My Journey to Create an Authentically ME Business
I am a professional musician, but I pride myself on not having the “typical” journey. Growing up studying piano and harp in private lessons, I had the inkling that my instructors were gunning for me to pursue a music degree in college. From a young age, however, I felt dissonance. I had no real clue what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to offer something extraordinary to the world, engaging my entrepreneurial spirit and helping others.
As I embarked on my mission, music slid to the back burner while I sought out other ventures. In retrospect, my confusion was obvious when I decided to enroll in Boston University’s health sciences college as “undeclared,” keeping my options open for a potential pre-med track. One month later, I realized my mistake. My biology and chemistry prerequisites were filling my schedule to the brink, and I missed music terribly. Many of my professors encouraged me to be patient: “After freshman year, you’ll have more time for your music,” they said. I couldn’t wait that long. This was the first time I experienced rock bottom, my future hazy, and feeling a void that was once filled with love and passion for my art. I transferred out of the health sciences college, but still clinging to my mission, did not enter the School of Music. Instead, I declared a major in psychology with a minor in music, offered through the university’s liberal arts college. My psychology studies opened my eyes to an important lesson that I cemented in my adult life: that self-care is equally important to caring for others, and one cannot happen without the other. I began prioritizing my own mental health, using music as my escape from everyday stressors.
I graduated with my BA in psychology and minor in music and continued my education to receive my MS in counseling from Northeastern University in Boston. From the first day of graduate school, I had no intention of becoming a licensed mental health counselor but rather saw this degree as a step towards creating my own entrepreneurial venture – though I still had no idea of what that venture would look like. In an effort to buy myself extra time, I received my Life Coach certification with specialized certificates in relationship and bereavement coaching. I tried to put my credentials to good use, offering matchmaking and life coach services for local singles. On the side, I offered freelance harp and piano entertainment at events and nursing homes.
In the summer of 2016, I hit an impasse. I woke up one summer morning and realized that I had to stop denying myself my true passion. I was not a matchmaker, nor was I passionate about relationship coaching. I needed my music to return to the front burner. After a lot of soul searching, I finally decided to enroll in a certification program for therapeutic music, which trains musicians to provide appropriate healing music to patients in healthcare settings. For the first time in years, I felt like me again. I had found a way to combine my backgrounds in psychology and music that felt authentic.
Since that summer, I have never turned back. I have been continuously building my music business into a full-time career, offering both harp therapy and entertainment services all around New England. For a while, I thought that would be the end of my story, but all the twists and turns of my journey have taught me that leading with passion will get me a lot further than forcing myself to remain stuck in the status quo.
As part of my efforts to build my music business, I took a few online courses in marketing. A social media marketing course had us conduct a brainstorming exercise. We were to write down all of our interests, without thinking. Whether they were small interests like mac & cheese, or huge ones like the environment, we should write them all. Then, after reading them over, highlight the ones that we feel most passionate about. At the end of the exercise, we were to see if we could take all our highlighted answers and combine them to create a content brand for social media. At first glance, I thought there was no way I could plausibly create something coherent from my choices, but there comes a point in life where one overcomes enough obstacles that a lot more starts to seem possible.
On Earth Day 2019, I launched The Hiking Harpist™. As the one-year anniversary approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the layers of this project that have been, and continue to be, revealed. I first used my hikes to inspire my musical compositions. Then, as I met more people on the trails, I discovered that the outdoors is the ultimate platform for teaching about holistic wellness. Many hikers have taken advantage of the music, stopping for a respite and letting the beauty around them soak in before they continue on their way. My mission became clear: integrate music and nature to help others achieve true peace, healing and well-being. I went back to my psychology roots and began researching Nature Therapy, finding that the health benefits of both nature and harp therapy are similar: increasing mental clarity, aiding in sleep, promoting feelings of relaxation and well-being, decreasing blood pressure, and more. In nature, I am able to promote the therapeutic music ideal of music as connection: the music connects us all to each other, and to the greater Universe. I use the harp’s pure resonance to create an eco-friendly sound atmosphere, thus helping to detract from the noises of the modern world that can often disrupt the environment.
The venture is still young and I know there is more potential to unfold. I see a future for The Hiking Harpist that is exactly what I aimed for years ago: something extraordinary that engages my entrepreneurial spirit and helps others. For now, though, I am excitedly gazing upon the business that I’ve built, the opportunities that await, and the gratitude I have for all of my struggles that led me to finally throw my hands up and say, “I will stay true to my passions, and I will follow them with courage.”
Nicole E. Anderson is a professional harpist, therapeutic musician, life coach, and masters-level therapist. She offers healing music at healthcare facilities and also specializes in integrating harp therapy with other holistic wellness modalities, such as yoga, Reiki, meditation, and nature therapy. In 2019 she launched The Hiking Harpist, which helps educate the public on the immense benefits of these types of therapeutic integrations.
THE HIKING HARPIST