Vennly Leader Spotlight: Q&A with Mel Carter

Mel Carter is the Head of Mindfulness Education and Innovation for New York University, a professor at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work in the Multi Faith Leadership Minor program, and the founder of Ignite with Melissa. After a decade long career as a music business executive in a number of roles including artist management, digital marketing, and sales for the number one music company in the world, Mel embarked on a spiritual journey that inspired transformations in both her career and daily life. For the last ten years, Mel has served as a meditation teacher, as well as a holistic wellness and intuitive lifestyle coach. Mel is a certified Reiki Master and Teacher, and doula.

Vennly: You had a lengthy and very successful career in the music industry before a spiritual journey brought you to the wellness and mindfulness space. What was the impetus for the career change?

Mel: I moved to New York back in 2002 with $500 in my pocket with a dream of being a big shot in the music industry. What I was blessed to build with that dream was significant; I got to work for and with Violator Management, Warner Music Group and ended my music career as an Account Executive for the #1 Music Company in the world, Universal Music Group responsible for an $85 million team. I learned from the best and got to be a part of cultivating and supporting some of the biggest artist’s careers in music as well as be a part of the forefront of the physical music business morphing into a digital one. It was a powerful part of my life and I contribute most of the reason I am a successful business woman to that experience. While my resume is quite sparkly and I got to be in the company of celebrities and the who’s who leadership of the industry, I was also 300LBs, walking with a cane at the age of 30 and contemplating suicide daily. I was struggling to reconcile and heal a lot from my past while building my future. While I was great at my job, I was living through unconscious mechanisms to deal with the stress and pressure that came along with it.  

I got let go from Universal in 2010 I believe. At that time it was excruciatingly painful to receive what felt like the ultimate rejection.  This wasn’t just a job. It was my career and I was attached to the idea that it defined who I was. The year before I got let go I had lost 150lbs, left my partner of five years and had fallen in love and then got broken up with.  When the layoff came it really was the final undressing of that chapter in my life. I felt bare boned and looked in the mirror 150lbs lighter and didn’t recognize myself and no longer had the title of “music executive” to define me.  While it was one of the hardest moments of my life I saw the opportunity to redefine myself and how I participated in my life with more authenticity and love. It was a moment I saw as an invitation to get to know myself on a much deeper level and build my life’s next chapter from the inside out.

Vennly: When you reflect on your journey and professional transformation, what advice would you offer to someone who is considering a new profession?

Mel: I would say GO FOR IT even if no one understands why you need to do it.  They will get on board as the path unfolds. My family thought I was nuts not to answer the calls of other music labels calling and offering me work so I could start a whole new freelance career. However, staying true and trusting the mission of my heart and showing them, not just telling them, what I could do with my heart’s motivation and wisdom, they eventually got on board. They are my biggest supporters and continue to be to this day.  

If you are like me and have a deep-rooted entrepreneurial spirit, I would also advise not be afraid to take on smaller side jobs to support you as you build your next chapter. I was very stubborn and didn’t and struggled a lot financially as I built my  “freelance” career over that next ten years. Once I got over my ego and realized a side job was actually supporting the dream and not taking away from it, I was able to make moves and realize results much faster. It took me a long time to learn that lesson and I suffered a lot. I remember when I first started building my coaching business I took on a promo model gig where I had to hand out L’Oreal mascaras during Fashion Week. One day we stood in front of Universal Music Group’s building doing it.  As we pulled up I was mortified and embarrassed. Of course I ran into an old colleague who, right before they walked away, looked at me and said “You look free, Melissa, keep going”.

From that moment on I never questioned the path again or allowed any role to define what success was for me.  To this day, success to me is measured based on how free I feel and the joy that comes along with that freedom.  It is the foundation of how I interact with my career, relationships, and life choices.

I would also offer, remember your WHY.  Now that my career is founded in service rather than what looks good, it is remembering my WHY that keeps me motivated, inspired and reaching higher.  Get to know your WHY (meaning yourself).

Any interview you take, remember you are also interviewing them.  If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Do not let a scarcity mindset run your choices.  You are too important to this world to allow that.

Vennly: What would you suggest to someone starting on their spiritual path?

Mel: Stay open, curious, and courageous.  My parents taught me that. My mother was a Russian Jew and my father a Native American Black man who converted to Judaism before I was born.  My mother’s family disowned her for marrying my father. They met in a time when interracial relationships were not safe, wanted, or supported. They dated in secret for a year before love won them over and they made a choice: to be together at all costs, which meant losing family and friends.

I often thought about their courage as I grew up seeking more than what I learned in Hebrew School and at Temple. While my roots are definitely inspired by Judaism, it wasn’t until I found Buddhism and meditation that I began to explore God in a new way.  Soon it wasn’t about about the relationship I was being taught to have with God, it was the relationship I was exploring, challenging, uncovering, and leaning into with God. The more I discovered about myself, the closer I got to what I believe is God. For decades I had guilt about not following the Jewish faith as deeply as my parents did. But then I remember their courage and reverence to stand in what they thought was best for them.  It was their curiosity and courage that inspired me to hold myself to the same standard. I had to find what worked and felt most authentic to my soul and heart. I believe even in their passing, they are proud of my choices and my spiritual lifestyle. They taught me to be steadfast and devoted to love, and it was through my spirituality I was brought home to the divine love within me, with their spirit holding my hand every step of the way.

Vennly: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest health and wellness challenges that young adults are facing today, and how do you think Vennly can help individuals bring their spiritual health back into focus?

Mel: I feel Vennly does a great job bringing spiritual health back into focus by the very warm invitation of exploration the platform offers.  Nowadays young adults are on the constant receiving end of never ending information, commercialism, materialism, and what “influencers” think one should use, be about, and care about. I didn’t grow up in a time where I was constantly being told what was “cool”, or have my brain trained to pay attention to. It just seems exhausting.  I had to explore, I had to use my imagination, and work things through for myself -as well as my community and peers- without the pressures of social media. We had to CONNECT in real time.

I recently read a very interesting fact, and I apologize because I am forgetting the author. In 1997, people took in the same amount of information in one year that we take in a day.  WOW! That is exhausting and makes we want to put my phone down and just go sit in the grass and stare at the sky.

It’s important even in the days where social media is the new norm that we encourage EXPLORATION and gentle discernment in our young adults.  That we encourage them to explore what’s authentic for them and what’s not. It’s okay to not all look, feel, and think the same – we should be encouraging that. This is how we expand, reach higher, and change consciousness together.  This is how we move from a “doer” society to a “thinking” one.

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