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40 YEARS IN THE VOICE BUSINESS: INSIGHTS BY KAREN SUSSMAN, MA, CCC-SLP

By : on : December 21, 2021 comments : (0)

teacher's vocal strain therapist

I can’t believe it, but from the time I became a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist to this month, 40 years has gone by in the blink of an eye! And what a wild ride it’s been! From the public schools, four previous locations for my private practice before I found my “forever home” for it, through all the lectures, presentations, articles, videos, and blogs, 12,000 clients and counting, a whole lot of happiness and also some tears, it’s been an amazing 40 years as the “Voice Specialist to the Stars” of Long Island. Thanks to the wonders of telepractice, our reach now extends all over NY and CA for our voice therapy work, and for our singing instruction, all over the world!

When I started, I didn’t think the words of my first clinical supervisor would actually come true: “You could end up being THE voice therapist on Long Island”. And it almost didn’t happen. Let me share with you some words of wisdom about following your instincts, never giving up on your dreams, reaching for expert help, and not letting the naysayers get you down. I hope to inspire those readers who might be uncertain, confused, lack confidence, or let negative thoughts stop them from pursuing their passions.

Way back, before college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor…while being a singer, of course. I admired both of my older brothers, one of whom is a doctor, the other an accomplished musician. I figured I could have both careers. I was accepted to a prestigious 6-year medical program at the tender age of 16. But I was a VERY young 16, and I just wasn’t ready for that kind of decision. I pursued my performance degree in voice, but never lost my passion for science, medicine, and the health professions. What if I could combine music and medicine into a satisfying and rewarding career? So, I went on to take my Master’s degree in speech pathology and got my first job. 

When I was finishing my clinical fellowship year at that job, I went on a job interview. That wise practice owner told me that I didn’t want his job opening. I didn’t?? He said I wasn’t the older clinician with children that he envisioned for the position. But he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Quit that job you have and open a private practice in voice!”  (Well, he actually used more colorful language that I won’t repeat here😊)

Whoa! He sized me up rather quickly, and he was right. I just didn’t believe in myself enough at that time to think I could really pull that off. So, I got a nice secure job in the public schools and learned my craft. I saw some private clients on the side, both singing students and speech/voice therapy patients. But I lacked the courage to go full-time in private practice. 

I then went so far as to hire a marketing firm that took a look at my practice information and my goal of becoming a voice specialist. The marketing manager asked me, “By just doing voice work, aren’t you putting yourself into too narrow of a niche?”  I told him I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t so sure. (I was right! And speaking of marketing, my marketing firm now shares my vision, and doesn’t doubt me for a moment. That’s what you want. Thanks, Samantha and everyone at Prescription PR!) 

I started pursuing my dream in earnest, all the while seeking the help of experts to assist me in achieving my goals. I was surrounded by a support system of people who believed in me, perhaps more than I believed in myself. 

Then opportunity knocked. I had started giving local lectures on voice and speech. My most popular presentation was “Lose Your Long Island Accent”. (Anyone who isn’t from Long Island or the five boroughs of New York City may not realize just how notorious our accent is, but there were plenty of people ready and willing to lose that accent!). I got a call from a really sweet lady who worked at a local library, who asked me to present the Long Island Accent program. She had a question: “Would it be OK if we invited the news media to cover the presentation, including newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations?”  Was it OK?? It was WONDERFUL, as far as I was concerned. 

Imagine my surprise when I went to the deli the next morning in May of 1996, and there was a headline about my presentation “The Tawk of Lawng Island” on the cover of Newsday, with my photo and a full page article on page 4! Apparently, we also showed up in the Chicago Tribune. I even got called to do a radio interview and a TV show! The next day, the phone in the office rang off the hook. I was able to resign from my school job, and I never looked back. And I’ve enjoyed every minute doing what I love!

I’ve continued to reach for experts to help me, and in so doing, was able to create an online presence, a social media network, a blog, and lots of videos with over 1600 YouTube subscribers. People from all over the world have reached out to us through our videos, website, and social media. We want to help more people by hopefully creating online courses in the coming years. 

I couldn’t have come this far without the help of a wonderful network of ENTs and laryngologists, fellow speech pathologists, voice therapy organizations, and my family and friends. And also, a wonderful group of clients who jumped in without a moment’s hesitation to help me run my office when my long-time assistant passed away suddenly from Covid-19 this year. When all seemed hopeless, this fearless group stepped in and gave me hope. Build your support group; they will truly step up when you need them the most! (Special thanks to Courtney, Melissa, Samantha, Taylor, Krista, Corinne, and our newest addition, Odette, who have all kept our office humming). 

So, what can I offer you from my experiences, besides just helping people with their voice skills? Just this: believe in yourself, surround yourself with positive supportive people who will lift you up when you falter, don’t be afraid to reach for the help of experts, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you love, that you can’t pursue your passions and dreams. It’s OK to make mistakes; that’s how we truly learn. Be willing to take a risk, even if you’re scared, for that’s how we gain confidence. And when you spend your life helping others to improve their lives, you will always sleep well knowing that you made a difference in the world. 

Now go out there, reach for your dreams, and make 2022 the year you turn your dreams into reality! Happy New Year!

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