Is Music Therapy Taking Over My Life?

I moved to Portland, Oregon six weeks ago solely for a job. When I first got here I didn’t know anyone and I hadn’t visited before, but now my new city and life are starting to feel familiar. I’ve memorized how to get to work and how to get back home from the freeways without my GPS. My apartment walls aren’t bare anymore, but are starting to fill up with my shaky calligraphy (a newfound hobby) of funny tweets and quotes I like from Tumblr. I have plants that I water and that keep me company while I work from home. As I start to settle in, the routines and details of my Portland lifestyle are starting to crystallize.

Career. Family. Friends. Hobbies. Alone time. Life is about creating a balance between all these areas, but what is the right balance for me? Recently, I’ve begun to question the weight between these slices of my life’s pie chart. I’ve realized that over the past 10 years, my work and identity as a music therapist has been prioritized more than any other part of my life. It’s always been at least 50% of the pie chart. Music therapy has been “my thing” since I was 15 and decided that I wanted to become a music therapist. For me, music therapy is that something that gives me immense satisfaction and resonates deeply on a personal level. I’m super proud of the fact that I have a career that gives me ambitions and has been a source of personal growth.

I am the first to admit that my work is ingrained into my identity. Even a lot of my down time is spent doing things related to music or music therapy. I like singing and playing acoustic versions of “bad” pop songs on guitar (FYI, Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream album holds a special place in my heart). I have a music therapy blog. I have aspirations to start a podcast soon. Even my best friend is a music therapist and we end up talking shop a lot.

The enormous influence of music therapy in my life was especially clear when I was hanging out with an old friend from high school last December. We ended up at Applebee’s, the only place in my hometown that’s open later than 11:00p. We see each other so rarely, we decided to do some conversational prompts, one of which was “tell your life story in four minutes.” When it was my turn, I stammered through my childhood, but once I talked about my decision to become a music therapist in high school, my narrative finally flowed. I recounted going through undergrad, internship, working, and grad school, with parallel mentions of how I grew as a person at each of these career stages. I don’t remember mentioning much about other people in my life at these times; they were relegated to being auxiliary characters to my self-narrated accounts. How did I come to organize my identity around being a music therapist? And is this how I want to continue framing my life?

While music therapy has always propelled me forward in the past, I’m now examining how it keeps me from making meaningful investments in other areas, particularly in my personal relationships. Being an introvert is also a strong part of my identity (check out my blog post about being an introverted music therapist), but I’m starting to challenge myself to seek out more interpersonal connections. I’ve been lucky to reconnect with two past classmates who live nearby. I’ve also met some great new people that I try to initiate meet ups weekly. I send handwritten postcards to my long-distance friends and family more often. I’m doing the (previously) unthinkable and seeking out conversation with strangers. (This is surprisingly easy since Portlanders are very friendly!)

I’m also making an effort to spend time doing leisure stuff that I haven’t tried before. It’s amazing how even getting out of my apartment can get put to the back burner when you work from home. I’ve gotten invitations to go paddle boarding and bouldering and hiking, stuff I might not try on my own. There’s so much explore this awesome new city I live in that I don’t want to squander the time I have here.

These conscious changes are small and unfolding slowly. But, I know that putting energy into exploring new routines or skills or places or social circles forces me to reconsider myself and to grow. During today’s calligraphy practice, I copied a quote that’s been guiding me lately: “You can change what you want about yourself at any time” (as seen in the picture above). Although being a music therapist was once a catalyst for personal discovery, lately this role has felt like a comfort zone. Just as I’ve tried to be strategic in my work, it’s time for me to be intentional for who I am outside my work. Plus, I have a hunch it’ll make me a stronger music therapist.

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