Skills versus Passion

When I first introduced this blog, my intention was to write mostly about music therapy, the daily joys and challenges of being a music therapist and to offer tips, tricks and insights to help other music therapists. I figured that occasionally I would throw in some other life lessons I was learning, about relationships, or parenting. A few short months after I started blogging, I lost my music therapy job. I lost the primary motivation for wanting to blog. I lost my material and experiences to blog about. I took a long break to regroup...regroup my life and rethink blogging.

Eventually, I considered the description I had written when I started the blog... "This blog is about the life and times of a neurologic music therapist."

Turns out, that the neurologic music therapist was going through a time in his life where he was not employed as a music therapist. But I remember a man who came to talk to at a career day when I was an undergrad music student the first time around. He had been a music major in school and then went into educational leadership. Looking back at that time, I remember rolling my eyes at the whole career day concept and only attending the required presentations...I was young, what can I say?

This man, at the time a school superintendent, said something very simple and I will never forget it: "No matter what you end up choosing to do with your life, you are a musician, and I think that will show in everything you do."

As some are so fond of saying, mind blown.

Currently I am working as a teacher of the visually impaired...a certification I picked up in grad school...and you know what? I am very musician-like in my approach to this work, specifically, music therapist-like.

I plan to keep this gig for this academic year only...I have to find something closer to my wife and family. As I look ahead to my next gig, I consider another TVI job, or music education job, both of which I am well qualified to do, but is that what I'm passionate about? Should I do work that I have the skills to do, just because it's good money, or a good location, or is that settling?

I'm a big fan of the Dos Equis commercials that feature "The Most Interesting Man in the World." There is a series of brief clips where he shares his thoughts on things like the two party system, rollerblading and, careers. In the subject of careers, he says, "Find that thing in life you don't do well, and then don't do that thing."

Sage advice.

I was reminded of those words when considering where I go from here. Do I want another job as a TVI? I could do that, and I enjoy working with the kids, and it is kind of cool being someone who has the inside knowledge in a highly specialized area, but it's not my passion. I owe a lot to Dr. Matthew Armstrong. He was composer in residence, director of the men's choir and taught Elementary Music Methods during my second round of undergrad. I was one of those dual program people: music therapy and music education. I remember sitting in his class and hearing him talk about the time he spent as an elementary music teacher. During that class, in his words, I learned something about passion for life's work. I realized in that class that I had no business being a teacher. If I didn't have Arnstrong's passion for teaching kids about music, then it would not be fair to the kids. Kids deserve to have inspired and passionate teachers.

I thanked him for it. His example helped me get clear on where my passions lie, and it also helped me develop a professional code of conduct.

No, my passion is using music as a healing modality.

At this point, some of you might be thinking, "Didn't he just talk about a professional code of conduct and say he didn't go into teaching because it wasn't his passion?"

I've learned a few things over the years. First, I learned that I do love to teach. What really soured me in the beginning was school politics. A bit of irony that was not wasted on me occurred when I took Dr. Alaina Love's Passion Profile. My wife collaborates with her on some research and she suggested I complete the profile in order to receive some guidance about where my passions are. Here comes the irony: the section that I scored highest in...Teacher.

I 've also learned that I can perform a job, and perform it well, even if it is not my primary area of passion. I have a passion for helping people and my first choice for expressing that is helping people using music, however, with my current job situation, by taking an interest in doing what is best for the students on my caseload, I can use the skills I have developed to help them succeed. I've learned I can do this without feeling like I am doing a disservice to the kids.

So the question is, do you do the job you're good at, even if it's not your passion?

I share office space with two people, and they share the same job title. Listening to them talk the last few months, I can tell that they are good at what they do, but so much of their office time is spent ranting about the administration and policies that I wonder if they are just close enough to retirement that they are easily annoyed, or if they took these jobs because of skills they posess instead of feeling the fire of passion.

I have been fortunate to develop a unique skill set. I am a better teacher because I am a therapist and I am a better therapist because I am a teacher.

Think about your current employment situation...are you doing the job you do because you have skills, or because you have passion?

For my music therapist friends, are you working with populations that inspire you and feed your fire of passion? Have you found your niche?

I am fascinated by the trends developing in music therapy. People are combining music therapy with other disciplines, or expanding their work to create resources for other MT's. Transpersonal psychology and music therapy, creative arts therapy and music therapy, continuing education for music therapists and music therapy...these are exciting times we music therapists are living in...ripe with opportunity to create a positive impact. These pairings are using skill sets from complementary disciplines to create new and exciting combinations! And people who remain in the music therapy profession are's just not something that can be sustained without the fire of passion.

What's that saying? "Whatever you decide to be, be a great one!"

So I leave you with these questions:

Are you currently doing something with your life simply because youcan do it or does the fire of passion burn brightly, shining your light out into the world?

If you're working from your skills but not your passion, what would it look like to shift and engage your passions?