A Story of How a BIG Dream Influenced a Young Man’s Behaviors and Future

I first met Craig Shelburne when he was a high school student and I was organizing alcohol and drug-free youth groups in schools around the state of Nebraska. Craig was active in his local drug-free group. His desire to achieve a big dream in his future gave him the strength, tenacity and focus to do what he needed to do to make it happen and stay away from the people and things that would get in the way of it, including alcohol and other drugs. His story is a real life example of how “idealism” can give a young person their own personal reasons to not use alcohol and other drugs when they want something so much in their future. Craig is now a grown adult living in Nashville, TN. I recently interviewed Craig about his journey to achieving his dream job and his decision to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs along the way.

Kathleen: You made the decision to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs when you were in high school. When you look back at that time, what do you think were the driving reasons for you to not engage in these behaviors?

For me, I knew it would get me in trouble at home and I knew that it wouldn’t really work as a way to get popular. As a non-athletic teacher’s kid who was interested in listening to music and reading books, I spent a lot of time solo in a very small town in Nebraska. Looking back I see a low-maintenance teenager who was just biding his time until college. Also, I never liked the smell of smoke and I wouldn’t have known how to find (or even use) drugs. As far as drinking alcohol, if I’d been taking part in that scene, I knew that word would get around because there are no secrets in a small town.

Kathleen: Even though the college years are a high-risk for using alcohol and other drugs, I know you also continued to not use. What was influencing your behaviors during this time of your life?

That’s true, I stayed sober all through college. That first year, I went to a college in Lincoln, Nebraska, and my roommate wasn’t a drinker either. That made a difference because I didn’t feel the need to party or cut loose just for the sake of doing it. My main extracurricular activity that year was writing for the college newspaper. I had taken some journalism classes and realized that I could see myself as a writer. So the next year I moved to Nashville to study journalism at Belmont University. I figured if I was going to be a journalist, I might as well write about something I loved, which was country music. So, what better place to go?

Also, sometimes it sounds like a punchline when I say it, but I didn’t want to drink while I was studying in Nashville because I didn’t want to get kicked out and have to go back to Nebraska.

Kathleen: Did you have to take any risks to pursue your vision of the future?

I didn’t see it as a risk at the time, but I came to Nashville in 1994 without knowing anybody and enrolling in a college that my family really couldn’t afford. If it didn’t work out, I’d have to acknowledge that it was all a costly mistake. I had to pretty much focus on studying and working to stay afloat. As far as socializing, I would go to free, all-ages concerts around town or go to movies. But what I remember most about college is the constant work – some formative, music industry-related internships that were invaluable to me, and then picking up kids after school for a family I was working for, sometimes helping them with homework, but mostly taking them to soccer games.

I don’t have any wild and crazy “Can you believe we did that?!” moments from college. But without a doubt, going to Belmont was the best decision I’ve ever made. Even though I was scraping by, I was living a dream of just being in Nashville. I still feel this way sometimes.

Kathleen: Were there people in your life who were your cheerleaders and supporters or who thought your future vision was impossible or “too big” for you to achieve? What impact, if any, did these people have on you and your vision?

The first time someone outwardly supported me beyond the general “Good luck!” was my college professor, Thom Storey. When I made my first campus visit to Belmont, he showed me around. I told him that I wanted to write for music magazines and he said something like, “OK, we can help you with that.” He didn’t emphasize to me that there are a lot of people who were trying to do that, or who are better writers, or who have connections that I didn’t have, etc. He was a working journalist, in addition to being a professor, so maybe there was a deeper understanding of that calling that comes with journalism. (This was before the ominous term “media.”) It felt like a noble profession, and to be honest, it often does today.

I never did get the “Go for it!” pep talk from anyone in my family, although my mom did buy me a plane ticket for that first visit. For my parents I think it was more like, “We’ll see what happens.” But I knew I could do it. I think it was such a shock to my family and friends in Nebraska that I wanted to give this a real shot. In Nebraska, you are taught from birth that it’s the best place to live and raise a family. Or, at least, that was my experience. Then at some point I thought, “You know, people raise families everywhere and they seem to be doing just fine, so….” Off I went, and arrived in Nashville on August 20, 1994.

Kathleen: Sometimes pursuing our dreams and visions for the future isn’t always easy. At times, we can do everything we need to do to get it and still not achieve it. Did you face any challenges or roadblocks as you pursued your vision?

The hardest part of the career path came during those first five years after graduating from Belmont. Right away I landed a job at what I considered the best country music magazine at the time. When that closed, I tried to make a living in Austin (because I liked going out to hear music once I was old enough to get into venues), but that didn’t work at all. I came back to Nashville totally broke and I remember buying a newspaper with my last 50 cents. One of my friends let me stay at her apartment while I sorted things out.

Around this time, the internet was still catching on and all kinds of music websites were popping up. I was willing to take free tickets (for concert reviews), always had an opinion (handy for album reviews), and never got nervous about interviewing people (even Waylon Jennings, which I will never forget). Outlets were paying reasonable wages to writers and there were quite a few outlets — with funny names like CDNow.com — so I got published a lot back then. And I made sure people knew I was available.

I held up my end of the bargain, too. If the outlet needed a story first thing in the morning, I’d stay up. If they needed me in the office (like my writing gig at the Tennessean), I’d show up twice a week and write on their antiquated machinery. For a year, I was writing for a site called CitySearch, covering music and nightlife, but even then I don’t recall being a big drinker. I was still striving for the big goal. That finally happened when I landed a writing job full-time at CMT (Country Music Television) in 2002 which made my mother cry in relief.

Kathleen: Catch us up! What are you doing today? Are you living out your dream?

It’s been 25 years now and that dream worked out. With the ever-changing media world, I’m adjusting to the “work from home” life, but fortunately the work is there. (Not always the case in this career field.) These days I am the managing editor of The Bluegrass Situation, which covers roots music better than any other site in my opinion, and then contributing two stories a day for CMT.com, plus assorted other projects for the Academy of Country Music and more. I spent a few years writing a biography about the legendary country star, Don Gibson, so that’s on the horizon to be published too.

Over the years, Craig has interviewed hundreds of country music stars as a journalist in Nashville, TN!

Kathleen: The big question is…did you ever drink alcohol?

I never did until the night before I graduated from college. Then, I had a beer on the front step with one of my college friends.

Kathleen: What advice would you give parents, teachers or other adults today when it comes to building “idealism” with kids – giving them a vision of their futures and helping them see that risky behaviors can get in the way of it?

I’ve trained myself to be a long-term thinker. When faced with a difficult decision, I might think, “How will this impact me five years from now?” Or, “Is this going to put me on the course to where I want to be?” It took me many years to understand the old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine.” But now I remind myself of it nearly every week. If you can prevent or stop a situation before it gets unruly, it’s a whole lot easier to fix it.

As for advice, maybe parents and teachers can think of these conversations from the role of an interviewer or journalist, asking “Why is that?” or saying things like, “Tell me more about that.” Or that skillful pause where the interview subject will feel the need to keep talking. I think it’s a fair question to ask, “What are some of the things that can get in the way of achieving your dream?” Your kids might even surprise you with the answer. It’s remarkable how much we can learn when we listen to each other and how much we can achieve when someone believes in us.

Thank you, Craig, for sharing your story of “idealism.”


P.S. I would love to hear your personal story about a time when you may have chosen to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs because you wanted to achieve something much more important to you in your future! Share it in the Comments section below or send me an email at kathleen@knslearningsolutions.com!

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