Life Changing Moments: Pursuing Passion, with Dr. Matthew Alexander

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For Dr. Matthew Alexander, music had always been a life-long passion. And, now with the release of his eighth album, he discusses with Dael about how – and why – he always kept his passion in front of him, no matter what obsticles his very busy career threw in his path.

And, if you find yourself not able to pursue your passion, a coach might be able to help. Give us a call. Reach out to

MD Coaches, LLC provides leadership and executive coaching for physicians by physicians to overcome burnout, transition throughout your career, develop as a leader or meet your individual goals. Remember, you are not in this alone. Reach out to us today!

PHYSICIANS BY PHYSICIANS. It showcases unique physician talents, whether it be in the form of writing, painting, creating cookie masterpieces, or storming capital hill in the name of healthcare advocacy. Use promo code RxforSuccess to get three months free when selecting the monthly option.

Today’s Episode is brought to you by Doc2Doc Lending. Doc2Doc provides Match Day loans of up to $25,000 to fourth-year medical students and current residents. These loans are designed to help students cover personal expenses, such as moving costs, housing down payments, and living expenses before and during residency. With fixed interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and no prepayment penalties, Doc2Doc Match Day loans provide financial flexibility and allow students to focus on their exciting journey towards becoming a physician.

Doc2Doc was founded for doctors, by doctors. They understand the challenges and hard work involved in becoming a doctor, and they support doctors throughout their careers. Using their in-house lending platform, Doc2Doc considers the unique financial considerations of doctors that are not typically considered by traditional financial institutions. So, Don’t let financial stress hold you back from achieving your goals – Doc2Doc lending has you covered. Visit to Learn more.

Dr. Alexander is a licensed psychologist specializing in the treatment of couples. He has been a couples therapist for the past forty years and is considered by many in the Charlotte region to be the “go to guy” for couples in distress. His unique capacity to join with and tailor his approach to each couple helps him succeed where others have failed. In his private practice, Dr. Alexander currently sees 10 – 20 couples each week for therapy as well as many individual clients with relationship and other mental health issues.

Dr. Alexander is also an internationally acclaimed educator and public speaker. He holds the distinction of being the first psychologist in North Carolina to become a Full Professor of Family Medicine at the UNC-School of Medicine. He coined the Google search engine word “cinemeducation” (i.e. the use of movie clips to teach psychological and medical topics) and is known both for the high quality of his presentations as well as for their entertainment value. He has been a keynote speaker at multiple professional conferences in England, Switzerland and the United States and recently was an Invited Visiting Professor at New York University.

Contact Dr. Alexander:

Website (Music):
Website (therapy):

Note: Links on this page may be linked to affiliate programs. These links help to ensure we can continue to deliver this content to you. If you are interested in purchasing any products listed on this page, your support helps us out greatly. Thank you.

Access the Show Transcript Here


[0:00] I think that’s the key is to set a goal. And people do this with exercise. They decide to do a marathon. I mean, Dale, you know this personally. That motivates you to get into shape.
Without the goal, I think it’d be pretty hard to do it.
There are times in our lives that change the way we see the world. Navigating these challenges can take insight, trusted confidants, or even a coach.
Let’s explore those moments.

[0:30] In this companion podcast to Rx for Success, we will discover ways to learn and write our own success stories together.
I’m Dr. Dale Waxman, a physician coach with MD Coaches, and this is Life Changing Moments.
Today’s guest is Dr. Matthew Alexander and this is a departure from the way that we usually do this podcast.
I usually select people who have been guests on Rx for Success and I listen to that podcast.
I hear parts of their story that allow me to wonder about how they got through their particular branch point or inflection point.
We’re going to reverse this a little bit today. I have a very close colleague and close friend who I worked with for over 25 years in academic family medicine, Dr. Matthew Alexander, because he has several of these in his life that I.

[1:31] Knew about.
And I wanted to make sure that he came on to the podcast to share some of his story and for us to hear some of that and some of his words of wisdom as well.
So Matthew, welcome to the Life-Changing Moments podcast. It’s good to have you.
Wonderful to be here. Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity.
Good to have you here. Could you just briefly give us what the chronology or the trajectory of your professional career has been? Well, I was an undergraduate at Harvard, and I majored in something called social relations, which was an interdisciplinary program.

[2:09] That combined psychology, sociology, and anthropology. It was a revolutionary program at the time, and we had a lot of very inspiring educators. However, this was at the same time that popular music was being revolutionized by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, and I had been a guitar player and pianist since I was very young. So when I finished college, I spent seven years pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter. Seven is a very interesting number for a variety of reasons, the seven-year itch.
Carl Jung, and other people have talked about seven-year cycles.
After seven years in the music business, it was time for me to go back to graduate school.
I was very fortunate to get into a program at the University of Michigan, where I studied psychology and education.
That led me to my career as a family medicine educator, which I was for 36 years.
And that also led me to a career now where I’m a full-time practicing psychologist.
Thank you for that, very brief.
Sounds like you’ve practiced that a little bit. Certainly, you’ve experienced it.
So what I wanna do actually is to kind of break down some of those shifts for you with the maybe seven-year cycles.

[3:35] And let’s kind of go back to that time you’re undergraduate, you’re at Harvard, you’re graduating with that degree that you talked about, which really has not a whole lot to do with music, doesn’t sound like to me.
No. And so, what do you remember about that time, about saying, hey, I think we’re gonna make a go of this with the music?
Well, if I could just rewind back to my family, I grew up with a poet mother and a composer father.
And my father had been a concert pianist.
He had four sons. I was the fourth of four. He was keen on one of us following his footsteps as a pianist.
And it was not a good fit because he was very perfectionistic.
He felt I had the most talent.
So we had regular lessons that often end in tears.
In classical music, he was a brilliant pianist playing romantic music, which I was exposed to.
But in third grade, talk about an inflection point.

[4:40] Evelyn Chalice played the guitar in front of the auditorium.
I knew, I recognized that this was the instrument for me.
She led the whole auditorium in the song, and I went home and asked my mother if I could get a guitar.
And she said, well, I don’t know, you better ask your father.
So that was a bit of a scary thing, because he wanted me to be a pianist.
So I asked him, Dad, I’d like to play the guitar.
And his response, as I remember it, was absolutely not.
It’s either the piano or nothing.

[5:12] And I left and I was very discouraged and my mother said, don’t worry dear, we’ll take care of that.
And the next weekend she bought me my first guitar and my dad went along with it.
He tried to get me to be a classical guitar player but I was much more interested in folk guitar.
So I took lessons and I was always in the backdrop.
When I went to Harvard, I started performing at a place called the Nameless Coffeehouse.

[5:39] And I started writing songs, there’s a whole story there as well, with someone I met.
Again, the times were such that this was a very popular thing to do.
And like many people, I was so inspired by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, I decided I don’t wanna be at Harvard, I wanna be a famous folk singer.

[5:59] And I almost dropped out, and I made an agreement with my parents that if I stayed in and graduated, they would leave me alone and let me do what I wanted to do, which I did for seven years.
Wow, just for the audience, and we’re talking about the late 60s, right? Correct.
Yeah, so when you say this is not that unusual for people, it’s really, we’ve evolved from that so much, haven’t we?
I mean, that’s not quite the path that a lot of people take, but that was not that unusual, people will say.
I’m just gonna go, say some more about that. That was, you make a very good point.
That was a usual thing that people would feel like they needed life experience before they went to graduate education.
And for me, that life experience brought me back to New York, Boston, San Francisco, and LA, pursuing this dream of mine.
And a lot of people did that. They went into the Peace Corps, They learned how to use, make leather goods.
It was much more normal than it is now.
Yeah, I hadn’t heard the leather goods one, but that’s good, that’s a good one, I like that.
So, you said before going to grad school, so it makes me think that even then, you knew that eventually you’d be going to grad school.

[7:20] Well, I didn’t, but what happened is I had enough success to keep me in it, but not enough success to take me to the promised land and make a living at it.
I had several indicators that this was a hopeless trajectory.
The one that I remember the most is when I took the same song to two different publishers.
The first publisher said, I love the lyric, but you’re going to have to change the chorus because it doesn’t work. I said, okay, I can do that. I went to a second publisher the same day.
He said, I love the chorus, but you’ll have to change the lyric.

[8:05] And I realized these people don’t know anything. And it was so confusing. So if I listened to both of them I’d have to come up with a totally different song.
That was a moment I said, I better find something that really is more dependable.
And at that time, psychology was my second love.
But I decided to go back to graduate school, and I had a lot of friends very disappointed in me because they felt I had a lot of talent.
And I said to myself, I will never abandon my love of music.
In fact, I will become a psychologist and fund my love of music.
If I can’t get a record contract with a record company, I’ll start my own record company.

[8:51] But I won’t beg anybody. Yeah. And I want to come back to the music piece and how you have sustained that through the years.
But I’ll come back to that in a minute. And I just wanna ask some more about the graduate school piece. So why psychology?
Well, the true story is that my oldest brother was mentally ill, and I became interested in mental illness.
The other piece is my dad was a professor. He was a composer, but he was a professor, and he had an incessant need to talk.
So I was the youngest of four. I learned to listen.
And I would listen and then I would say a couple of words and my mother would say, Matthew, you’re so wonderful at summarizing.
So that’s really what psychologists do. They listen, they summarize and they provide some insight.
So I think the combination of those two, plus I had personal issues because of my brother and I was interested in self-help books and I got into psychotherapy And I just found it fascinating.

[10:07] Today’s episode is brought to you by Doc-to-Doc Lending. Doc-to-Doc provides matchday loans of up to $25,000 to fourth-year medical students and current residents. These loans are designed to help students cover personal expenses such as moving costs, housing down payments, and living expenses before and during residency. With fixed interest rates, flexible repayment terms and no prepayment penalties, Doc-to-Doc Match Day loans provide financial flexibility and allow students to focus on their exciting journey towards becoming a physician.
Doc-to-Doc was founded for doctors by doctors. They understand the challenges and hard work involved in becoming a doctor and they support doctors throughout their careers.
Using their in-house lending platform, Doc-to-Doc considers the unique financial considerations of doctors that are not typically considered by traditional financial institutions.
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Doc-to-Doc Lending has you covered. Visit slash MDCoaches to learn more.

[11:26] Hi, I’m Rhonda Crowe, founder and CEO for MDCoaches. Here on Rx for Success, we interview a lot of great medical professionals on how they grew their careers, how they overcame challenges, and how they handle day-to-day work.
I really hope you’re getting a lot of great information, but if you’re looking for an answer to a specific problem, management or administration challenge, or if you’re feeling just a bit burnt out, like maybe you chose the wrong career, well, then there’s a faster way to get the help you need.
No, it’s not counseling.
Coaching. Rx for Success is produced by MD Coaches, a team of physicians who have been where you are.
I know you’re used to going it alone, but you don’t have to. Get the support you need today.
Visit us at to schedule your complimentary consultation.
Again, that’s, because you’re not in this alone.

[12:28] We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment, but right now I want to tell you a little bit about Physician Outlook.
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It’s available online and in print, it’s really unique among Physician Lifestyle magazines, and like the Prescription for Success podcast, Physician Outlook amplifies the voice of any physician who has something to say.

[13:11] It also engages patients who still believe in physician-led, team-based care.
And Prescription for Success listeners can get three months free when you enter our promo code RX for success and select the monthly option at checkout. That’s a really great deal on this stunning publication. And now let’s get back to today’s interview.
Was there a kind of a decision like I’ll give this seven years or was there during those seven years like I think I’m being pulled to the psychology piece while you’re also realizing this isn’t going to make it as a full-time musician. How did that shake out?
You know, it’s an interesting story now that you remind me of it. My girlfriend, who I was living with, had gone to University of Michigan. I never really heard much about University of Michigan. I used to tease her because she talked about U of M, and I would tease her and say, University of Missoula, University of Mississippi, oh, University of Michigan. So that planted a seed. And when I was in LA, I was in the Jungian analysis.

[14:21] So I would go every week and bring in my dreams, and we’d analyze my dreams.
And I had a similar reaction that I’d had in third grade with Ms. Chalice when one day I was in this Jungian analysis as a client, and I looked over at my therapist slash analyst and said.

[14:42] Hmm.
I want to do what he’s doing. It was a sense of recognition. I can see myself doing that.
And that was the beginning.
I see. Yeah. So, then got into grad school. Right.
Did grad school, become a psychologist. And that, if I, I mean, I know a little bit about this, but our listeners don’t. So, what about that led you into, of all places, family medicine?
It was that my interest was to become a clinical psychologist. And I got into a postdoctoral program in Detroit with a wonderful humanistic psychologist who happened to be one of the founders of marriage therapy. In the 1940s, marriage therapy was not a specialty. And he was one of the founders. It was a wonderful man. His name was Aaron Rutledge. And he was one of the first people to recognize that there was this new field of family medicine and the need for a family doctor to be trained by psychologists.
So he had this postdoctoral program where we were half of the time in Grosse Pointe.

[15:54] Michigan, doing clinical psychology and marriage therapy and family therapy under his supervision.
And half of the time, we were at Wayne State University in the Department of Family Medicine teaching doctors. And the more I did it, the more I liked it.
I liked being in the hospital.
I liked teaching. I wasn’t particularly good at it. I didn’t understand a lot about medicine, but I liked it.
And when I applied for jobs after finishing the postdoc, I interviewed in Charlotte, North Carolina for a job as an educator and I was really impressed with the hospital, with the program, and with the affiliation with the School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. And it just seemed very attractive to me. And that was part of my graduate background was in education as well as psychology. And I had been a seventh grade teacher as well. So all of a sudden I said, well. I tried to get an academic position in psychology. I came close, but this seemed like a wonderful alternative. And so I started doing this. And I’ll mention that I had one more moment of recognition when I met somebody who was also a family medicine educator who used theater.
And I said, I want to be him. and.

[17:10] That was the inspiration to develop using movies for teaching, using creative arts in the medical humanities.
So that was another inflection point. And Dale, I’m very familiar with that because we did so many years of co-teaching.
Right. Yeah. I mean, this is quite a partnership. We had a lot of fun co-creating and teaching together and also a very deep friendship as well.
As well. So, that’s been awesome. So, some of this, by the way, is new, or if I heard it, I don’t remember it. And then the other point, which was at some point you retired from that, however, you still have a very active clinical, you retired from academics, you have a very active clinical practice now. What is it that you predominantly are doing now?
I predominantly do couples therapy. So, when I was at Harvard, I took a wonderful class on relationship theory based on one of the early interpersonal psychiatrists, Harry Stack Sullivan, and that was the best class I took at Harvard. So, I’ve always been interested in relational dynamics. So, I specialize in couples therapy and I see about 35 clients a week.

[18:27] Yeah, which is astounding. And people, you know, who are not from the Charlotte area that are listening to this, so Dr. Alexander is actually one of the top couples therapists in this region. That’s why he’s in high demand and why he’s seeing 35 couples a week, which is awesome. I mean, what an incredible career. And I want to bring us back, Matthew, to this, concept of sustaining that passion, if you will, that got sparked for you when you heard.

[19:04] That person in third grade with the guitar. And tell us something about what you’ve done with music even after you went to grad school and became a psychologist and an educator and a therapist. Say some more about that and how you were able to do that.
Well, that’s a great question. I appreciate you asking.
It’s persistence.
One of the questions a psychiatrist will ask of a client is what is your first memory?
This is a psychoanalytic question. And my first memory is pre-conscious and it’s Bach’s C Major Prelude because my father used to practice with that.
And when I hear that song, I’m getting chills just thinking about it, It creates this Ocean feeling.
So that’s as close as I could put into words how much I connect with music.
It’s a deep form of self-expression. I do so much listening to other people.
It’s a real balancing for me to be able to express myself in this way.
So the other concept that applies is something called self-efficacy, which is the interest and the motivation of doing something, getting better at it.
So I’ve been writing songs now for about 60 years, and I keep trying to write better and better songs and.

[20:29] At 72 I’m still in that process I’ve written an instrumental theme For a show that is going to be pitched to Netflix. I have an eighth CD.

[20:41] Coming out. I’ve been able to have my song played all around the world. I don’t make any money at it, But maybe someday I will, I have no doubt about it.

[20:53] Yeah, well, it’s sustaining, I mean, you’re very good and so, you know, we’ll give you an opportunity to plug your website and so people can purchase one of those CDs that you’ve created so they can hear how good you are.
It requires practice to stay that good. And something we haven’t talked about is you’re also a husband and a father of two.
And so, in addition to the professional piece, which takes quite a bit of energy, and raising a family, you found a way to continue to create in this space.
And so, for our listeners, how did you do that? It’s a great question. I set goals.
So I have a show coming up in May, actually one in April where I’ll be performing up in Asheville at a theater with about 400 people.
And you don’t want to be unprepared.
My dad used to say, if you’re going to do a concert, you have to be 150% prepared.
So what I’ve done over the years is I set a goal, like I’m going to do a new record.
If you’re going to do a record, you want to sound as good as you possibly can. So you practice, and you practice, and you practice. And then you do the record, and maybe do a couple of shows.

[22:19] And then you take a break. Then you do it again. This eighth record took a lot of work, and now the work is promoting it. But I’ve gotten so much pleasure out of it because I really, really like it. So, I think that’s the key is to set a goal. And people do this with exercise.
They decide to do a marathon. I mean, Dale, you know this personally.
That motivates you to get into shape. Without the goal, I think it’d be pretty hard to do it.
You know, as you’re talking, that’s exactly what was coming up in my head, was one of the reasons that I always try to have a race to head for is that’s what gets me up in the mornings to continue to train, to run.
So it’s, I don’t really care. I mean, I think you probably care more about the outcome of your CDs and concerts.
I just want to finish the race. I don’t really care what the time is, but it is the motivator to get me. It’s like, I got a race coming up.
I got to train for it, so yeah.
So setting that goal. And it’s not just feeling good at having completed the concert or completed the race.
There’s pleasure along the way, too.

[23:34] Absolutely, and that’s one of the findings in positive psychology, that the happiest people have goals And it’s not so much reaching the goal as enjoying the journey.
Well, the reason I wanted to underline this is a lot of our listeners are physicians.

[23:55] And very common story amongst physicians is that they, by the way, there’s a lot of physicians who were musicians.
Yes. And some of them have managed to maintain, my brother’s one of them, by the way.
He’s been playing saxophone all the way through.
But a very common story is to drop it, just because it’s very difficult in medical training to be able to do anything other than medical training.
But people sort of drop and they don’t pick it back up. And so hearing stories like yours, my goal is to hope that inspires others. And then just the way that you do that, because you’re very, very good and you’ve contributed a lot.
There’s a lot of things you’ve contributed to the world in lots of different ways.
And music is one of them.

[24:40] In addition to all the people that you’ve inspired by your teaching.
Yeah. One of the interesting aspects of Jungian psychology is a theory that people unconsciously want to fulfill their parents’ dreams.
So I think one of the things that may motivate me is I want to, my dad wanted very much to be a very well-known composer.
So in a deep part of my life, I just want to keep doing everything I can to try to realize that dream.
Well, then the other part is your mom was a poet. Right, right, yeah.
And so you put those two together as a songwriter. I really wanted to be loved by them, So I figured I’d combine both of those skills.

[25:26] And my guess is you were very well loved by them. Well, thank you.
Yeah. Well, great. Well, Matthew, thank you for taking this time to have this conversation. I know we have lots of other conversations, but I really, really appreciate your dropping by.

[25:41] Is there some things that you’d like listeners to know about how they can reach you?
Thank you. If you are, yeah. And we’ll put those in our show notes as well.
Yeah. So, I’m very fortunate that I have my own music channel on Pandora. It’s called Matthew Alexander Radio. And now, everything is on the internet. So, if you Google Matthew Alexander on Spotify or Apple Music, all my music is on there. Also, my website is
And then there’s also – you have your therapy website as well. Matthew at is a best way to reach me.

[26:24] Yeah, great. Well, Matthew, thank you very, very much once again. And I look forward to the launch of your next CD.
Thank you so much, Dale. It’s what a pleasure to be here. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.
This week, instead of listing learning points, I’d like to reflect on the themes raised in my conversation with Dr. Alexander and leave you with a couple of questions to contemplate for yourself. Matthew grew up at a time when it was a cultural norm to explore one’s passion, even if it didn’t pay the bills so well. Do your own thing was a mantra of the late 60s.
As a result, for Dr. Alexander, it created a deep appreciation for how much the creation and performance of music absolutely fed his soul. Though he found that he needed to get more practical in order to make a living, fortunately at his second love, the investment he made in his creative side was such that he knew that he needed to maintain that in whatever life he built going forward. These days we seem to have buried the do-your-own-thing culture.
I wonder if maybe the pendulum has swung too far such that we tend to focus only on what’s practical.

[27:40] And may not cultivate an important side of ourselves. So, a couple of questions to leave you with. What lit you up sometime in your life that you have since buried? What would it look like for that or something else you’re passionate about to come into your life? What changes would you need to make or what goals would you need to set so that you, like Dr. Alexander, can enjoy the journey even more than the goal itself? Well, I hope you enjoyed the listen today. If you’re wondering how you might cultivate and integrate something you’re passionate about into your life, but just don’t know how, coaching can be a good place to start.
At MD Coaches, our interest is in you living your best life.
You can find us at Thank you for listening and be well.
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