This blog post began with something I posted on Facebook today:
I've discovered that one of the things I like about working Saturdays is that there are less people around. My office is connected to the rec hall, which is often a busy place during the week.
For the last couple of weeks, on Saturday, I've shut the door to my office, gotten out a guitar, and I sing songs that I want to sing. I don't practice, I don't prep songs for patient use...I sing like no one is listening! I try things vocally that I wouldn't dare try otherwise...and I'm finding confidence I didn't know I had! But most importantly, I am doing something musically for myself. This is especially important for those of us that provide music for others.
One of my MT friends thought I should post that in a MT group on Facebook. As usual, I have more to say!
Let's face it...burnout is a very real possibility for music therapists. I don't know how many posts I've seen in forums requesting suggestions for avoiding burnout.
The simple answer is, keep a little something for yourself.
Stay with me for a moment while I take what may seem like an odd turn...this is relevant, trust me.
I read, or heard an interview with an adult film star. The question was asked, "How do you keep your personal relationships special, considering the work you do?"
The film star replied, "I always keep one thing special that is just for me and my relationship partner. I keep that sacred and will not bring that to work."
I realized how much wisdom there is in that statement!
Others have talked about this concept when music therapists have asked about avoiding burnout. It's oft repeated advice, and I am reiterating it here. Keep something special about your musical self...keep something sacred to you, something that reminds you of why you are passionate about music.
Honestly, for me, it doesn't even have to be something that I keep just to myself.
The important thing is that I am creating the music for the sheer joy of doing it and because it's the music I want to make.
Today for example...one of the songs I was jamming out to was "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" by Meatloaf.
I like the song...I can reminisce about the times I would listen to it in high school. My wife likes Meatloaf's music and she likes when I sing his music to her (although this song is not high on her favorites list due to the lyrics) so it reminds me of good times spent with my wife...especially important now because we are living apart due to work...and it's a song I can just lay into vocally...open up and pour all kinds of emotion into...let go and sing the hell out of it!
Would I use this song with patients? Of course I would! Keeping a little something for myself doesn't mean that I never share it with anyone else. This is not about hard boundaries… this is about nurturing my own musicality. That means keeping myself invested in my own musical expression so that facilitating musical experiences for others remains a passion and not simply a job.
I remember an experience one evening when I was taking neurologic music therapy training. To this day, it's one of the strangest things I've ever heard anyone say. A group of us had decided to get some dinner and then find a karaoke place. I don't normally do karaoke, but with a group of music therapists, I thought it would be fun!
So someone in our group asked another MT, a young woman, if she'd like to join us. She almost sneered and said, "That sounds like work, and I don't DO work outside of work."
I was shocked.
I mean, I thought it was a strange (almost hostile) response to a friendly invitation, but it didn't hit me until later how strange that sentiment was.
If that woman is still practicing music therapy, and she hasn't undergone a MAJOR attitude shift, then I fear for her clients.
We have a responsibility to those we serve to bring our absolute best every single day. Every day we use music to bring about meaningful change in the lives of our clients. We can't do that in an effective way if we hold bitterness or resentment within us. That young woman, somewhere on her journey, lost the point...completely.
Am I the happy music man every single day? I'll admit, that sometimes I need a break too. Some days I get home and realize I need a break from music, and that's okay. We all need time away. But I think about the energy behind that woman's words...it makes me feel sad. The passion was gone...the fire was almost out.
Maybe no one told that woman the advice I was given when I started working in medical music therapy.
People start working in the medical field because they want to help others. Always remember: you must take care of yourself, or else you won't be taking care of anyone else.
Maybe she didn't know.
She forgot that using music to heal is a sacred gift, not an occupational obligation. She lost touch with her music. She forgot to keep a little something for herself.
Music has power that science is just beginning explain. We've known since before recorded history that music has almost limitless power to affect us. Don't we, as harmonizers of the soul, deserve to tap into that power?
Every once in a while, find that little part of the sonorous realms that resonates with your spirit. Find that place that brings a smile to your face, joy and passion to your heart and peace to your mind.
When you find that space my friends, that's what you keep for yourself.