102: How Mandy Harvey Turns Tragedy into Triumph | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
Mandy Harvey podcast interview on The Intentional Advantage
December 25, 2018   |   Episode #:

102: How Mandy Harvey Turns Tragedy into Triumph

In This Episode:

Even the best-laid plans hit snags from time to time. What do you do when you feel like you’ve lost control of your plans?Today, we’re talking with Mandy Harvey, an award-winning singer, and songwriter, who lost her residual hearing at the age of 19. Even after her hearing loss, Mandy pursued an incredibly successful career in music. She performs around the United States, has released four albums, and was recently featured on America’s Got Talent. Her story looks different than what she had planned for herself, and it is such an inspiring and powerful example of what it looks like to overcome obstacles and pivot so that you can still chase after your “why”.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Every obstacle can be overcome.

Questions I Answer

  • How do I overcome my obstacles?
  • What if my obstacles can’t be changed?
  • How do I pivot or shift my expectations?

Key Topics in the Show

  • Mandy’s story of becoming a deaf singer

  • How losing her hearing has allowed her to communicate more & feel more connected

  • Dealing with having to change your plans while still staying true to your why

  • What to do if your dream gives up on you

  • Getting over fear by giving yourself permission to fail

Resources and Links

Show Transcript

Welcome to season eight of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton. A  podcast focused on using productivity not just to do more, but to achieve what’s  most important to you. Join Tanya this season as she focuses on planning for  success using proven productivity strategies. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes  To Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast.  To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to  inkWELLpress.com/podcast.  

And now here’s your host Tanya Dalton.  

Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya  Dalton, and this is episode 102. Today’s podcast is a special one, because we’ve been  talking a lot about making plans. But what do you do when you lose control of those  plans? Even the best laid plans and dreams, they hit snags from time to time. So  when I met Mandy Harvey recently at an event that we both spoke at, I knew I had to  have her on the show. I knew her story would be incredibly inspiring, because you  see, Mandy Harvey is an award-winning singer and songwriter who lost her residual  hearing at the age of 19. Yes, Mandy is deaf, but even after her hearing loss, Mandy’s  been able to pursue an incredibly successful career in music. She’s an in-demand  performer and she’s released four albums. Mandy performs around the United States.  She’s won the VSA’s top young soloist award, and has even lived a personal dream of  performing at the Kennedy Center in DC.  

You may recognize Mandy from her appearance on America’s Got Talent,  which earned her the golden buzzer from Simon Cowell for performing her original  song, “Try.” So let me introduce you to Mandy. Hi, Mandy. Thanks so much for coming  on the show.  

Mandy: Hi. I’m so excited. Thank you so much for having me.  

Tanya: Absolutely. You know, when we met in New York, I remember that you  said something that really stuck with me and I thought it was so  

powerful. It was in that precise moment that I knew that I absolutely had  to have you on the show. I kind of stopped what I was doing and I wrote  it down word for word because it was so powerful and what you said  was: “When I lost my hearing, I could no longer hear my own voice,  which meant I could no longer be my own worst critic. I could no longer  compare myself to others, and I stopped being my own barrier.”  

 And I thought to myself, wow, that’s a woman who is taken what many  would see as a huge obstacle, this disability, and turned it absolutely on  its head, but obviously it took some time to get to that point. It wasn’t a  simple process.  

Mandy: Oh, gosh, no.  

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Tanya: So, yeah. Could you share a little bit with my listeners about your story  and your process in getting here?  

Mandy: Yeah. You know, it’s quite funny to look back and see the crazy journey  that you’ve been on because you know, when you’re living it, you’re just  really hyper-focused in the now and to scope back and see how far  you’ve come it’s just like, wow, I can’t even believe that I made all of  those tiny little steps.  

 But you know, I started out as a very shy, hard of hearing, introverted kid  and public speaking or singing in front of other people, it didn’t just  cause me pain. It was such a high anxiety and stress, I mean, I would  pass out or vomit or you know, I never ever anticipated myself as being  a performer for a career. I wanted to do music education.  

 I went to school for vocal music education at Colorado State University  up in Fort Collins and it was a dream. My goal was to be able to give  other people, other students an ability to express themselves just how I  had found my ability to express myself through music, but also help to  create a community aspect and bridge gaps between people and  cultures and any kind of difference and enjoy something as one unit.  

 I started losing my hearing in mass chunks. I noticed it first a month  after I started school that I could no longer hear my teachers talking  anymore. And you know, I’ve had problems my whole life, so it wasn’t  something that I was terribly shocked with, but it didn’t come back. I  went to the audiologist and I had lost about 40 decibels of sound in  both ears and they were worried it was progressive and it just kept  going down. Kept going down. At Christmas I was legally deaf and  getting fitted for hearing aids. The start of the new semester came and I  had my hearing aids, which were horribly expensive by the way.  

Absolutely unreal. And they weren’t enough. My hearing loss kept  progressing down. Now I’m profoundly deaf in both ears and I was  dropped from the music program and I never even thought that I would  find music again.  

 But I was encouraged and pushed by other people to just learn to  breathe and learn to cope with changing into a new world. I was  

struggling so hard because I was trying to grasp at my old life and who I  was before instead of looking forward and saying, “Okay, I can’t be the  person I was before. That person died. You know, I’m a new person and I  need to learn to love myself as I am.”  

 And so I started taking ASL classes and it gave me an ability to  communicate that I’d never felt before. I’d always been lip-reading. my  whole life. I’d always been seeing the conversation, but never being a  part of it. And now with sign language, it’s bridged a gap for me to  communicate on a level that I never thought was possible and it was  such a beautiful freedom and it gave me the ability to start saying yes to  things.  

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 My dad encouraged me to pick up a guitar and start playing music with  him, which I didn’t want to do. But he’s my dad and I love him. So, I said  yes. I was holding onto the guitar and I was playing the chords with  them and watching him and keeping the same strum pattern. And I  started noticing how it felt on my fingertips and feeling the instrument  as it was pressed up against my skin. And I just fell in love with the  feeling of music and realize that music is still there. It’s just different.  

 And I was pushed to try to learn a song to sing and that was a lot of  blood, sweat, and tears and hours and hours of continuous work, of  using visual tuners, doing scales and working on feeling the vibrations  on my throat and marking them off one by one as they travel up and  down my throat, buzz in the nasal cavity and rumble in your chest and  oh, man. It’s a painstaking process that I have to do every day just to  keep up or just even be a part of it, but the first time that I sang with my  dad, I knew in my gut that it was going to be different.  

 I knew in my gut that I was going to fail, so it didn’t matter. I’d already  had already assigned it to be, well, this is a college try and we can just  shut up about this conversation. I can move on with my life. But it was  just a weird experience to sing without being able to hear yourself.  

 I could no longer pick myself apart and tell myself that it wasn’t good  enough. Or compare myself to somebody else and say, “Why am I  singing this when they’re so much better? They could do it so much  better.” I was just singing and I didn’t care if it sucked and I’ve never not  cared if it sucked before. And it was just a joyous, euphoric moment.  And every time I stand on stage I have no idea how it’s gonna turn out,  you know? I could be off and start a song in the wrong key. It happens.  

 And then everybody on my team and my musicians, they all stop me  and they’re like, “Yeah, we need to start that one in a different key.” The  audience laughs and we bond a little bit because you know, they see  that I’m a human who breaks and who’s not perfect and instead, I’m  embracing my imperfections and saying that I love myself more than I  ever have in my life because I’ve had to focus and work on myself. I love  people more than I ever have in my life and I can see pain in people’s  eyes, where I never would’ve noticed before because they have the  same look that I saw in my own eyes day after day, year after year.  

 I communicate more than I ever have and I sing more freely than I ever  had in my life and it’s not because I lost my hearing, it’s because I went  through a trauma and instead of sitting on the floor and letting my life  pass me by, I decided to take the really hard route and stand back up  and claw my way back out and for a lot of things, I’m nowhere near out  of the woods.  

 I still have bad days. I still have days where I’m upset or frustrated or I  long for the ease of just being able to click on a radio and just  

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understand what everybody’s talking about all the time. Like, “Oh, do  you know that song?” “I don’t know that song.” It’s frustrating.  

Tanya: Yeah, that’s hard. That has to be hard. I’m sure too as you’re going  through that process of losing your hearing at such a fierce rate that  must’ve made you feel so isolated and alone at that time, and so to hear  you say that you feel like you’re communicating more with people and  you have a different connection? I think that’s really powerful.  

Mandy: Yeah. Well, it was weird, you know, everything changed. How do you  wake up in the morning without hearing the alarm clock? You know, you  have to change your whole system. My problem, my bigger problem,  you know, outside of just, you know, losing my ability to be a part of the  music program, I became afraid of everything. Afraid of the dark, not  knowing if people are coming up behind me, afraid of missing on  conversations, afraid of people thinking that I was weird or you know,  difficult. And I became just a person who couldn’t sleep.  

 I couldn’t sleep without that gentle hum, of, you know, something near  me or people walking down the hallway laughing really loudly or just  closing a door and hearing the latch to know that it actually closed. You  know? There’s so many sounds that make you feel safe, that when  they’re gone, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not.  And that was a long struggle for me and now you know, I embrace it. It’s  funny, like the people who are near me the most, you know, they have  little bits of freedoms as well, say drink sparkling water and they burp.  I’m never going to know.  

 So I would not even be surprised if somebody just like ripped one like  right next to me. As long as it didn’t smell like I wouldn’t know. And so  like there’s like a freedom for them, as well. No, it’s been one of the  biggest challenges of my life, but also one that has encouraged and  shaped me in so many different ways and it’s led me to believe that  when I fall down again, because when I lost my hearing it felt like I got  swallowed by a giant well and I just sat on the bottom and then I had to  claw my way out until I finally saw a little bit of sunlight and kept going  and kept going. When I fall back down again and hit that ground again, I  know that I can get back up.  

 I know that I can make those painful steps. I know that they’re going to  suck. I know that they’re going to be hard. I know that I’m going to be  miserable and I’m going to cry and then I’m gonna do that weird  laughing thing that you do after you’re just raw and you just, you know,  like something happened, something stupid, like your plastic fork breaks  and you just start laughing because you just have nothing left and I’m  just going to laugh and then the next day is gonna come and I’m going  to keep going and I’m going to keep doing it again and I know I can do  it, because I’ve done it at least a dozen times.  

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Tanya: Right. That’s so true. Knowing that you’ve been through it. Oftentimes  looking at those breadcrumbs, the things that we’ve been through, gives  us that strength, right? To know that we’ve got the fortitude to make it  through. Although, obviously you’ve been through a lot more than than  most people have been through. I know that you say the death of your  dream doesn’t make the end of your life, only the end of your plans.  

Mandy: Right. That plan.  

Tanya: Yeah, that plan. And you had that plan and I love how you talk about this  loss of identity, because I think so many people, they have this strong  identity for you. It was something in music, right? That you wanted to be  a chorus teacher, right? And that you didn’t want to start off being a  singer, but you pivoted and you adjusted and you change your dream to  get you to where you are now.  

Mandy: Well, if you look at the core aspect of my dream, the thing that I really  wanted was helping to create a community and have other people  express themselves and to encourage that unification that happens with  music. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, your religion, what your  favorite color is.  

 In a moment, in a concert or performance, every single person on stage  and every single person in the audience is on a journey together and I  wanted to do that and so now the core of my dream was doing that  with music. I’m still doing that with music. The core of my dream is still  accomplishable. It’s just in no way, shape or form anywhere near where I  thought that I could go because I limited myself so much and that was  all based off of fear.  

 Fear that I wasn’t good enough to do it. Fear that I’m just going to have  people laugh at me, fear that my body was going to break and I couldn’t  physically do it. And you know what? All of those things are true. I’m not  the best singer in the world, but nobody is. You know, there’s always  going to be somebody that somebody thinks is better. You know?  

 I do mess up and my body does hurt. I have a connective tissue disorder.  I have EDS. Traveling is hard, but I’m still able to do it for now and I can  still wake up and know that I’m making a difference and I’m making  people smile and I’m starting conversations and maybe giving  

somebody just a little bit of hope so that they realize that even though  they’re climbing that wall and they don’t see any sunlight yet, that the  sunlight exists. They just need to keep going a couple more steps and  then once they get a couple more steps, they got to go a couple more  and then they can make it as well.  

Tanya: Right? Yeah. Well I liked what you said there too because you talked  about how it really wasn’t what you were doing with music. It’s really  your why and we often get caught up in what we’re doing and not why  we’re doing it and I feel like your why is what maybe allowed you to  

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pivot because why you want to do the music has not changed. That has  stayed the same. But you’ve changed your what. Would you agree?  

Mandy: Exactly. Exactly. Well, and you have to be open to the idea that you  might not have thought of your dream yet. Who limits themselves to  only one dream? That’s such a foolish thing to do. I allowed myself only  one dream and in one particular way and it became my identity. That’s  so dangerous. You know, job changes, lives change, situations change  and I know people like my friend Amy Purdy, she ended up in the  hospital because she wasn’t feeling good. And then her body started  shutting down and then pretty soon they amputated her legs, you know,  and she didn’t become an athlete like a true competitive athlete until  after she had lost her legs, you know? She never dreamed of going to  any kind of Olympics when she was a kid. Like, this wasn’t anything that  she had even allowed herself to think of. And yet here she is now, you  know?  

 You have to allow wiggle room in your plan to say that I can only dream  as far as I can as I am now. And the more I grow, the more I learn, the  more I change, the more I adapt, the broader my dream can be, the  more I’m able to go past just the limited amount and just say, okay, you  know what? This was my dream. I don’t really like this dream, but I love  this part of it. I’m going to shift focus and do a lot more of this.  

Tanya: Yeah, I mean, beautifully said. I don’t think I could agree with you  anymore. It is that flexibility and that wiggle room, not feeling so rigid  that this is absolutely the path I have to go on and if things get awry or I  get off the path, then it’s just done. It’s dead. So having that ability to  really shift and change. And that reminds me of something that you say  about motivational speakers that tell people to never give up on their  dreams and you say in your book, excuse me, but what if the dream  gives up on you? Because that happens, right? There are times where  our dreams, no matter how hard we’ve worked or how fiercely we’ve  prayed, they do give up on you. That’s essentially what happened to  you, but you’ve taken that and you’ve shifted. And so I think that’s such  a great suggestion that you give for people to think about how do you  pivot? How do you stand close to that why that you have and create this  new life for yourself? Your opportunities really are limitless.  

Mandy: Yeah. Well, I get so frustrated when people tell me, you know, like, “Oh,  well every dream is possible.” Sorry, but no. You know, I love that every  daddy couldn’t say to their kid that they’re a princess and I love the  positivity of it, but the problem with it is it breeds this idea that don’t try  things that you have the potential of failing at, and so nobody tries  anything. And I myself, you know, my first dream when I was a kid like,  really young. I don’t want it to be a ballerina.  

 Now, I have very limited grace. My body falls apart. I dislocated my leg  at the knee walking. So me being a ballerina, it’s just not something  physically that I can do. Can I dance? Can I maybe do a ballet class? Can  

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I, you know, of course, but necessarily built for the Met. You know? It’s  not in the cards for me, but I think that saying I have to do this in this  specific way. That’s where people get in trouble.  

 What is your passion? What is your dream, at the core of it? What do  you want to do with it and why? And then chase that, instead of chasing  your expectation of how it should go, because your expectation is  always going to be limited.  

Tanya: Right. I think that’s very true. Our own expectations are very limited. So,  what you said earlier about you almost gave yourself that permission to  fail because you felt like, well, the chance of failure is pretty big here,  right? That really allowed you to not fail, but to succeed because it was  almost like that allowed you to get over that fear. It made you fearless  because you’d already accepted the fact that well, failure is an option  and I think we often 

Mandy: Failure is destined to happen.  

Tanya: Yes. So true.  

Mandy: It’s going to happen anyway, so if you don’t try anything, you’ve already  failed. You know? “I’m not going to be able to do good at that.” Good in  whose eyes? My sister is an amazing artist. Unbelievable. Like everything  she ever painted, sculpted, designed, she got an award for, you know?  She’s brilliant. But I’ve always wanted to paint and I never did it because  I always was afraid of not doing as well as Katie or not being, you know,  like, oh well I’m not going to be what I want to be, because I can see  what other people can do and so I just never tried. 32 years old and I’ve  never painted and then I took a class. It was one of those like, you drink  some wine, you paint a weird sunset thing and you know, and I sat there  and I sat and I was just like, I turned to my cousin Mara and I was just  like, you know what?  

 This might be the ugliest sunset I’m about to paint, but by God it’s going  to be mine. And I allowed myself not this feeling of, oh well you’re going  to fail. Fail in whose eyes? Not mine. It can be the ugliest freaking sunset  that has ever been painted in the world. But I painted it and I painted it  because I got out of my own way and I didn’t allow fear to control what  I do with my life. That’s a victory. And so every time I see that horribly  ugly sunset that I painted, I see that as a small victory and there’s  nothing wrong with it not being in a gallery somewhere. It’s mine.  

Tanya: Yeah. You own it. It’s ownership over your successes and your failures  and all the spaces in between.  

Mandy: Yeah, and not chasing everybody else to give you that positivity  enforcement. Like, “Oh, well, Bob didn’t like it.” Who’s Bob? Why? Bob’s  opinion matter. You know, this was like, sure we love Bob, but really  why? The only person at the end of the day that you need to appease,  

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the person that you have to be good with is yourself, so get out of your  way. It’s time.  

Tanya: Well, to be honest with you, that reminds me of some of the lyrics that  you seeing in your song, “Try,” which is an original song that you wrote,  which is a beautiful song and I know you saying that on America’s Got  Talent where you got the golden buzzer.  

Mandy: I did. That was weird.  

Tanya: Such a crazy, amazing moment, I’m sure for you. You know what? I  would love for my listeners to be able to hear you sing so they can really  get an understanding of your voice and really the of what you have  created for yourself. Do you mind doing that for us?  

Mandy: Sure. I am all set. Let me just like, let me grab my little instrument.  

Tanya: Beautiful. And the words I think really sum up your story. I love when  you say, “I know the only thing in my way is me.” I think that’s so  powerful because I think that’s so true for so, so many of us. And Mandy,  I feel like your story is so inspiring to everyone who hears it. I know you  have a book out, where you talk about your story and you speak and I  would love for you to tell my listeners where they can connect with you.  

Mandy: Sure. You guys can connect with me on my website,  MandyHarveyMusic.com and that gives you tour dates and book  

information and basically kind of where I am, what I’m doing, or  

Facebook or Instagram, Mandy Harvey and yeah, I’m working with so  many amazing companies and doing so many amazing projects right  now and I’m just happy to be a part of kind of a movement for people to  start pushing themselves a little bit more, but also know that they’re  being cheered for at the same time.  

 Well, I think it’s a message so many people need to hear, so I love that  you’re doing such an amazing job of sharing it and sharing it in such a  beautiful way, so I appreciate you sharing your gift and your story with  us today because it really is very inspirational to see someone really  push themselves out of their comfort zone and see beyond their own  capabilities, which is what you’ve done here. So, congratulations to you  and I wish you only the best and I think it’s just a fabulous thing that  you’re doing.  

Tanya: Aw, that’s really sweet. I think it’s a fabulous thing that you’re doing as  well. You’re creating a community and lifting people up and it’s beautiful  and so needed.  

Mandy: Well, thank you. I’m so thrilled that Mandy was able to come on to the  show today and I hope that you found her story inspiring. For me, when  I look at someone like Mandy who has a beautiful singing voice, who is  

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an amazing person both inside and out. It really is inspiring and it makes  me believe that if she can do it, we can do it too.  

 We’re going to be able to pivot. We’re going to be able to overcome  those obstacles that maybe come into our path when we’re making  those big plans and dreams, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in  next week’s episode. The power of the pivot.  

 All of this talk about goal setting over the past season has really gotten  you guys very excited. I love the direct messages. I love the emails I’m  getting from you. And one of the things I’ve heard from a lot of you is  that you would like a goal setting challenge, so I’m happy to tell you that  we are going to be doing a free five-day goal setting challenge. You can  get all the details and all the information by going to  

inkWELLpress.com/goalsettingchallenge. I would love to see you sign  up for this challenge. It’s absolutely free. I just think it’d be a great way  to bring all of this information we talked about on the podcast all  together to help you achieve your goals for the next year.  

 All right. Until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.  

Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox. To get free access to Tanya’s  valuable checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to  inkWELLpress.com/podcast.