Finally, my first music therapy conference. I had regretted missing out on this ever since I’d begun hearing about it from my fellow students, returning full of stories and passion for music therapy. I was all ready; I’d found a car to ride in, a few roommates to spilt costs with, and I had my black slacks ironed and ready. This was going to be awesome.
I knew intuitively that I needed this conference. I was tired of being unnoticed at school, tired of working my tail off for only four hours of practicum per week, and quickly running out of school-related motivation. I needed a pick-me-up in the worst way.
The experience of just being at conference was intoxicating. My student colleagues and I picked up our “goody bags” full of information, a nametag, and a free pen (yay!) and headed off to the first session. I loved it immediately, but I was finding it difficult to “network” with other therapists. After all, I was just a little fish in this pond full of big fish that knew and had experienced so much more.
Later that evening, I arrived at the conference opening ceremony. I saw that the speaker was going to talk to us about transitioning from student to intern and finally, to professional. Perfect. This was what I was here for. My budding career as a music therapist needed a kick start and I was hopeful that this would be it.
As Natalie’s talk began, I related to everything she was saying. She was full of good advice about how to utilize the opportunities and resources around you, whatever stage of your career you’re at. However, the one thing I kept getting hung up on was this concept of “networking”. What Natalie was saying made sense, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to put it into action.
Since college began, I’d been the sweet, quiet student that nobody noticed. I rarely needed help with schoolwork and I never got in trouble, but I also was never at the top of my class. Result: I cruised through my first five semesters of college and only one of my music therapy professors knew my name.
I built up my courage and decided to ask Natalie for advice at the end of her talk. I explained about being the quiet kid, and asked what I could do to get to know my professors. Her answer: just talk to them. Simple, but the way she said it clicked. I’d never had the courage to do this before, and I had plenty of reasons why. “I’m not a good conversationalist” or “they’re so busy, I don’t want to bother them”. But those were exactly what they sounded like: excuses.
I left Natalie’s talk feeling significantly more positive and a lot braver. She helped me see that opportunities were probably not going to fall into my lap. Somehow, I had to make them come to me. Little did I know that in two days time I’d be sitting at the Board of Directors meeting talking with some of the most important people in the business.
I don’t remember specifically deciding to be more outgoing or to deliberately approach somebody I wanted to meet, but something changed after that session. By the time I was walking into the banquet hall the next day, I had already met and exchanged emails with two professionals I hadn’t met before. This wasn’t hard at all! Music therapists are easy people to network with, being super nice and generally awesome, but still… I felt pretty great! I even got to sit next to the head of the music therapy department at my school during lunch that day! We chatted about puppies and internships and all sorts. Wow! I could hardly believe my luck.
Later that day at the student business meeting we were scheduled to elect new officers to run SER-AMTAS, the student organization within the southeastern region. My colleagues had tried to convince me to run for something, but I was unsure. I’d never seen myself as a “take charge” sort of person. But this was another golden opportunity… to jump or not to jump?
I jumped. I stood up in front of most of the music therapy students from the ten southeastern states and told them why I would serve them well as their new president-elect. My competitors gave very strong speeches as well. They sounded like real politicians, talking about what they would do as president-elect, and where they saw the organization going. Oh no, had I blown it? Should I have done that too?
Apparently, whatever I said worked. Holy moly! President-elect of SER-AMTAS! Me! The one who just the day before had been wondering how in the world to get my name out there. This was too much. My elation lasted the whole night, which I spent getting to know students from the other schools. Networking seemed easier than ever.
On the final day of conference, I decided I had to find Natalie, share my story, and tell her how she’d inspired me. She seemed really excited to hear about it, and even asked to take a picture with me! I felt a bit like a celebrity. In a good way.
The concept I’m taking away from this whole experience, besides being braver, is that “seizing an opportunity” is a less frightening way to say “taking a risk”. You may not get elected, no matter how good your speech was. You may not get that job you went out on a limb and applied for. But far worse than suffering rejection is living with the knowledge that you never tried. We can heal from the disappointment, but not knowing if you would have made it will drive you crazy forever.
So. To jump or not to jump? For heaven’s sake, jump!
Cassidy Smith is an undergraduate student in music therapy at The Florida State University. She is also the newly elected President-Elect of the South Eastern Region of American Music Therapy Association of Students. Cassidy can be found at her blog, Diary of a Wimpy Music Therapy Student.