The Holiday Made Me Do It

Chance encounters during a holiday event can have a big effect on your willingness to make an ambitious life change

Going down to the crossroads on New Year's Eve.

That fateful night, married musicians Laurie LaCross-Wright and Rusty Wright took the stage, as they always did, at 9 p.m. Their band, Cadillac Street, ran through the usual slate of covers: "Brown Eyed Girl," "Chain of Fools," "Mustang Sally." It was New Year's Eve, but the country club events room was only half-full; a lame-duck manager had neglected to advertise the band's appearance or order champagne. Between songs the audience clapped politely, as if delivery of dinner hinged on some minimal display of manners. At midnight, nobody danced or celebrated beyond a cursory exchange of hugs. And still Cadillac Street, its members clad in tuxedos and gowns, played on.

"That was the breaking point," La-Cross-Wright remembers, her voice still tinged with disgust. The couple had been grinding out a living playing in a cover band for hire on the private-event/country-club circuit. "We got home that night and said, 'We can't do this anymore,'" LaCross-Wright recalls. The next morning, she and Wright vowed to make a change. Either they'd start playing and recording their own songs, or they'd quit the business.

Effecting this kind of U-turn in the wake of a single event may sound rash, but a goodly number of people experience similar epiphanies over the holidays. There's the woman I know who, after bumping into a warmly remembered ex at a corporate shindig, decided to take her first tentative step into the dating pool after a divorce. There's the buddy of mine who, after absorbing gentle ribbing about his weight gain at the annual Thanksgiving Friday pick-up hoops game, began a fitness regimen. He showed up the next year lean and broad-shouldered, arguing for a full-court game, then watching with glee as we dragged ourselves up and down the hardwood.

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Between 40 and 45 percent of all adults set at least one self-improvement resolution every year, estimates life coach and certified family mediator Debbie Martinez. Chance encounters during a holiday event, whether it's Chanukah or Easter or Arbor Day, can have a big effect on someone's willingness to make an ambitious life change.

For LaCross-Wright, the New Year's Eve disaster established the crossroads. "The economy was tanking and nobody, I mean nobody, was in a mood to hear a band," she says. The couple sat down and devised an intricate business plan, with five- and ten-year goals. Nine months later, as they honed the new Rusty Wright Band -- writing songs, auditioning and hiring new band mates – they were asked to open for Lynyrd Skynyrd at a fairgrounds show. "It was our wedding anniversary and Rusty had promised me he wouldn't book anything that night. He called me and said, 'We can have a nice romantic evening, or we can open for Lynyrd Skynyrd,'" LaCross-Wright remembers.

Despite torrential rain, that show proved a galvanizing event for the band, briskly selling CDs and adding hundreds of names to the e-mail list. In the years since that fateful New Year's Eve, the Rusty Wright Band has released several albums and tours constantly. In 2009, LaCross-Wright, now 54, left her day job at a Michigan college and counts the band as her full-time job.

For anyone considering a major reimagination, the most important factor, LaCross-Wright says, is full-on commitment. "You have to stay with it. You can't do it halfway." Martinez agrees: "You need to mentally prepare yourself to make [the change] happen. It is essentially an act of discipline." Dr. Daniel Bober, founder of Psychiatric Consultants of Florida and an assistant clinical professor at Yale, notes that "If the goal is not in your heart, then don't waste your time setting it. It will drop off."

For LaCross-Wright and Wright, the goal was clear. "We didn't think we'd be the next B.B. King," she says. "We just wanted to make a sustainable living doing something we love."

Tags: music