“Hey Lor – usual?” April yelled over the counter past a few customers standing in front of me. Half of the customers I recognized. We were faithful regulars at 8:22 AM. Interesting how the patterns of the moments in your life matter during your day, during your journey. I’m not in this particular Starbucks every morning though I do visit this one primarily because there are a few baristas, April being one of them, that know me, know Mia, know my husband and Will and Kate, know my story, and make it feel more like home while I’m writing.
On this morning, I sat down to begin work. Lee, one of the other baristas, walked over to me and said, “You need to meet this guy. You guys are doing the same thing.”
She pointed over to a young man in his late twenties. He was wearing workout gear, had a laptop open with his headphones on. Not the kind of small headphones that plug into your ears people wear to listen to things on their laptops like movies, videos or news clips. Rather the bigger ones that look like ones you’d wear in a production studio. Lee motioned over to him. He walked over and she introduced us.
“So, I hear we have something in common, though she hasn’t told me what. I’m an aspiring writer. Specifically, I want to be a screenwriter. Not really a huge writing or entertainment mecca here in Pitt, but quit my career to chase my writing dream along with hopes of seeing my daughter more and giving a new relationship a better chance (at the time, I had only begun dating my husband). What’s your story?”
He introduced himself as “Wojo.”
“I did the same sorta thing. Quit my corporate job in NYC – lived there for over 6 years after graduating college, moved back to Pittsburgh last fall. Moved in with my parents. I know, not the most ideal living situation for a guy who had independence for a while, but it sure helps to have their support. I want to dedicate myself fulltime to what I really want to do. Music.”
As I learned more about him, I understood why his choice to pursue music fulltime might be shocking to some. Shocking to most – even might seem somewhat of an irresponsible choice given his earlier accomplishments, his earlier choices.
Wojo grew up in a northern rural-suburb of Pittsburgh, the middle child of 3 siblings. At the age of 12, the music bug bit him and he began playing guitar. His early influences were groups including Nirvana, The Offspring and Stone Temple Pilots. Though academics and athletics came natural to him during his teenage years, his passion for music always remained.
He was accepted into Dartmouth, Georgia Tech, and a handful of other prestigious universities, and chose the University of Pennsylvania. He was on the Track and Field Team and a top pole vaulter. By the time Wojo graduated, he was the Ivy League champion in the Pole Vault 3 out of his 4 years, as well as ranked 23rd in the nation, and just missed the qualifying round to compete in the Olympic Trials.
Through all of his athletic and academic success at UPenn, he continued to bring his music with him and performed on stage during his freshman year on campus. Performing in front of 200 students packed inside a fraternity house, he found himself drawn to the thrill of being in front of a live audience.
He explained, “In those moments, it’s easy to feed off of the energy of the room, especially when there’s a great vibe, and you just get utterly sucked into the moment. It’s the purest form of escapism. I live for the ‘all eyes on me’ moments, they’re an amazing high.”
Though he continued to play coffee shop gigs, campus shows, and frequent dorm-room performances and even produced an acoustic demo during his college years, he still didn’t have the confidence in himself yet to make the choice to pursue becoming a musician.
Wojo continued, “When people in your life are repeatedly advising you to settle for something they’ve deemed important, it’s hard for you to hear your own voice above all of the noise. Instead, the doubts in your head echo more loudly, joined by a choir of voices of your family, peers and acquaintances who share the same doubt-filled sentiments. So you stay the course.”
Following the expected path, he graduated with a degree in economics and was hired on a first interview with a major investment bank in NYC. He later accepted a job with one of the top consulting firms and worked in consulting for over 6 years.
At a time when Wojo had tremendous opportunity to increase his earning power in his field, he quit and switched gears to do something that wouldn’t guarantee any job security or financial success. He left his stable income and began relying on his 401K to survive, all the while knowing the music industry is one of the hardest industries to break into – but why then, why now?
Wojo explained his heart was always in music. That the day-in and day-out of corporate America drained him of who he really was as a person and what he really wanted out of life. What brought him energy. He was ready to take the risk. Ready to make the change.
“Don’t know where my future is going, but seemed senseless not to try, “ he said.
He put in his 2 weeks notice at the consulting firm and moved back to Pittsburgh almost 2 years ago. Since then, Wojo has written and produced 2 EPs – one he launched a year ago, and the other is almost completed, with more material slated to be released shortly.
As much as Wojo’s choice resonated with me (it was so great to meet someone else that was working towards something that required big life changes without guarantees or with high odds of success), it was also difficult to understand his influences and why he made the choice beyond the “high” he felt on stage. I asked him if he had a favorite coach, mentor or author that further inspired him.
He answered, “One of my favorite authors is JK Rowling. I love the Harry Potter books. Silly as it sounds, I’ve often tried to model my life based on Dumbledore’s character. He has incredible knowledge without actually saying he has the answer. He’s made mistakes, admits his mistakes and draws strength and wisdom from it. Dumbledore’s character strives to rise above and do the thing that is in his heart. Dumbledore counsels Harry – love is more powerful than hate.”
As he shared with me the impact of the Harry Potter series and Dumbledore’s character, it was clear that his heart and love of music led him to his new path.
Wojo, no matter what comes of your choice to chase your dream, you’ve already won. You’ve made the courageous decision that some might not make out of fear of failure or others judgment of your talent. Thank you for reminding me of how important it is to follow your heart regardless of what others may think of your choices. Dumbledore messages it best to Harry in the scene below:
The song below – Tip of My Tongue – is the first song Wojo shared when I met him that day in Starbucks. Impressed by the song, I shared it with Chris as soon as I returned home. It is definitely our favorite Wojo original (both written and performed by him) and the reason we continue to cheer him on.