It's not about what you have, Elizabeth Chan believes, it's about what you leave behind that matters.

That simple belief led her to quit her high-powered marketing job at Conde Nast to pursue her dream of writing a timeless Christmas song.

Like most things in life, it wasn't so simple to get to that point.

Liz grew up in New York City and decided when she was 7 that she wanted to be a singer. "Yeah, you and a million people," she heard more than once. Despite being signed to a contract with Sony Japan at 15 years old, she was expected to find a "regular" career path. Her parents had insisted her contract stipulate she would go to college.

She loved the fairness and decency of Judge Wapner from The People's Court and enrolled in Fordham University's law program, only to discover less than a year in that the life of a lawyer was really not the one she wanted to live. What she loved about The People's Court, she realized, was that people got to tell their stories. She loved storytelling.

So she transferred to New York University to study journalism and political science.

"By the time I graduated college, my music career was just not happening," she told me.

Her contract was up, and soon after came Sept. 11, 2001. Shaken to the core, she needed to tell the city's stories. She pushed ahead, got a reporting job. Became a producer. Executive producer. An executive. Moved into marketing.

"I rode a wave of opportunities," she said. "Before you know it, you're riding this wave and you're so far from shore, you're so far from who you meant to be."

She had the fancy clothes, a huge office and tons of vacation time. She was living the dream.

Thing is, it wasn't her dream.

Then she had one of those days at work. "I felt dejected, demoralized." She started scanning online job listings. One link stood out.

"Do you have a dream? What is this dream and if you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?"

It was a hidden casting call for Morgan Spurlock's The Failure Club show he was producing for Yahoo! Screen.

In a Jerry Maguire moment, Liz wrote her manifesto.

"I've always wanted to write Christmas music. I've always wanted to learn how to play guitar," she wrote. "At Self magazine, I'm telling women to be their best selves, and I'm full of sh**."

The next day she went back to work and didn't think about The Failure Club again until Spurlock called her. She took control of the contract. No filming at work or her personal life. This would only be about the music.

After the first day of shooting, Spurlock challenged her: Get a Christmas song in the top 10 of the iTunes chart by the end of the year.

One song turned into hundreds of songs and she found herself living two lives, with her health suffering. A decision had to be made. So in May 2012, she quit her day job.

Her boss thought she was nuts. A higher-up told her she could always come back if this Christmas song stuff didn't work out. Her parents were upset.

She was at the edge of a cliff and had to make a decision.

"In the movies, when you're at the edge of the cliff, you're running from something and you either have to jump or you get taken in by the vampires or something."

So she jumped.

"As I got older, I realized life isn't so much about how much money you make or what you have, but it's about what you leave behind. And I think that with Christmas music, you can essentially live forever."

Liz has written more than 800 Christmas songs now, and learned to play guitar by ear. She's CEO of her own company, Merry Bright Music, which is a record label and a music publishing and holiday entertainment production company. Her newest album, Red & Green, dropped today.

Partners include Sony/Red, Kobalt Music, Viva Entertainment and SiriusXM. She also works with brands to curate holiday playlists and produce multi-platform content for television, film and advertising.

It's not easy, but the best things in life aren't always easy. The stuff she thought would be hard - learning to play guitar and write music - turned out to not be so tough for her. The stuff she thought would be easy - marketing, which had been her day job - was really tough because now she was the product. (In fact, that's how I first met her, when a mutual friend asked me if I'd offer some social media advice to Liz.)

"When days are super-bad, I say to myself, how did I get here? Life didn't used to be this hard. And then I think, well, you're in too deep now."

The journey was worth it, she says. She gained invaluable insights into how record labels work. How companies function. How brands are marketed.

"In building my own company, I pull from those experiences," she said. "I find out what I'm lacking, what it is that I have and what it is that I need."

Most importantly, she knows it takes time to build something that will last.

"In any business, in any industry, for anyone, growing a business is not going to happen overnight. And if it does happen overnight, you don't have much of a business, you have a trend."

Her biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to jump off that cliff is if you have a clear vision of something you want to accomplish, and you can keep that vision in your sights, it can work.

"The moment you don't have that vision anymore, that's when I feel it's time to let go."

What does Liz see?

Christmas. Every day.

Published on: Oct 2, 2015