I had an opportunity recently to listen to to a talk by Ira Glass about his work in journalism and in telling stories. I’ve been a fan of “This American Life” for a number of years, especially during my time working in hospice care and needing something other than music to listen to during my car rides between clients. What I’ve always loved about the radio show was how multiple stories could be told within the hour, related to a theme despite how different the stories could be from one another. Ira Glass has been traveling the country over the last couple of years doing the same thing, telling stories about his career, all related to the things he’s learned along the way.
I didn’t experience anything truly revolutionary while listening to his advice but I did hear a number of things that I’ve heard elsewhere. People who have “made it” in the world often encourage people to continuously put out content, no matter whether you think it’s “good” and to keep trying to get your work in front of others. This is essentially the advice Ira Glass gave throughout his talk and specifically to people when they asked similar questions on how to get started in their career. Because it is similar advice I’ve received and heard from elsewhere, it must hold value.
I’ve been writing about my experiences as a music therapist for almost 5 years. To be clear, I don’t write about these experiences for anyone. I do it for myself. I do wonder along the way what information is helpful to others but it doesn’t define what I write about or why. I enjoy being able to process through my professional experiences and interactions with clients through writing and to keep my own “scrapbook” of sorts. What has occurred throughout the years though has been an interesting connection with people from all over. I’ve had students reach out to me with specific questions, colleagues share their thoughts about my stories, and non-music therapy professionals reach out with collaborative ideas. This concept of “put out as much content as you can” has resulted in a lot of really enjoyable connections with others and a true learning experience.
I recently had an opportunity to talk with a colleague about what it means to be an expert and how you become one. They expressed a frustration with not knowing how to get yourself out in front of a group of peers to share your thoughts and contribute to the conversation what you think is valuable. There was talk about other peers who are names you recognize in the field and what it might have taken for them to reach that destination in their career journey. What I challenged in that moment was later affirmed by Ira Glass – get yourself in front of others and share the information or the content that you think is valuable. If you believe that what you have to say is worth something, share it. It’s true that what you share might not be well-received. In fact, it might be criticized. This does not mean that the risk is not worth taking.
There’s definitely a balance between creating content, ideas, or products because you love to do it and creating these things in order to sell them. I think of the people I know who are professional musicians and visual artists in addition to music therapists, and we all do these things because we love it. I started this website because I love to write and it was a fun adventure to tell stories about music therapy. After a few years, my website began to receive a little more attention because things I had written about resonated with others. This is when I received an uptake of emails and questions from people seeking advice. It was in this moment where I had to evaluate how much time I was willing to dedicate towards something that was originally my own fun past-time and how much engaging in these conversations was depleting me. There were a number of instances where I simply did not have the energy to respond at all and I let those communications fall flat.
This was the moment where I had to decide where my balance lay. I decided that what I had to say about music therapy seemed valuable to others. This kind of statement is an incredibly difficult thing for many people to admit and certainly many people in the field of music therapy. It feels prideful to say, “my experiences and thoughts are worth something” but it’s true. When I first started responding to the various emails and questions I received, I offered those thoughts and time for free. I very much felt like I wanted to help support the students and those trying to find their place in the world and so I considered my assistance from a pay-it-forward mentality. It took me a long time to realize that I was already providing a lot of expertise for free through my website and my internship.
When I then started to respond back with an explanation of how I could provide my time and assistance but with a fee, I think it took a lot of people by surprise. Many of us in the field are in it because it is a helping profession. Asking to be reimbursed for your time, planning, and knowledge seemed like a taboo aspect that could alienate a lot of people.
In keeping with Ira Glass’ advice, keep providing the content, putting yourself out there, and trust in the worth of your experiences. I was happy to be patient and to continue to receive radio silence from those who were not willing to provide me any compensation, after all – this was all extra work for me! If no one wanted my experiences that badly, it truly would save me a lot of valuable time spent doing other things I love.
It feels very bold to tell someone that you think your thoughts and time are worth something. It also feels bold to continually put your content out for the world to see and critique. But if this is where you feel you have something to contribute, be willing to take the first step and determine your boundaries. What are you willing to share for free? What might require more time, energy, and thought and thus deserve compensation? How do you envision the differences between the two unfolding? Be willing to explore these thoughts. Don’t be afraid to try something even if it’s never been done before or it goes against the norm. For all you know, the world has been waiting for exactly your idea.