My Career Stumbles (So Far)

I have no idea why the American Music Therapy Association plans their annual conference the weekend before Thanksgiving. Every November, I’m on the road (or in the air) for a week or more depending on where the conference is held and whether I’m able to make it back to northern California for the holiday. This year I especially have a lot for which to be thankful. Seeing my colleagues at conference, I got to share a lot of my recent successes like starting my first faculty position and completing my first manuscripts for publication.

Don’t worry, this post won’t be another 500 words about how #blessed I am. Instead, I want to be honest about the times in my career when I didn’t feel so on top of my game. Stumbles and failures are a guarantee in life. Here are some of those challenges and the lessons I learned:

When my undergrad program was discontinued during my freshman year.

The program’s two full-time faculty also left the summer after my freshman year, leaving the students with a hazy future of whether we would be able to finish our major. It was a handful of dedicated and amazing music therapists who came on to help the rest of us graduate. This stumble helped me realize that I can’t take for granted that everyone will understand the inherent value of music therapy.

When I graduated without an internship.

I was the last person in my cohort to get an internship. I had applied to four of the top medical internships in the country, and got rejected from all of them. I went into summer starting a second round of interviews and not knowing when I would start my clinical work. This taught me to tolerate and be at peace with uncertainty.

When I was unemployed for 6 months after internship.

I was lucky to have a live-in nanny gig during my internship that kept me on for that time, but I was living in Chicago and could not find a full-time job with benefits for months. I wasn’t even sure if I was cut out to be a music therapist if I couldn’t find work. (Check out that blog post here). I held out though and found the best starter job that led me to my passion for working with older adults. Again, this was a lesson in being okay with uncertainty and trusting that my priorities were in the right place.

When I completely switched my thesis topic three and a half weeks before my proposal defense.

My first thesis topic was too out-of-the-box and didn’t have enough precedent to be appropriate for my first go at research. I was putting myself at risk of graduating late by switching to a completely different subject, but I could tell that my first topic was unsustainable. With a flexible advisor and some very late nights, I was able to defend on time and still learn to do research that I was passionate about. This stumble taught me to trust my gut and to work hard, efficiently, and strategically for what I want.

Just to be clear, all these lessons are still in progress. I’m definitely not some at-peace music therapy guru. Small freak outs are still a part of my life on a regular basis! But as we gather with our families and loved ones this Thanksgiving and for the rest of the holiday season, let’s take a moment to express gratitude not only for the good things the past year has brought, but also for what we’ve learned. Here’s to challenges, heartache, failures, and stumbles!

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