Dustin Lynch says his college degrees in biology and chemistry helped pave the way for success in country music. But not in the way you might expect.
"Everyone starts preparing you for the hard work that first year of [getting music introduced on] radio. And, trust me, this is easy and fun compared to the workload I had in college," he says. "And on top of that, you learn a lot about yourself in college. So I know how to live out of a bag, and I know how to run on two hours of sleep at night from doing what I did in college."
Lynch, 27, is sharing his story on behalf of CMT Empowering Education, a one-stop resource providing information on schools, career paths, motivation and financial resources.
CMT: What do you remember the most about your first week of college?
Lynch: I remember I was scared to death because it was a whole new group of people, which ended up being a great thing. I realized, "Man, I actually have to do laundry this week, and I have to figure out what I want to eat for dinner on my own." For a guy who had a mom who took care of him a whole lot growing up, the first week of school was life-changing.
What sort of classes did you take when you first enrolled?
A lot of introductory courses, but I had a focus in biology, so I think I had two biology classes. I was at David Lipscomb University [a Christian institution in Nashville], so I had to take a Bible class. That was something interesting that a lot of students don't get to do. The intro classes ended up being a lot harder. You could not snooze through these classes and pass like you could in high school, so it was a whirlwind of "Wow, I have to pay attention." Those first tests about two or three weeks into school all kicked my butt. Like I said, you learn real quick, "Wow, I can't snooze and get through this."
How quickly did you declare a major?
In my mind, I had it all along. I love to hunt and fish, and biology was something I was good at, so I wanted to do that. We didn't have to declare until two years in, but by that time, you learn real quick that if you want to change paths, it's going to put you back about a year.
Did Lipscomb appeal to you because of its proximity to the Bluebird Café?
No doubt about it. When I found out I was going to get to go to Lipscomb, it was the happiest day ever because I knew I was going to be in Music City. On top of that, I was going to be two or three blocks from the Bluebird [a local songwriting venue]. It was an opportunity that I would not have if I had gone to school anywhere else. Those four years in Nashville let me test the waters on music and learn about myself and what direction I want to go as artist. If I was up here for four years doing music when I was 18 years old, I would have been discouraged pretty quick.
I know you are a Tennessee native, but was living in Nashville a culture shock for you?
Totally a culture shock, yeah. It's an hour and a-half from Tullahoma, but they are two different worlds. Growing up in Tullahoma, you'd get here about twice a year, and that was to go to mall to shop for a birthday and Christmas. And that was it. So along with having all new people in your life and a completely new lifestyle, this was a big city for a small-town kid. It's a great city, and it's one I will always be a part of hopefully.
Did meeting so many different kinds of people in college years help your social skills, too?
Yeah, absolutely. Especially in this industry, it's all about relationships. Being in Nashville, because it's a bigger town, there are not those two cliques that you have in a small town. There are new people coming in and out every day. You learn how to get out and meet folks and strike up conversations.
Did you know a lot of people when you got here?
No! I didn't know a person. My grandparents used to live here, but they moved out before I got up here. Really the only person I knew was my sister's boyfriend. So it was pretty shocking.
For people who are in college now, what message or advice can you give them?
I think you dream big and go for it -- with whatever you want to do. Try a lot of different stuff. When I got out of college, I was mowing grass because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I mean, I knew I wanted to do this, but it's not like you can just go into CMT and chat.
So I tried a lot of different things. Doing different jobs you find out a lot about yourself. ... A lot of times, folks get out of school and go be what they think they want to be -- like a nurse or an accountant -- and they end up hating a cubicle or hating the hospital. So when you get out there and try a lot of different stuff, I think you find yourself and find a balance with your life.
I think finding the correct job is about liking it when you're there, but it's also about if you love your life when you're not there. I've had jobs where I hated my life when I wasn't even there, because of my job, and you don't want that. My advice is to try a lot of different stuff. You're going to wind up finding and doing what you love anyway, so know that and don't be scared to get fired, quit or fail because you're going to land up with something you love.