Lynn O’Brien is young singer, songwriter I met a few years ago. She is a bright light who inspires me with her spirit-driven mission to “spread light through music and creativity.” Lynn left her full-time job as a music therapist a year ago, to pursue her dream of starting her own small business making music and spreading light.
Today, I sat down with Lynn to talk about her life, light, and inspiration. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
ME: It’s been about a year since you left your job as a music therapist to begin free lancing and pursuing your dreams. What’s it been like?
LYNN: It has been a roller coaster, exhilarating, fast, slow—it’s been everything. When I quit I was quite burned out—I didn’t even realize how burnt out I was. I had to let myself rest for awhile and allow myself the option to not sing.
I’ve been working on getting quiet to hear spirit about where my music wants to go while at the same time being impatient for things to happen. I’ve tried to put everything on an intentional basis. The seeds are planted and now I’m feeling really energized…
There’s been a lot of learning. I recently realized that this year I tried to start putting all the focus on my business and tried to really think and turn something that had been from the heart into a head number, which didn’t work… Finding the balance of being a small business owner and having the real financial pressure of making it go and also trying to be really discerning and honor that I don’t just want to be a background singer [taking any gig whether it feels right or not]. I’m not made to just sing in any space. It needs to be an intentional experience; otherwise it just doesn’t feel good to my body or my spirit and it’s not of the most impact for other people either.
It’s been interesting to try to become discerning at a time when there are all these voices saying, “Well, you need money. Why would you say no to that gig? Come on, just do it.” I’m feeling like I took this huge leap that I didn’t plan out ahead and say, “I think I’ll be able to live on this amount of money for this long.” I knew I was going to be quitting [my job] and I gave 2 months notice and took my time with it but it felt important to be leaping and not taking a very calculated step.
I noticed that I was coming up on my year [anniversary of quitting my job] and realized, “Wow, things didn’t move as fast as I thought they would the first year” and I was starting to use the kind of self-language that said that maybe I didn’t accomplish enough. I looked at that way of thinking and I thought, “Wow, that’s not helpful. What if my boss talked to me that way? You really didn’t get that much done this year, did you?”
That way of thinking didn’t work for me, so I did a year in review and let myself celebrate and notice each thing that’s happened. It’s miraculous how much has happened this year, what connections have been made, what opportunities have come, and the balance and self-knowledge that I’ve gained along with self-awareness about what I need. Also I’ve been renovating a 4-plex for 10 months with my partner, Josh, living with him for the first time, creating an intentional community, and had a trauma happen in my community. There have been huge life events all year long at the same time as I’m taking on this business so actually doing an honest review helped me to give myself more credit and celebrate and say, “This is amazing what’s happening.” I’m coming away from the year feeling like, the seeds are planted and now I’m feeling really energized and excited and on the path and I’m ready to just relax into a balanced approach to fulfilling my dreams instead of trying to rush it.
ME: It’s very interesting that the lessons that you talk about learning this year are also things that I’ve been learning on my journey as a photographer… You’ve done it much more quickly than I have — recognizing that it’s about the joy and about what feeds your soul. That’s wonderful.
LYNN: Well I’m working on it and in the music industry there are so many people saying, “Well how many people are you drawing at each gig, and how many CD’s are you selling and have you talked to this person?” There’s so much about the business but I’m feeling that’s not the joy. The joy is not the number of people that came. It’s important to play the game, to get good at that side of it but it can’t be the primary focus for me.
After so many years of doing music therapy and doing other forms of music I started to treat my muse and my creative spirit like it could be on called up on demand like “Play. Go. Do it. Serve.” instead of really listening and starting to [let my muse come to me]. You have to be grounded and let the muses know that you respect their timing and then they’ll come to you.
This year has been about changing my relationship with inspiration and realizing that if I need to take a part-time job so that I can really want to be creative and want to play shows or write music or work with clients, that’s worth it because I really want to protect this gift and take care of it and let it express itself the way it wants to, not the way I need to now that I have to make money. I’m holding on to that intention and feeling the struggle of it, but also it feels really right.
I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs who are farther along on the path or are really comfortable and into their thing and the advice I continually get is, “Oh yes, that’s exactly how the first year should feel. It should feel like, am I going to sink or swim, or you just jumped off a cliff and you’re plummeting downward.”
The entrepreneurial spirit is resilient. I keep getting back up and trying things. I’m learning so much and there are so many people around me, yourself included, who seem totally committed to the quality of work even though there are other pressures and demands on how you should be spending your time and your work.
ME: Wow! I had not expected all that wisdom. I know you have a wise old soul, but oh, my goodness!
LYNN: It’s a big learning year for me for sure.
ME: Talk to me a little bit about the Lighthouse and your intentional community. That’s an aspect of your life that I don’t know a lot about.
LYNN: My boyfriend, Josh, and I had been looking for a house for awhile. We looked at many different options. We talked about having a duplex where you could live in one unit and rent out the other unit and how financially smart that would be and then we saw this old four-plex that’s just a beast of a building. It’s huge. It’s from the early 1900’s. We thought, “Wouldn’t that be interesting, to live in 1 apartment, rent out 3 apartments and create an intentional community?” So many of our friends and our social group in south Minneapolis live in intentional communities… We thought, we want to attract residents who are the kind of people we want to be around, people who are in touch with their inner light, people who are interested in living their best lives and want a home to feel like a safe, warm, empowering space where you just feel cool for living near that person and where you can feel inspired and curious to just go down the hall and say, “Well, what are you doing? What’s on your mind?” So we got the house with that vision and we knew it would take a lot of renovation, much more than either of us realized, and we moved in right away. We just kind of camped around the different apartments over the course of 9 months. We created an online application with some essay questions to really get a feel for people’s spirits and their paths and we did interview after interview. We met so many people—people with a bunch of kids, people in their 70’s, to people all across the board. At first we were thinking, “Maybe it will be more entrepreneurial business people or maybe it will be more artists applying but it was all kinds of people that wanted to live in this kind of dynamic that felt that they were shining their light. It was so cool to see how many people were out there and ultimately when it was time to rent out the units, this wonderful group appeared and we now have it rented out. We’ve renovated 4 apartments fully and the last step is, to work on the third floor where we’ll make a shared community space together in January. We’re just getting to know one another and create a house culture based upon what the people who actually live there want… We hope that it’s a home that we feel really grounded in and down the line if we want to travel, that we’ll have an existing community to come back to or an apartment that’s easy to rent out, that’s part of the vision.
ME: You’ve talked about your muse and your music—are you working on anything new now? Do you have new songs in the works or a new CD?
LYNN: I do have some new songs. I finally stopped thinking about how I needed to write songs and decided that I didn’t need to write any new songs—and then I started having new song ideas—you know, like a watched pot never boils. So I am writing. I’m also really excited about Liv and Lori’s Infinite Purpose book [Liv Lane and Lori Portka, who just released a book called Infinite Purpose] and working with them has been really inspiring for me and a real chance to play because they give me so much creative freedom and because what they’re doing is so aligned with what I believe in. I think there will be some future magic with them. And I’ve been doing different projects for different clients and a lot of custom song writing which is also really fun. It’s what I did as a kid for fun and now I get to do it as an adult for companies.
I am thinking about a new album. I’m just in the very beginning brainstorming process of that. Next spring it feels important for me to do a tribute concert for my Aunt Margaret who passed a few years ago. She was an amazing musician. There was no funeral for her and there’s still a community of people who really love and miss her and her music. This winter I’m going to be learning a lot of her music and I’m going to go home to perform it in a barn where she enjoyed going. Maybe that will lead to a CD—I’m not sure, but there’s some kind of project there for me that I’m just starting to ask spirit about.
ME: What inspires you? Where does your inspiration come from?
LYNN: I think seeing people who are really alive, who are confidently expressing their alignment with spirit. That can be somebody walking down the street. That can be an amazing artist or an amazing musician, someone who is just unapologetically expressing their inner conviction or people who are giving generously of their gifts. There are certain artists I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from like Lake Street Dive. I feel like they are really a well-oiled machine of a team. I’m really interested in playing with a band where I can just sing and not play instruments and really let my voice be the thing. Their dynamic inspires me in that way.
Traveling and meeting new people is always inspirational. Often just the struggles and triumphs of everyday life [inspire me]. I end up writing songs that are about what I’m learning or what I need to hear—it’s like a pep talk to myself and then a year later I listen to it and I think well, this is exactly what I need to hear. I already wrote this. How am I learning this lesson again? Spiritual practice and relationship with spirit really informs a lot of what I create. I love being able to hear the ways that something I am doing is affecting someone positively or is having an emotional effect or connection.
ME: The thing that always drawn me to your work is the spirit in it—that you’re spreading the light… If you could do one thing that you dream of, what would it be?
LYNN: I have fantasies about performing on Prairie Home Companion. I think it’s within reach. I’d really like to perform on Prairie Home Companion, but also Austin City Limits and other bigger opportunities to spread light on a mass scale. I think that kind of opportunity would be so special and it feels like it’s on my path… I feel a resonance with some of the performers on Prairie Home Companion… And there’s something about big stages where there are a lot of people together at once that I feel I can just relax—the bigger the stage, the more relaxed I feel. It’s so nice to feel that there are messages and light pushing through. I’m just now, for the first time, letting myself brainstorm, “What are some of the big dreams and what are some of the even bigger dreams that I’ve been afraid to say aloud?” I’m starting to look into that territory without knowing how to get there at all, asking “What’s something that could be on my vision board?” My dream is to have a global lifestyle where there’s a stable home and community opportunities to spread light in so many different ways around the world with many people.