Courtesy of David Perlman

Students come to the office of Astrid Baumgardner, the coordinator of career strategies at the Yale School of Music, for more than merely career advice — often, Baumgardner also acts as a life coach for the budding creatives, who often worry about their futures and the possibility of burnout.

“I’d say: I don’t have a crystal ball, and nor do you,” Baumgardner said. “What motivates you? What do you aspire to do?”

Baumgardner used her training as a career coach to write a book titled “Creative Success Now: How Creatives Can Thrive in the 21st Century.” The book, released in November 2019, seeks to help “creative” workers navigate their career fields. According to Baumgardner, “creative” can refer to almost anyone — she defined “creatives” as people who thrive on ideas, make connections and use their imagination to solve problems. On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Baumgardner will give a book talk and sign copies of the recent release in the Yale Bookstore from 6 to 7 p.m.

Baumgardner has a background in classical piano and has career experience as a lawyer, nonprofit executive, arts consultant and orchestra board chair. 10 years ago, after a life-threatening illness made her rethink her career priorities, she decided to pursue career coaching full time.

“I love to help people with careers because I’ve had quite a few of them,” Baumgardner said. “It took me a really long time to figure out what I wanted to do and how I could best serve the world, and I finally realized that I wanted to help people through their difficult career transitions.”

Baumgardner began writing a blog in 2010 detailing her experiences working with creative artists. The stories from her blog became the basis of her book. She compiled the book over the course of a month, working from 6 to 10 each morning. Baumgardner added advice to the stories in the blog posts — lists of steps to take and words to remember.

One section of the book explains what Baumgardner calls the “three creativity killers”: fear, perfectionism and comparing yourself to others. She illustrates the process of overcoming those obstacles by telling the story of a musician named Jake, who now owns a company. The story frames creative success as earned through hard work, not contingent on the talent of an individual.

“It goes way beyond music and even way beyond people in the arts, anybody who’s doing something creative in life,” said Stephen Blum, the Yale Alumni Association’s strategic initiatives senior director. Blum co-teaches a “Financial Life After Yale” course with Baumgardner.

At Yale, Baumgardner mentors counseling groups and teaches a graduate course called “Careers in Music: Creating Value through Innovative Artistic Projects.” In the course, students split up into groups of three or four and create a concert that incorporates all of their interests.

Violist Florrie Marshall MUS ’18 and composer Reena Esmail MUS ’14 ’18 were both mentored by Baumgardner in one of her counseling classes. Both musicians’ stories are featured in Baumgardner’s book.

“After I graduated, I found myself feeling a little disconnected, like a lot of music graduates do,” Marshall said. She noted Baumgardener’s talent for helping students understand what is truly motivating them and direct those motivations to benefit their careers.

Marshall’s final project sparked a conversation about the Hopper College name change. The concert connected the music of Felix Mendelssohn with Marshall’s original poetry and a new composition written by one of her colleagues. The project spawned into a nonprofit organization, Sound Bridges International Company, that she still runs today. The organization interviews well-known artists and tells their stories, like Marshall tried to tell Grace Hopper’s story through her concert.

Esmail emphasized Baumgardner’s ability to connect peers who previously felt as if they were in competition. She said Baumgardner’s course helped students “build the network [they] needed out of deep respect and vulnerability for and with each other.”

“She is not only a sounding board but a launching pad for anyone with a healthy dose of passion, a head full of ideas and a sprinkle of innovation,” Marshall said. “This book beautifully outlines some of her method to her magical madness.”

Baumgardner has worked at Yale since 2011.

Contact Phoebe Liu at phoebe.liu@yale.edu .