If You’re Not Essential, You’re Not a Failure

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“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

In my last post, I wrote about our ever-changing need to redefine how we think about this concept of “being essential.” A month ago, I was grappling with the difficulties of making changes towards how I provided care to patients and families. I was grieving the loss of the normalcy of my job and wrestling with the various ethics of how to continue to provide care. I was challenging myself to think about music therapy in out of the box ways and brainstorming ideas to present to my hospital. With each new change or ask of me, I would do my best to roll with the punches and keep moving forward.

That is, until they asked me to stop working at all. I’ve been furloughed for a week now and the number of emotions I have felt have been limitless. In less than 24 hours of receiving the news, I went through all stereotypic stages of grief only to find myself experiencing it all again the very next day. In my final two days of working with patients and communicating the temporary change of services to staff, I felt self-doubt, anger, sadness, jealousy, exhaustion, and a fair amount of countertransference. At the end of my final day before being out of the office for an unknown amount of time, I was physically ill from the stress and emotion. 

I communicated the updates to my family and friends, but I wrestled with how to share the news with my music therapy community. So much of what I write about and gear presentations towards is advocacy for our profession. I couldn’t shake this feeling that I would be letting people down by sharing that despite all of my “talk”, at the end of the day, I had no “walk.” I was also overwhelmingly embarrassed by my furlough. The rational side of me understands how unfair and unjustified that emotion is considering the staggering number of people who are also currently unemployed, but the emotional side of me knew I needed to honor my feelings. I am a human being who is allowed to have emotional responses to a significant change that was completely outside of my control.

As I’ve been attempting to process through this feeling of embarrassment, I’ve recognized that like many others, I am an achiever. Much of my professional life is focused on creating goals, working towards them, and attempting to accomplish those goals. By having someone else choose for me to not work, I suddenly have less to “achieve” or rather, what I can achieve is drastically altered and minimized. So much of what I am able to achieve has always been in my control.

With this loss of control, I’ve been left instead with self-doubt, questioning my abilities, and a lot of attempts to rationalize things independently. The difficulty with these negative thought-processes is that they are not founded in anything factual or justified. Instead, they fuel the negative feelings until I begin to ruminate to the point where I’m not able to accomplish anything, eventually heightening my embarrassment.

Ultimately, my embarrassment has created a barrier. Experiencing self-doubt and grief often leads to building a wall to protect oneself, and I’m not afraid to admit that my barrier may take a while to break back down. This will be evident in how I feel returning to work in the future, but is also during this current time as I continue to see other music therapists adapting and achieving successfully and beautifully in all corners of our world.


One of the things I’ve been attempting to do for myself  is increase my time spent meditating. In a recent meditation, I was struck by the quote from The Little Prince stated at the beginning of this post. The meditation discussed a concept that our hearts and minds are often separated in the decisions that we make. It challenged me to open up a deeper connection between my heart and my mind so that decisions I made would more equally weigh the desires of both. An example of this would be that if you took a job for the financial security but you found no joy in the job itself, this could signal a disconnect between your heart and mind. Conversely, if you only took a job for its joy without also considering your financial obligations, this could still cause you trouble down the line. Having a greater awareness of this heart and mind connection is not easy but it has value.

I think much of what is being decided in our world right now is based from the mind. We have facts, figures, and hard data to help determine what needs to be done. But how much of the heart is being set aside in order to preserve the safety of our world? I don’t disagree with decisions made based in fact but it leaves me to wonder what the ramifications might be for ignoring the heart for so long.

I believe I am beginning to understand the big picture as to why my music therapy program specifically was furloughed. I am lucky to have a very fact-based thinker in my home to help guide me in thinking more globally and with a business mind. What I cannot rationalize at this time, however, is what the ripple effects of this particular decision may be. Although we constantly advocate and educate about our work and its worth, much of the day-to-day value of music therapy cannot be easily measured quantitatively.  This ultimately impacts business decisions made by the mind, no matter what we do or say, when the heart is not weighed equally.

For now, I will continue to do my best to share both the value of music therapy from the heart and the mind. I will continue to do my best to walk the walk and talk the talk. Like with anything else in our lives, sharing the losses is much more difficult than sharing the joy. May we all find value in what is essential to our hearts and minds, even if it is invisible to the eye.

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