six languages. Historical fiction isn’t really something I’d ever considered writing. I wouldn’t say I’m too lazy to do the appropriate research, but I will say that I find research, in general, a difficult challenge for me; hard to focus on. Add history to the mix, and you’ve lost me a bit.

IMG_7568Sepetys is considered a “crossover” novelist, a term I’d never heard before applied to writers, but it’s because her books are read by both students and adults.

Even before she spoke, I felt like I was going to want to take home one of her novels. They had all three on site. Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy are both New York Times bestsellers. Her latest novel, Salt to the Sea, is a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the Carnegie Medal. 

I settled on the one whose description spoke to me the most — Out of the Easy.

But back to the other part. Ruta spent 20 years in the music industry working as an artist manager. Yes, that caught my attention. How did this former music industry executive go from managing artists to successfully writing fiction; especially historical fiction? I was also curious as to how she managed to write her first two novels while still working full-time; keeping her “day job.”

Her story is too long and interestingly detailed to try to include even close to everything about it here. And after hearing her speak, and the motivational encouragement I got from it, I certainly regret not taping the session.

I will say this. Her books are tied into her heritage, her family’s history, and Lithuania. If you’re curious, start by researching the history of Lithuania, and what happened to the people there during WWII. She writes about her family’s history in her novel Between Shades of Gray. I haven’t read it yet, but after hearing what she shared, I think it’s something I would spend the time doing. On her website she describes some of her inspiration to write it like this:

During a trip to Lithuania I visited my father’s cousin and learned that after my father fled from Lithuania, some of our extended family members were deported to Siberia. I was shocked, but learned that my family’s history was not unique. There are millions of people whose lives were taken or affected during the Soviet occupation. Yet very few people know the story. I wanted to write a novel to honor the people of the Baltics and also to illustrate the power of love and patriotism.

Also curious to me was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff near the end of WWII. They never taught that to us when I was in school. This is what Ruta had to say about why she thinks the story is unknown to so many, which ties into her current novel, Salt to Sea:

When the ship sank, the Nazis tried to conceal the story (and the fact that they were losing the war.) The Soviet submarine commander who torpedoed the Gustloff was dishonorably discharged shortly after, so the Russians weren’t drawing attention to the story. And after the war, Germany didn’t publicize the sinking as they felt it was inappropriate to speak of their losses during the war considering the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

Her presentation was very inspirational. Whether she was sharing her process on researching history, how she creates characters, or sharing words of encouragement about how she started writing, and came into doing it full-time (she gave up the day job to focus solely on writing), I left the conference motivated and ready to lock myself into a room for 12 hours at a time, and just write.

Of course, that didn’t happened. The reality of teaching, grading, working towards tenure, and lots of other non-classroom academia requirements, hit me first thing that next Monday morning!

But how did she do it? 

One of the courses I teach is Artist Management. So I know how time consuming that work is. But she somehow managed to carve out the time to follow her other passion. She got the research completed. She got the writing done. She landed an agent, a publishing deal, all while she kept on building her management company.

That… That is part of what inspired me most about being in the audience that afternoon. It’s not an impossible task. It’s not a “that’s for someone else; I could never do that.” If she could do it, and do it well, then what was holding me back?


I have to say it’s been a while since I’ve felt so determined to complete what I’ve started. 



What’s College for Anyway

One of the more frequently asked questions my students hit me with on the first day of school: Professor Green, How many absences can we have?

classroomWhat do you mean “how many can you have?”

Absences aren’t a given for the number of days you can plan to miss each semester. Having an excused absence is reserved for those family and health emergencies. And if it’s not excused, you probably shouldn’t be missing. But that’s not what many college students think. Their desire to know the attendance policy on the first day of class is so they can plan the number of days they can miss over the next 12 weeks of school.

I haven’t had a semester yet since when there hasn’t been at least one camping trip, cruise, or family vacation that some student didn’t knowingly plan at the start of school year; or on the backend of the fall or spring breaks; and even sometimes during finals week; trips that take the student out of class during the regular school schedule. Outings they either try to get excused or want you to change your schedule to accommodate theirs, and try to take the exams early, or turn in assignments late.

“My family planned this cruise six months ago,” I’ve heard. My response is, “the school calendar’s been posted online for over 18 months. Did no one think to look at when classes started?” Of course, not because they just assume all of their professors will be okay with it.

Then there are the tardies. Not the barley slip in before the door is closed or right after the roll is called type of tardies. But the walk in 10-15 minutes late regular routine of some students. That is mind boggling; especially when it’s not an early morning class. Since I teach mostly upperclassmen, I’ve often reminded them that they needed to start treating school just as they would a “real” job — people get fired from jobs for being habitually late, I tell them. I’m as sure that they all hear me as I am certain that I’m not the first person to tell them that.

I have several students who happen to have me for both a morning and an afternoon class on the same day. One day one showed up for the afternoon class, having missed the morning one. When I asked why they weren’t in the morning class, laughter was what I got; then a little honesty. That honesty was in the form of “I don’t even have an excuse.” That was the answer.

booksI was a commuting college student all four years of school, and lived about 18 miles from the campus. I had to get up early, even for a mid-morning class, because finding a parking space that wasn’t a half of mile from the building where my classes were, was challenging for anyone showing up after 9 a.m., and the school shuttle services weren’t always reliable, especially if you happen to show up seconds after the bus pulled off, and didn’t have the 15 minutes to wait for the next one.  I showed up early, hung out at the library, the student union, and sometimes in my car — with no electronic devices to entertain me, and then walked across campus to get to my class on time.

I don’t see the same “do what you can to get to class on time” commitment or attitude coming from many of my current students.  It’s usually the same two of three people who come in late, always with the “I couldn’t find a parking space,” excuse. Truthfully, there are plenty of parking spaces on the campus; they’re just not all located close to the building. Arriving early on campus would help to guarantee a better spot.

When I was in college, tuition wasn’t anywhere near the amount it has grown to now. Students are graduating with enormous amounts of student loan debt. And I guess that’s why it’s baffling to me to watch as some of them do what they can to not show up, not engage when they do show up, or talk or play on their devices in class, instead of listening to what’s being taught. The thought of me paying thousands of dollars per semester without trying to get my full money’s worth, is a foreign idea to me.

Last month, a friend of mine teaching at another university commented online that he was irritated that when he showed a video in clas,s that tied into what the students were learning, one student asked if material from the video was going to be on the midterm. When he said no, and explained why he was showing it, several students packed up and slipped out of class once the lights went down. Others, he said were on their smartphones and their laptops, and still others decided it was nap time. It was obvious that he was frustrated at the thought that there are students who only want to hear what they have to remember for an exam, and not actually learn about the business they plan to graduate in and try to find a job.

I knew exactly how he felt. Not only had I heard of that happening to other faculty members at my own school, but it used to happen to me. That was until I changed the syllabus to reflect that anything discussed, shown, or read in the class, and as assignments, including any guest speakers, videos, or articles, are all subject to being a part of the midterm or final exam. Because, as I explain to the students, I don’t give busy work. I have assignments that are designed to help them process and apply what they’ve been learning, and to give them a fuller understanding of the business. I no longer tell students what will and won’t be on exams, until we do a review for that exam.

But no one should have to trick students into learning; or even wanting to learn!

What’s college for anyway?

I paid for my own tuition. Maybe that’s why I took getting up and being there seriously. I paid for my own gas to drive the car I was blessed to have been able to use, passed down from my oldest sister. I worked a part-time job from high school through my first few years post-college (yes, working both a full-time and a part-time jobs during a period).

College for me meant learning something in a field I had an interest, and then graduating and getting a job in that field. I was an average student, taking over two years of undergraduate time before I started understanding just how to study. But I learned, and I did, and I graduated. And I got a job. Returning for Graduate School was so that I could go into another direction that I’d become even more passionate about. And again, having to pay for my own education, while working, meant taking it seriously enough to at least show up.

Now, I will be the first to say that college isn’t for everyone; and especially not a 4-year degree program! But if you’re going to bother to apply, accept, pay, and attend school, why wouldn’t you want to do all that you could to succeed?

Show up. Be on time. Read the material. Ask questions. Complete the assignments. Do your part to learn!

One time my mother told me, to paraphrase, “You’re not doing me any favors by going to college.” Her point was that whether I was successful in college or in life, that was on me.  And she was right. She’d already done her part of getting me past the finish line of high school, and encouraging and preparing me for college. What road I took from that point was my responsibility.

But there are times I seriously think that many students feel that they’re doing us, their professors and administrators, a favor being at the school; coming to class! And sadly, for many of them, they will have a difficult time finding a job. Or being able to keep one if they get hired.

There’s No Such Thing as an Overnight Success

I spent my Friday afternoon at a workshop designed for faculty and staff development.  The speaker started off by sharing some of his background and his personal and professional journey, which was very impressive. At one point we had open dialogue about some topics, before he returned to his powerpoint to share some final thoughts and quotes.

We talked about the importance of taking care of our Mind, Body, and Spirt. But there was really just one line in a quote that stood out to me the most; almost the moment he read it. The sentence was “…the will must be stronger than the skill.”


The entire quote stuck out at me as I immediately went from the gym and an athlete, and thought about music, and some of the students I’ve taught, artists I’ve worked with, and people who have asked me questions about how to break into the music industry. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this quote in its entirety, but oh how true it is.

Every new semester I have students in my class who raise their hands when I make the rounds of asking what each student is interested in doing after graduation, and get to the “be an artist” part. By mid-semester, my questions are more direct.

“What are you doing today to help reach your goal of becoming an artist; to be someone who can see success in the industry?”

I’m always careful to tell them that success isn’t measured by how much money is in their bank account, how many cars they drive, or how large their house is. But for those interested in being a commercially successful artist, they need to be working towards ways to make a living at what they do just as much as someone who wants to be an attorney, a teacher, an accountant, or an NBA All-Star.

But what I often find are those students who say they are artists, but their actions don’t line up with their words. When pressed, I find that they are not (and in many cases have never been) out performing anywhere. Many don’t have websites, haven’t posted any of their music online, and are inactive on social media, other than their own personal social media pages where they share photos of their vacations, and videos of pets and babies.

By the end of the semester, my message is this: You can call yourself an artist all day long. You might even have an incredible voice, and back in high school, may have won every talent competition you entered. But if you are not putting in the work today — writing, recording, performing, promoting yourself — then it’s highly unlikely that you will see any real success; because your actions don’t show that you are as serious about doing this for a living as you claim.

It might seem harsh to tell college students that they aren’t real artists, but it’s also a reality check. For those who really have “something deep inside them…” they need to understand that it’s not just the skill (talent), but has to also be their will — a willingness to put in the work — and that it “must be stronger than the skill.”

I’ve worked with some talented artists before, both at a talent agency and my own company, and in both places it wasn’t hard to tell which artists had the drive, who worked hard, did everything they could to improve their skills, increase their exposure, worked it at every opportunity they had. Versus others who sat back, doing the least amount — not willing to practice (sing, play, dance) on a regular basis; or sacrifice with less TV watching and more band practicing; doing less Instagraming selfies, and more posting updates of what they are working on, where they’re playing, what they’ve been up to. Getting out there and performing in front of audiences, working on their website, learning about style, stage presence, and branding are just as important as being able to sing, because you have the voice for it. In other word, being willing to do more of the hard, less glamorous stuff.

An industry associate of mine recently posted online a list of comments attributed to Tyler Perry, regarding building your platform; something she said her mentor had shared with her. Her mentor told her that within the list, she was not doing well in two areas. One of the things that applies here is this:

“Stop wasting your time on TV, Games, Dumb stuff, & People…”

Does that mean never watch television, never play video games, or to become a hermit and never be around other people? Of course not. But for those who are serious about achieving their goals, following their passions, and not just sitting back dreaming about what they want to do “one day,” it means making sacrifices and actively working at doing what you need to in order to help accomplish those goals. It also means taking back some of that time when you’re doing something else (sitting in front of the TV, the computer, or on a smartphone), and instead using that time to work on your craft, improve upon your talent, and get to the place you want to be — to become a “champion” in your field.

Torrez Marketing & Productions

So 2018 is here! You’ve made more personal new year’s resolutions, and now you’re re-evaluating your professional goals; reassessing which ones you reached last year, and what changes you want to make for this year.

If one of those goals include starting your own business, expanding the company you already have, creating a secondary revenue stream, or turning that hobby into a source of income, then one of the things you’ll want to be sure not to overlook is your Marketing plan.

I often tell my music business students that it doesn’t matter how talented they are, how well they can sing, or how many songs they’ve written. If they don’t know how to promote and market themselves, then they won’t be able to sell their music, increase their fanbase, and grow their business. The same principle applies for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Let me introduce you to Gabe and Danielle Torrez and their company Torrez Marketing & Productions (TMP). Gabe and Danielle are storytellers from Nashville, TN. Driven by a desire to make your brand shine, TMP specializes in creating shareable content that your followers, friends and business contacts will want to watch and repost.


Prior to creating TMP, Gabe Torrez worked on the creative team at Bethel World Outreach Church bringing messages to life through video and visuals. Danielle (Kimmey) Torrez formerly worked as Director of Marketing for eOne’s Worship division, and is best known for being one-third of the singing group Out of Eden.

Together, Gabe and Danielle take their shared industry knowledge and utilize it to create fascinating business branding videos, music videos, wedding videos, and much more.


To contact TMP for more information and pricing packages, email Gabe Torrez at or call 615.500.0596. Samples of their work can be found on Youtube at Torrez Marketing & Production.

Why Creating a Life Plan is Important

I just completed a 12-month long Faculty Fellows program at the university where I teach. In addition to attending several workshops geared towards faculty development, and creating a Teaching Philosophy Statement (TPS), I was also charged with putting together a Faculty Development Plan (FDP). I found it to be very beneficial, not only to my career, but to my personal development as well.

As timing would have it, I was working on the completion of my FDP around the same time as I happen to be meeting with a couple of former students seeking career advice, and some potential clients to discuss the possibility of working together. I talked to all of them about the importance of first knowing where it is they wanted to go, so that they could develop a plan on how to get there. In the Artist Management class I teach, I often refer to this with my students as having a map that outlines the pathway to their plan. My analogy would typical begin with me giving them a destination — we’re all going to Montana — and then asking them how do we get to Montana (without booking a flight)? I then would tell them that simply jumping into the car and hitting the highway was not the answer. Because if they left Nashville, TN heading East, they would never reach their destination of Montana. And even if they headed west, they would still need to know which roads to take, how far away was the destination, the actual directions for ending up in the right place in Montana, and then have a plan for how they would fund their trip (i.e. gas, overnight hotel stays, etc.).

A student who graduates without any indication of what they want to do makes it difficult for someone trying to help them land a job interview, or pass their resume on to the right company. Likewise, someone launching a company, ministry, or other service, needs to have an idea of what is is they want to do; who it is they want to reach; and how they plan to reach them? Otherwise, they may end up wading through the swamps of the Carolina Lowcountry instead of climbing snow peaked mountains of Colorado!

So a few things occurred to me as I put the finishing touches on the first draft of my faculty development plan. The first was how difficult it was to outline what I wanted to do, when I wasn’t 100 percent certain about how I ended up doing what I was already doing. Trying to outline what my faculty plan was for the next year needed to take into consideration what my overall plan was for my career as a Professor. I had not consciously thought about where it was I wanted to be, or what exactly I wanted to be doing one, five, and even 10 years from now — other than teaching. But what did that mean? And what did it look like? And how was I planning to accomplish that? Those were the questions I needed to ask myself and dig deeper for the answers. Of course, some aspects of my plan are out of my control. There are certain things the position demands of me to continue moving forward in my career — research, creative activity, community involvement — among others. But the specifics of those things are in part, up to me. I just have to figure out what they are and how I am going to accomplish them.

Setting Goals. Outlining Strategies. Determining action steps. That’s what I teach.

Oftentimes, my students tell me they’re in the Music Business program because they love music and their parents said they had to go to college. Their biggest goal, as far as they’re concerned, is graduating and finding a job. Many of them haven’t a clue as to what or where; as long as they satisfy their parents with a degree, and satisfy their debt by finding a job. But I quickly remind them that without a plan outlining the bigger picture of what they want, they may end up getting only what is within their reach — a degree in one hand, and “just a job” in the other. Without goals to work towards, and strategies to work on, they could end up at ANY job but not at THE job that they expressed a passion for and interest in getting. Indeed many of them are still working the same retail, fast food, part-time jobs that they had in college, one, two, and even three years since graduating from college.

But career planning isn’t just for college students preparing for post-graduation life. Creating a life plan should be important to everyone.

There’s something to be said about writing out your goals. But once those goals are in writing, outlining specific strategies on how to accomplish them will help put action to them. Goals with strategies are just dreams of thing you want, without the commitment of saying exactly how you intended to get them. And for those strategies to be realized, then you have to also DO something. You can’t just say where you want to go and write out of plan on how you want to get there. At some point, you have to get in the car, gas it up, and start driving. The map will tell you where you need to go. But you have to GO!

So that’s where I am. Taking the advice I give my own clients and students. As I put the final touches on the final version of my one-year FDP, I am outlining all of the specific action steps I need to take to accomplish the strategies I’ve written out that are designed to help me achieve the goals that formulated my overall plan.

Where is it you want go? Have you thought about how you’re going to get there? What are you doing to put those thoughts in to action steps to meet your goals?

Do you have a Life Plan?

A Vision for the Future

“And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” Habakkuk 2:2

Sunday night, I spent the evening with a group of creative and energetic ladies working on a fun project — creating a Vision Board. We all work in various ares of the entertainment industry and are members of a wonderful organization: National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment (NABFEME). Being the beginning of another new year, it was the perfect opportunity to do a project like this. So we grabbed stacks of magazines, scissors, glue sticks, and got started.

IMG_1031 IMG_1032

A Vision Board is simply a visual representation, put down on a board, of someone’s Goals, Dreams, Aspirations; I guess you could even say their Resolutions. What is it that you want to accomplish — to travel, read more, pursue something you’re passionate about, start a business — in a given time period; a year, five years; or any given point in the future.  But when one of the ladies asked if anyone had a Wedding book, I could hear snickering, until I and a couple of others said, “Why not?” If a vision board is suppose to represent your goals, and one of your dreams includes getting married, then truly — Why Not include that!? That’s the cool thing about laying out a plan. If it’s going to be real; something you’re working towards; something attainable — then it must also be honest. It must represent who you are and what you want. It’s your vision for yourself; not someone else’s.

It’s been a really long time since I actually put together a “Board.” I prefer journaling my thoughts, and keeping goal-setting, and my deep dreams to myself. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to think about how someone else might perceive my vision; or to hear the snickering about something they may find surprising on my list. That doesn’t mean I won’t put it down; or at least in the security of one of my many journals. By participating in this exercise with fellow strong, confident, creative women, it opened the door for me to be able to speak more openly about those key words of promise and finding pictures of concrete examples of the very things I have every intention of working towards and accomplishing for my life. I also got to meet and make new friends, network with future associates, and have fun sharing my vision with other visionaries.

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If you have never done a vision board before, try it. Go ahead and cut out those words, phrases and photos from magazines and newspapers. Write those thoughts and inspirational and motivational sayings down. Stop by Michael’s and pick up a board to display them — full view for you to see and be reminded of daily. And then go for it! It’s your life. It’s your future. It’s YOUR Vision!


“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Proverbs 29:18