4 min read

How Cary Miller Chose to Play for a Living

Cary Miller, founder of The Voice Within, shared a poignant tale. After quitting her job, selling all possessions, and relocating at 30, he lived with his parents, feeling like a failure, aimless. Here's her enlightening journey...
How Cary Miller Chose to Play for a Living
Photo by Vlad Bagacian / Unsplash

This is a beautiful story from Cary Miller, founder of The Voice Within, who wrote to me before my TEDx talk. Enjoy :)

It’s July, I’ve just quit my job, sold everything I own, and moved across the country. I’m thirty years old, I’m living with my parents, and I feel like a failure; I feel aimless, disconnected, and, yes, slightly desperate. Oh, and I’m in the middle of the woods, riding a bike with my mom.The summer air is hot against my neck, and I feel like I’m suffocating. My mom speeds up beside me and begins to whistle. I’m annoyed. I watch the trees speed by me and I take a deep breath and exhale.I’ve just moved back to NJ from the Bay Area in California. After six years of incredible highs and lows, striking out on my own, starting a business, going to grad school, having a nervous breakdown, falling in love, and meeting some incredibly cool people, I’m ready to lay down my roots.I want to know myself in a new and deeper way. In a quiet way. I want to be closer to my family. I want to be around the people that know my blood, that remember me when I was 4 years old. I don’t want to live in a city anymore. I don’t want 1,000 friends. I want the slow, intentional rhythm of nature. I want to grow something. We speed up and our bikes wobble as we go over an old wooden bridge that used to serve as a railroad. I’m starting to relax as I listen to the birds singing. It’s cliché, but its calming. I’ve been slamming my head up against a brick wall for the past two weeks, with this mantra: I want to start a business. I want to help others. I want to be successful. I want to love what I do. I gave myself a time limit to come up with a business idea, to prevent me from wading in the waves of inspiration for too long: two weeks. The deadline is this evening. I have no idea.In the quiet of the woods, I can hear myself breathing. The old voices start to whisper: “‘No one’s waiting for you to come up with an idea… Who do you think you are? YOU- start a successful business? Ha!”I can feel my body on the bike. My mom’s smiling as she rides alongside me. The sun is shining through the trees and onto my face. And suddenly, I realize: I have a choice. I can choose to be on this trail, riding on a bike with my mother on a sunny afternoon, or I can can choose to listen to the voices tell me I’m not good enough to create a life that I have always dreamed of. I don’t have an idea yet. But I have faith. And I’m on a bike trail in the woods with my mom. Be here, or be with those voices I hear my brain say. And then, I choose.In the woods on a bike with my mom, who I haven’t actually had the opportunity to ride a bike with in six years. My mom who used to play me and my brother Simon and Garfunkel albums while we all danced and sang in the living room. My mom who loves to laugh, and fills the house with an insane amount of Christmas decorations each year. The woman before me who was whistling on the bike. The Old S and G song, “Home,” comes into my head, and I start to sing it, softly at first.“Home, where my music’s playing, home, where my loves lies waiting silently for me…”My mom picks up the tune and continues on with it, “Tonight I’ll sing my songs again, I’ll play the game and pretend…”A flood of memories rush over me, we pick up speed and both start singing more loudly,”Home, where my thoughts escaping, home, where my music’s playing, Home…”We both start harmonizing, “Where my love lies waiting silently for me.”It’s a like a cheesy scene out of Laverne and Shirley. We’re speeding down the path now and gaining momentum in our song choices. We switch into Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Mr Tambourine Man.” We’re laughing like hoot owls as we speed past others who we barely notice through our haze of laughter.“I love laughing with you!” My mom yells over the wind. “Me too!” I say back, half snorting. As we sing more, I start a beat-box underneath one of her melodies. “How do you DO that?” she asks incredulously. “It’s easy,” I say. “You can too! You just start by saying, ‘Boots n cats n boots n cats’ over and over again until you make a beat.” She tries it, and she’s pretty good. I start a rap over the top. “It’s 2015 and we’re riding on the trail, I got my winds running high and I’m about to set sail. Give it up to the flow, to the rhythm that you know, because we about to break out to a brand new trail!” She starts cracking up and says, “You’ve GOT to include that in your business.” “What?” I say. “That fun and laughter. That joy.” “Oh,” I say, “Well it’s just play.” And then suddenly the idea hits me like lightening from the sky: It’s just play. The things that have always motivated me to do anything in my life- whether it was singing in the choir, trying to learn how to break-dance, reading Shakespeare, studying anatomy- which I LOVE, was for the sheer fact that I felt like I was playing when I pursued them.I’ve had so many experiences in my lifetime that offer themselves to teaching others how to play. From being trained in theater, music, and improv, to being a teacher for over 15 years, to working with Colombian refugees in Ecuador giving aid, interviews, and facilitating workshops. I’d learned how to play in the most dire of circumstances and in the best of times. And today, I chose to play. It was a simply choice, but it changed the rest of my life.