Imposter Syndrome??

One year later, I’m still learning everyday in my career. Some days, I lay out my schedule with full confidence in my approach as a music therapist and bereavement coordinator. Other days, however, I am hit with situations that make me feel like I still have no idea what I’m doing. Sound familiar?

Imposter Syndrome is incredibly real and such a personal/professional struggle to face. I find that even with my four-year collegiate degree, internship, and full year in the field, there are moments which leave me questioning my abilities and/or whether I can even call myself a “professional.” We grow up thinking once we finsh the requirements to enter into our chosen fields, we will automatically carry a full basket of knowledge and confidence around with us at all times…hahaha, wrong. But why is this idea incorrect? We should know what we’re doing after our education and training, right? To put it simply, life doesn’t happen exactly as we expect it to. Whether at home or in the workplace, newness and change comes up all the time.

From personal experience, I feel like an imposter often in my position as a bereavement coordinator. Sure, we brushed on some important points in school: the grieving process, very basic counseling techniques, validation. But you don’t graduate with a degree in music therapy thinking you would serve equally in a bereavement coordinator role. It is really, really hard for me to provide these hurting souls with the support they need some days…who am I to say “I understand” when I have never experienced the loss of a spouse, child, parent, sibling before? Who am I to explain what grief they may experience when I have never experienced what they are? Even my bereavement clients will say to me, “You sound so young” over the phone sometimes, and my mind is just spinning with thoughts…”You have no idea…I feel like a child trying to console a parent or grandparent.” Am I actually providing them with the comfort they need? Is what I’m saying helping or confusing them? Is my knowledge in this area “good enough,” or do they need someone more qualified to help them?

I still struggle everyday with imposter syndrome. I talk to friends and recent college graduates as well that say the same thing as they begin their professional careers. But through this journey, I’ve realized the biggest barrier in overcoming imposter syndrome is not a lack of knowledge; Rather, the biggest barrier is a lack of personal confidence. If you convince yourself you are not good enough, not smart enough, not qualified enough for the job, you will never be. You will instead live in this bubble of constant doubt and negativity. Your mindset and motivation is your greatest asset to personal and professional growth. You are not stupid, you are not a fraud, you will make mistakes, and you will be fine. Trust your training and strive to continue gaining knowledge in areas new and familiar.

Besides, learning from our failures and turning the experience into a positive change will take us farther in life than a full-from-the-beginning basket.

MT-BC Life: First Year Reflections

Almost one year has already come and gone. One year since I moved back to Ohio, received my college diploma, earned my MT-BC credentials, and accepted my first official job as a music therapist. This past year has been a crazy whirlwind of an experience to say the least. But what a blessing it has been to move back, yet still have the chance to embrace so much newness in my life.

My career has been the primary focus of May 2018-May 2019. I’m so thankful for having my internship experience with Four Seasons prior to beginning my job at Brookdale Hospice…full-time MT-BC work is no joke. Internship was a full-time job; full-time “lite” I would say, but I really felt that Four Seasons helped prepare me for what to expect when I transitioned into my MT-BC position. I hold two positions with Brookdale Hospice and manage two caseloads, so it’s overwhelming at times. But I’m certainly kept busy and on my toes! I don’t even know where to start in terms of all I’ve learned since beginning with Brookdale…your first “big girl” job is a giant learning process every single day. Thankfully, there are some pretty amazing rockstars on the Brookdale Hospice team that graciously help me along when I need it (even a year later). “Teamwork makes the dream work” is indeed a true statement.

I’ve met some incredible people along my journey in the past 365 days; Hospice is definitely where my heart still lies. I often get asked, “How do you even manage with hospice work?” I have to remind myself that many people may not ever see end-of-life from my perspective. Death is an ending and (typically) accompanied with a sense of sadness; However, as an MT, I witness a variety of responses during end-of-life. Through music and connection, I see equal amounts of smiling/laughter as I do tears. I hear stories from families about favorite memories spent together. I process with patients about their deepest fears, hopes, regrets, and wishes. I listen to all of the struggles, questions, concerns, and provide them with as much peace as I can offer. Yes, death is sad…but in dying, so much life is still found. So much of the heart is shared. I’m just grateful to have the chance to create and nurture meaningful relationships on a daily basis.

Speaking of the heart, I think my favorite part of my entire job is “The Heartbeat Project.” Our Brookdale Hospice branch graciously allowed our music therapy program to purchase an electronic stethoscope and offer heartbeat legacy recordings to our hospice families. I have been so fortunate to be able to walk these families through the recording process, and see their responses when they hear their loved one’s heartbeat for the first time. There are just no words…
I’ve been able to combine my interest in recording and editing with this project as well, which has been both fun and an honor. The families often request a song to accompany their loved one’s heartbeat, so I get to sit down with them to select a song and process about this. My personal favorite thus far that I’ve recorded with a heartbeat was Frankie Valli & The Four Season’s “Sherry.” The family member that chose this reflected with me about their spouse attempting to sing this to her on their first date, even though he couldn’t sing a lick (especially in Frankie Valli’s range). I couldn’t help but smile throughout the recording process, imagining him as a young man attempting to serenade this woman while the jukebox played at the diner they sat in. I absolutely love getting to learn about the amazing lives these people have lived.

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Part of my learning process this year has definitely included prioritizing self-care even harder. They discussed burnout in school, and I specifically remember sitting in class and thinking to myself, “Yeah okay, but this is 100% what I want to do and I’ll love it forever.” This was a huge, HUGE, reality check/slap in the face during my first year in the field. Burnout came FAST when I was working full-time at Brookdale, part-time at Michelle Tuesday Music School, and trying to maintain a life outside of music therapy. The advocacy factor of my job as well was (and still is) extremely frustrating, because I worked REALLY hard for my music therapy education/credentials but was often seen as nothing more than a “volunteer,” “guitar lady,” or the ever-popular “entertainment.” Some of the communities I worked to establish professional connections with still would not take the time to listen to me, digest the depth of my work, or take my input about patients seriously. I knew I had a problem that needed addressed when I realized I’d get home from work and look at my piano or guitar in disgust. The passion I felt for music was just completely drained out of me…it was “work” to me now. Gears switched and I went into action to find that personal music connection again. I participated in drum circles around Columbus. I joined a community choir. I sang more in my church praise band. I took flute lessons again. I even tried dancing, of all things. I needed something…and it came when I started to prioritize my songwriting. I went to an open mic on a Wednesday night at a pizza shop, completely nervous and afraid to put my originals out there for the world to hear. I’d only written a few songs in the past; Nothing I felt was insanely good, but I’m also my own worst critic. I got up and performed a fifteen minute slot with two originals and a cover…and the rush was back. Since then, I’ve written ten new originals, attended songwriter circles, collaborated/written with other musicians, and performed at open mics and singer-songwriter rounds all around Columbus. This summer, I have already been booked for four different gigs (one being the Gahanna Creekside Blues & Jazz Fest, which is HUGE!). Songwriting for me is raw. It is genuine. It is often the journal I turn to, to reflect on things I find difficult to face outside of a musical context. But even if one person (including myself) finds significance in my message, I am motivated to create. I want to record a professional album this year, and I plan to make it happen!

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So May 2018-2019 has had its ups and downs, as every year does…but what a phenomenal and accomplishing ride along the way! So what does year two look like for me? Paying off the remainder of my student loans this Fall (already more than 50% of the way there, woo hoo!!), moving out of my parent’s house and into a place of my very own, helping little sis with wedding prep (#maidofhonor), and most importantly…

ADOPTING A PUPPY AND BECOMING A DOG MOTHER.

Cheers!

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Hello, Big Girl Job(s)!

I’m sitting here this evening in sweat pants, unsuccessfully attempting to write song lyrics, soaking in a quiet atmosphere, and reflecting on my week. It’s been quite the transition period for me lately, so I’m embracing a day of nothingness. But what a wonderful transition it’s been.

I started my first “big girl” job on June 11th at Brookdale Hospice (Columbus, OH branch). At times, it’s still unbelievable to me that my MT-BC career has actually begun; I spent so many years of my life working hard and dreaming about it! These past six weeks have been jam packed with new people, places, and experiences. I’ve picked up a 30+ person music therapy caseload spread across the Eastside of Columbus, and manage a (larger) bereavement caseload for loved ones of those that have passed. Throughout my learning and adjustments, I’ve gotten to work alongside a phenomenal team of individuals with true “hospice hearts.” It has been so much fun getting to know new colleagues and friends in a job I absolutely adore. I am especially thankful for Caitlin, the superstar MT-BC that started the music therapy program at Brookdale Hospice Columbus. She’s helped make my transition into the second position go SO smoothly, and she’s answered every legitimate and dumb question I’ve had so far. I admit that I am a shy person initially, but everyone has welcomed me with open arms, which makes it easier to loosen up. I definitely feel like I’m where I should be! Working in hospice is such a blessing.

In addition to my music therapist/bereavement coordinator job, I recently started at Michelle Tuesday Music School as a part-time instrumental/vocal music instructor. MTMS is really special to me, because I had my very first job here! During my senior year of high school. I worked as a lab attendant, teaching music theory to students taking private lessons. Since then, I have gradually worked my way up to being an instructor! In recent years, I’ve discovered an unexpected passion for teaching private lessons. All of my life, I’ve been the one learning from incredible music mentors, who individually shaped my interests into an eventual career! Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Now having the chance to be in their shoes, I hope to be that same instructor for someone else…a mentor that encourages, supports, (positively) pushes, and excites a student to continue discovering what music has to offer. I distinctly remember my first piano lesson with Mrs. Debra Boyd, who helped me find all of the C’s on the piano and read my very first note of music. Fast forward to my first evening of teaching at MTMS, I did the same thing with a little girl brand new to the piano. I imagined Mrs. Boyd beaming with pride that day…I miss her so.

There are days when the work is tough. It hasn’t all been perfect, stress-free, and happy. But when I enter a patient’s room, connect with their heart and mind, sing away their troubles, and she says to me, “You have no idea how much I love you coming. You make me forget about all of my bad days.”

Every single day becomes worth it.

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CBMT Exam Tips

I finally made it, all the way to the finish line!! My name is Carrie Whatley and I am a board-certified music therapist (as of May 21st). Best birthday present ever.

After I completed my internship, I took a few weeks to buckle down and prepare for the CBMT exam. As the weeks continued and the scheduled date came closer, my anxiety grew. One more step…lots of pressure. It was not a pleasant process. However, now that the exam is done, I’ve been reflecting on the tips/techniques I found to be most helpful while prepping for and taking the exam.

Prep:

1) Don’t cram your studying. Take a few weeks (I took 4-5 weeks) to really let your brain absorb the information. Also, spread out the topics you cover! If you try to study EVERYTHING all at once every single day (guilty), you are going to become very overwhelmed. Pick one population, one chapter in a textbook, one set of Quizlet flashcards, and take time each day to truly understand the content piece by piece.

2) Explore and identify what study techniques are most effective for you. Is it reading through text and mentally processing? Is it physically writing out flashcards/notes? Is it drawing a visual? Is it having someone else test you? My biggest stressor throughout was that I didn’t know which study techniques helped me retain the most, so I panicked…until I really sat down and tried a variety of different approaches.

3) You can look at pieces of information as separate content, or you can see how things connect. Especially for memorization of specific definitions. Yes, I can go through a glossary of terms and memorize everything, but am I really learning it all if I’m not trying to view the bigger picture? A great example of this is hearing. I can define individual parts of the ear (not knowing how the structures interact), OR I can gradually piece all the parts together to understand how hearing and hearing loss occurs.

4) Great study resources:

  • Suzanne Hanser’s “The New Music Therapist’s Handbook.” Get this book and read it ALL! It goes through each step we as music therapists follow in our practice (referral through termination), and reveals different strategies and documentation.
  • David/Gfeller/Thaut’s “Introduction to Music Therapy Theory and Practice.” I found it most helpful to read the chapters about populations I was least familiar with. I also reviewed the Glossary of Terms to familiarize myself with terminology I wasn’t confident on.
  • Quizlet. If you search “CBMT,” there are sooo many flashcards that already exist from people that have studied for this exam. I found this somewhat beneficial, because it saved me time from making hundreds of my own flashcards. However, I’d be cautious of depending solely on Quizlet for studying; some sets of flashcards are messy, jumbled, and hard to learn from.
  • CBMT Self-Assessment Exam, FORM B. This practice exam is extremely helpful to familiarize yourself with the formatting, wording, and timing of the test. Form B is SO much more realistic to how the exam is compared to Form A and is absolutely worth the money.
  • “MT-BC Study Group” on Facebook. This page is great for connecting with others that are studying for the CBMT exam! Share resources, tips/techniques, and encouragement with others preparing.

Exam Day:

1) Positive thinking, deep breaths. Coming from someone with awful test anxiety, I know this is a hard one…but truly and sincerely, this is THE MOST important tip. The entire night before my test, I tossed and turned. The morning of, my heart was racing. But I continuously made myself do check ins…before I left my house, on my drive to the testing center, in the waiting area, before I clicked “begin” on the computer. I took a moment to breathe, relax my body, and say to myself, “You are here, you worked hard, and you will do your best.”

2) Stay focused. The test is long and exhausting…you will experience moments where you feel like you are failing. You will read a question five times and not understand what it’s saying. You will have a string of answers you are uncertain about. But DO NOT let your mind play tricks. TRUST your knowledge (your first answer a lot of the time is correct), read the questions SLOWLY and THOROUGHLY, and DISSECT the pieces of information you need out of each question to make an educated decision.

3) Click the “time” button to reveal your 3-hour clock. This made me somewhat anxious because it was a countdown, but I was also SO glad I kept my eye on it. Had I not paced myself with the clock, I most definitely would not have finished the exam (I only had three minutes to spare). Give yourself the time you need to process/understand the questions, but also make sure you are pacing yourself appropriately. You don’t want to end up in a horror situation where you get the “20 minutes left” notification and you still have a third of the exam to complete. 50 questions per hour (1.2 minutes per question) puts you right at 3 hours.

4) Take a bathroom break if you have time, stretch in your seat if you don’t.

5) Use your scratch paper! I used my paper to mark how I felt on every single question. If I was confident, I put a checkmark next to the number. If I was hesitant, I narrowed the multiple choice down to two legitimate options (A or C) and underlined the choice I was leaning more towards. That way when I went back to the question later, I had a 50% shot (and I usually went with my initial gut response). If I was completely unsure, I wrote “guess” and moved on. I did all of this for two reasons: to track which ones I wanted to return to, and to visually show myself that I had significantly more confident answers than guesses. HUGE motivator during those moments of doubt!

6) At the end of the day, your test results do not define you as a music therapist. You have put in years of passionate hard work to get here! Be proud of the fact that you have made it this far, and continue to strive towards your next step (whether that is starting your career or taking the exam again). You have a HUGE music therapy support system rooting for you to succeed!

My Hospice MT Internship: Final Reflections

Just as quickly as it began, it ended. My music therapy internship at Four Seasons officially finished as of April 11…a bittersweet conclusion to such a transforming experience. What an amazing half year of my life!!

I am back in the land of Columbus, Ohio now and already missing my North Carolina home. It’s a strange feeling to live alone for the first time in completely unfamiliar territory, yet embrace it as your own. My heart aches for the mountains, the people, the culture, the continued newness of everything…but it also ached to be near my first home as well. So my heart is happy here, too. Ohio is good. PLUS, I accepted a full-time music therapist and bereavement coordinator position with Brookdale Hospice in Westerville!! My next life adventure already awaits, I am incredibly excited to jump right in.

I stayed in North Carolina for two weeks following my internship so I could soak in some last minute experiences and say my goodbyes. During those two weeks, I compiled a list of jumbled thoughts for my final internship post (as I packed, reminisced, and cried happy/sad tears). Thank you, North Carolina and Four Seasons, for forever changing me.

  1. Embracing newness and taking risks can be one of the best choices EVER in life.
  2. Go on adventures!
    • Internship is #1, but hermitting in your apartment and working all the time isn’t good self-care practice. Experiencing new things alone increases your sense of independence and self-confidence. Make an internship bucket list and get out there (going to the movies by myself is my favorite thing)!
  3. Take care of you; sleep plenty and don’t pig out too much.
    • But at the same time, give yourself some freedom to explore the culture (I ate so much food, y’all…worth it for that delicious, authentic southern food!!).
  4. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You will never know what amazing people are in the world unless you say “hello.”
  5. Personal growth never stops. Continue to discover new methods that challenge you to “do your work” (GIM for me!).
  6. Live by yourself and “adult” as much as you can.
    • Pay bills, write out a budget plan, grocery shop without buying Oreos, make your bed in the morning, eat your bananas before they rot, wash your dinner dishes immediately after using them, etc. (none from experience…obviously… 😉 )
  7. Work hard, be yourself, and trust that it will all pay off. Worrying about everything does not help you.
  8. Don’t lose your professional connections after internship.
    • Write down all the contact information of the MTs you worked with and keep in touch. These MTs will soon be your colleagues and they want to hear from you! Also, let your collegiate faculty know what your next steps are; They shaped you as well.
  9. Don’t waste a SECOND! Internship flies by and you don’t realize how much you’ve missed out on until the time is gone.
  10. Find a place that you claim as “yours” to shut everything off, calm, and simply be in the moment.
    • My personal spot in NC was Jump Off Rock, it was the only place where my mind would quiet itself automatically. You can see why, it was gorgeous!

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Next step, board certification exam! Stay tuned for a post about my personal tips for exam preparation and taking the CBMT test.

My Hospice MT Internship: Top 10 from Months 3 and 4

I know I’m waaaaay late to the party in posting this, but I’ve been writing and rewriting these next ten points for months now because I have learned so much! Months 3 and 4 of internship, in my opinion, have been the “meat” of my experience and it’s difficult to narrow everything down to only ten points. So…two months late, I give you my overly processed, super thought out, crazy but worth it, mid-internship lessons that I’ve recognized and gained from:

1) Do your “work.”
In undergrad, they talk about burnout rates. They talk about the realness of music therapists (and all therapists) feeling tired, overworked, emotionally/mentally drained, and eventually unfulfilled…but how does one get to that point? How do we go from being a passionate, enthusiastic, driven MT to one that doubts if it’s the right path anymore?
The answer is a lack of work. But this work is not the typical 9-5 job. It is the constant, ongoing, individualized work we should be doing with ourselves to identify when feelings of burnout are creeping in. It is having enough self-awareness to see when you are not continuing to grow as a therapist. It is being honest enough with yourself to know when you need to change something. In “doing your work,” you will be significantly more present at your job. Your patients, your coworkers, and you will benefit, because your presence (physically, mentally, and emotionally) will be apparent.
During the middle of my internship, I discovered how hugely beneficial GIM (Guided Imagery and Music) was for me to identify what I needed to “work” on. In order to move forward, sometimes it takes a non-cognitive experience to identify what/where the issues are. GIM was exactly what I needed to feel where the stress was locating itself in my body, what influenced my stress (anxiety), and how intense the issue was. My entire body reacted kinesthetically and tightened/shook, which revealed that: a) I was stressed and anxious, b) My stress and anxiety have been part of my life for a long time, and c) My body was basically screaming at me to chill, because it was overwhelming. From that experience, I’ve been able to “work” through some of my anxiety and change things in my lifestyle to try and reduce it.

2) Self-care is not necessarily an action; Sometimes it’s a mindset.
As mentioned in my previous top ten post, self-care is an important part of being an effective music therapist. However, self-care does not necessarily have to be something you are doing. We think of self-care as accomplishing something that shuts our mind off, something we are doing for ourselves to take focus away from our work. But if we force self-care activities, they can quickly become another addition to our never-ending checklists…and the stress continues.
Yes, there are times when a hot bath and time alone is exactly what we need. But if we force ourselves to do all these “things,” self-care becomes a chore instead. I can picture it now, sitting in the tub mentally screaming at myself to stop thinking about how much I have to do. “STOP STRESSING RIGHT NOW YOU SCHEDULED THIS BATH DANG IT.” How, uhh, soothing.
What if we paid more attention to identifying what we actually need? What if self-care was a focused personal statement instead? Coming up with something to mentally ground yourself, calm down, and figure out what you genuinely need is key to not going crazy. Don’t add to your checklist unless you need to put it there!

3) Don’t push yourself too hard; Realize when you need to take a step back.
If you are sick and work with sick people, STAY HOME. You are doing more harm than good by coming to work before you’re better. A few examples? Vocal fatigue and damage from singing before you are fully healed. Longer periods of sickness and exhaustion due to lack of rest. Possibility of spreading illness to your patients and coworkers. Just don’t, guys. Don’t be me. It took a month and a half for my voice to fully return.

4) Being a “yes person” is okay; Careful not to over commit!
Who here over commits? *sheepishly raises hand* My name is Carrie and I am a “yes person.” Helping out and saying yes to things is okay. More than okay, in fact! It shows that you are willing to step up, be a leader, and take on whatever needs to be done. BUT…
Before you know it, you may find your life piled with stuff to complete. If you take on too much, you are likely to encounter, a) a disappointed boss/supervisor/coworker, b) an exhausted and overwhelmed you, c) sub-par results, or d) all of the above. Be proactive and take action, but know when NO is necessary. It’s okay to pass the job along to someone else at times if you cannot successfully finish it.
Also, another unfortunate scenario that may occur if you continue to say “yes” all the time is your schedule (and sanity) being taken advantage of by others. Coming from someone that worked a part-time job during her internship, it happens…and it negatively impacts all other areas of your life. Don’t let yourself be pushed around just because you are kind.

5) Mistakes will happen; Communicate, learn, and move forward.
Yes, I’m a perfectionist, and yes, it’s a problem at times. An extremely important thing I have learned during my internship is that mistakes happen and it’s okay. Can you believe that?! I certainly couldn’t…it only took me 23 years to start convincing myself otherwise.
Mistakes (in and out of work) are a part of life. How you handle them, however, is what makes or breaks the situation. If you are constantly making excuses, not communicating with the necessary people to clear it up, and/or repeating the same problem over and over again, that’s when it becomes a serious issue.
Because we are being honest here, I’ll fess up to my biggest mistake. I was late a few times during internship, mostly due from pushing too hard and exhausting myself (see #3)…resulting in missed alarms. Not good, I admit and accept full responsibility. How I fixed this mistake was important, though. I processed about it individually and with my supervisor, did not make excuses, and worked to prioritize my self-care so it would not happen again. And it didn’t.
This last point is the most important: don’t obsess over the mistake. Moving forward and growing from it reflects far better on you to your boss/supervisor than dwelling and continuing to bring it up.

6) Approach conversation with patients/families like you would a normal conversation.
Verbal processing can be a difficult thing in hospice to achieve if you don’t have a lot of experience with it. As I’ve continued to practice and gain experience, however, I’ve identified a few things that cause “roadblocks” in rapport building:
– Avoid the “to-do list” mentality. If you are constantly going through a mental checklist of what to ask and address with people, you’re not treating them as an individual with individual feelings. This also creates more discomfort, because you’re thrown off guard when something comes up that you didn’t expect.
– If you talk to people like you would a person you know, they will be more likely to open up. Treat them more like a friend, not a stranger. You will find that your genuineness, empathy, and communication skills will improve significantly.
– Create a mantra. Mine before entering a room is, “I am here to help.” This draws me out of my head and into the present so I can better assist with what the person needs.

7) It’s an honor to be in the room during a death; Make those final moments special.
Being present during a person’s passing is a surreal experience. As the music therapist, you are the last voice this individual will hear. So it’s important that you are creating a safe, gentle, supportive space for them.
Even if a person is not responsive, their voiced wishes and preferences must be respected and honored. If a person is an atheist, for example, it is absolutely not appropriate to play hymns at their bedside. This is a complete disrespect of their beliefs, and you as the therapist are taking advantage of the fact that they cannot speak up to tell you to stop. Take the time to learn about the patient’s culture, beliefs, values, and preferences, then pick your music accordingly.
Another factor to take into consideration is the family’s wishes, but still honoring the patient’s as primary. Another example: what if the patient is atheist, but the siblings are Christian and requesting hymns so he/she will be saved? What do you do as the music therapist in this situation? I think an appropriate approach perhaps would be to process with the family about their different beliefs and acknowledge that both are significant, then song write with the family using the melody of a hymn, structuring it around what they love and will miss about the patient. Then before performing the song, saying to the patient that it is a message of love and support from his/her family. This both validates the families’ thoughts/religion and supports the patient’s beliefs.

8) Working with another music therapy intern is really rewarding!
I have been really lucky to work with another music therapy intern while at Four Seasons. You may think this is not an important factor when picking your internship (I didn’t think so), but it DEFINITELY is! It has been amazing to learn from seven music therapists, but having another intern here has also allowed me to learn from someone at the same level of education as me. Not only do we get to swap ideas and resources, but we get to openly reflect and process with each other about our internship successes and struggles. Internship is crazy, exciting, stressful, and full of newness, and having a coworker to experience it with you is really encouraging! Plus, you form a pretty awesome friendship out of it. Yay music therapy connections!!

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9) Everyday will not be wonderful; Re-evaluate your “why” and discover your “what.”
Music therapists get to witness incredible and intimate moments every single day, which is why we love our jobs SO much. At the end of the day though, work is still work and everyday will not be all shiny and happy. There will be days of exhaustion, sadness, frustration, loss, stress, and doubt. In these moments, it’s crucial that you take time to process about your “why.” Why did you decide to be a music therapist? Why did you choose to come to work today? Why do you want to make a difference? With these questions, you return to your core and the passion that initially drove you. Channel this.
From there, establish a plan using your “what.” What is causing you to question/doubt today? What can you do to better the situation? What do you need (see #2)?

10) The internship slump is a REAL thing. Keep going!!
So, the beginning excitement has officially worn off and you’re adjusted into your routine as a music therapy intern. BUT OMG IT’S MONTH FOUR ALREADY AND I DON’T HAVE A JOB LINED UP YET AND WHAT IF I DON’T PASS THE CBMT EXAM TO EVEN GET A JOB AND WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!?!?!? Calm, loves. I’ve been there and I’m here to tell you from the other side that everything will be okay.
I call this period of time the “internship slump.” You love your internship, but you’re feeling simultaneously drained and anxious. This is the time where it is crucial as ever to stay present and patient. Keep your eye on the prize, but focus on continuing to do your best work right now. Your internship is where you create professional connections, learn as much as you possibly can, and shape yourself into the MT-BC you will soon become. Soak it ALL in and motivate yourself to keep going, because you are so close to the finish line. I BELIEVE IN YOU, FUTURE MUSIC THERAPISTS!!

My Hospice MT Internship: Top 10 from Months 1 and 2

It’s hard to believe that eight weeks have already passed since I started my music therapy internship. It’s harder to believe that I’ve been away from home for over two months. Life in North Carolina is moving quickly (just as I had anticipated), but the pace has been exhilarating to experience!

I began my MT internship on October 2, 2017 at “Four Seasons Compassion for Life” in Hendersonville, NC. Four Seasons is a nationally recognized, award-winning, and well-respected hospice and palliative care non-profit. We serve in 11 counties across Western North Carolina, offering a variety of services to patients and loved ones to provide comfort and support. Among these services is music therapy, which I am very honored to be a part of (through April 2018). So far in my time with FS, I have learned more than I ever thought possible in two months. I’ve already experienced what it’s like to work a full week as a hospice music therapist (by myself!), which was crazy exciting and simply confirmed my love for this population. As I’ve integrated into the FS family, I have received unending amounts of support, encouragement, and guidance. When you are in such a positive learning environment, you can’t help but grow as a person and professional every single day. And I have…oh, I have.

Because I don’t want to make this post too long (BECAUSE I LOVE MY JOB AND COULD GO ON FOREVER), I’m going to list some of the most significant things I’ve learned so far as a music therapy intern:

1.  Verbal processing can be really challenging in hospice care. Assess yourself too.
Verbal processing is one of the things I came into my internship having the least amount of experience in. I anticipated this to be a huge focus area for me entering into hospice work, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be! My internship director and I sat down in my second month and I described this challenge to her. “I feel like my patients and families have so much more they’re wanting to say…but I don’t seem to know how to get there with them. I feel stuck when approaching the hard topics.” I brought the same thing up with another Four Seasons MT as well.
My director suggested that I write out a list of questions within three different areas of need: spiritual, symptom management, and bereavement. This would serve as practice for brainstorming potential questions to ask patients and/or loved ones, questions that “dig deeper.” The list helped me reach beyond the overused “How do you feel?” or “What are you thinking?” phrases; However, I still felt hesitant.
The beauty of this internship is having the opportunity to learn from multiple minds, perspectives, and approaches. The five full-time MTs here are simply rockstars! My director helped me get the wheels turning, and the other MT I spoke to helped me explore my hesitancies. I described my concerns about offending someone I’m processing with, or going too far on a topic they aren’t ready to acknowledge. Is it my business to know what someone thinks will happen to them when they die? Is it my place to ask someone how they’re processing their grief? In response, the second MT challenged me to answer all of the questions I had on my list (as if I were the one being asked). Surprisingly, some were really hard to answer.
His point was this: How can we as therapists expect our clients to be vulnerable with us if we are not vulnerable with ourselves? Am I hesitating because I don’t want to make the other person uncomfortable, or am I hesitating because I’m uncomfortable? For me, I acknowledge that it’s a combination of both. Hospice deals with some heavy stuff and it’s hard to articulate what you’re thinking or feeling sometimes (on both ends). That being said…

2.  Patients have a right to choose how they feel, what they think, and when to talk about it.
Imagine in the six months you are given to live, you are sick, (often) in pain or discomforted, and left with little independence. Just as your time is limited, you are limited in what you can do for yourself. Can you walk like you used to? Can you breathe without oxygen? Can you manage without comfort medication? Can you take yourself to the bathroom? Can you eat or drink anymore?
This is real life for our patients. They are declining, some slow and others quickly. They are all transitioning through a difficult point of life- the end. But each are their own individual, with individual perspectives and emotions. A person, though dying, is still a person. And no person reacts exactly the same as another during end-of-life.
If we as healthcare professionals automatically assume a patient’s feelings or thoughts, we are taking away the last bit of independence they still have. How they are feeling, what they are thinking, and when they decide to share it with us is theirs. We cannot force vulnerability. What we can do is be present, be genuine, and listen to what the patient is saying (because they’re saying it for a reason!). When patients do open up, we have to choose our follow-up words consciously. Are we validating and supporting where they’re at, or wasting their time? Is what we are saying truly meaningful to the patient?

3.  Choose each piece of repertoire intentionally.
Another MT at Four Seasons told me recently that “one song has the power to open up a person’s world.” A patient struggling to breathe may calm and sleep when hearing a familiar, relaxing tune. A family member in denial about their loved one’s death may acknowledge it for the first time with a song they associate with the patient.
While patient-preferred music is really important, it’s our job as music therapists to pick pieces that will elicit response. If the patient prefers hymns and gospel music, we don’t want to simply flip the pages in a hymnal. We want to select specific ones that address the current needs presented, are significant to the patient, and are appropriate in the moment (an upbeat “Down By the Riverside,” for example, may not be the right choice in an actively dying situation…or is it?).
Also another quick note on repertoire selection: singing songs about dying is okay. In fact, the message often paves the way for meaningful discussion with the patient!

4.  Crying will happen. It’s okay.
Patients will cry, family members will cry, friends will cry, you will cry. It’s going to happen. Hospice music therapists enter into the worlds of patients and loved ones, who come from all walks of life. We establish a relationship. We share music that the patient cherishes. We discuss their greatest joys, fears, concerns, and limitations. We witness some of the happiest moments they have in hospice, and some of the most heart-wrenching. Hospice music therapy is intimate work…and emotions will arise. As long as the focus remains on the people I’m serving, my tears are not going to impact the therapeutic space or relationship. It shows I am acknowledging the emotion in the room, but more importantly that I am human. We are all human and life is precious. It’s okay for all present at end-of-life to acknowledge that.

5.  Professional collaboration and communication is key.
From the moment I started at Four Seasons, I was a part of the team. Every professional I met was glad to welcome me in, each expressing their excitement to work together. Collaborating with an interdisciplinary team is not something you get a lot of experience with as an MT student, so this was new territory for me. Where do I even start? What do I report to them? Do they know what music therapy is?
To say that FS emphasizes teamwork and respect is an understatement. They live it. Everyone is educated about all disciplines, everyone acknowledges each team member as significant, and everyone works together to provide the best care possible. Even as an intern, I feel important and heard by my colleagues.
It’s interesting to look back on my first IDG meeting, when I first observed our teams interacting and making decisions. It was simultaneously overwhelming and amazing how every piece of communication and collaboration seemed to mesh. I didn’t know what to say.
But as I continued and began to see my own patients, I gradually became more involved. I included myself in meetings more, throwing in statements and suggestions that were beneficial to the discussion. I communicated with team members about significant patient updates, and they did the same with me. Before I knew it, I was confidently relaying information and asking questions. I felt like a real professional for the first time, and it was liberating! Through all of this, I have learned that it takes an army to provide the amazing care that our patients receive and deserve. If I am not doing my part, the team and our patients suffer.

6.  Plan ahead as much as you can.
Music therapy internship is a full-time job, y’all. For the first time, you are truly experiencing what a day-in-the-life of a music therapist is like…and initially, it can be a lot to take in! You are thrown a bunch of new information while also trying to put together repertoire, maintain a caseload of patients, schedule visits and meetings, update patient charts, communicate with team members, study for the board certification exam, and keep your head from falling off.
I used to consider myself a bad procrastinator, which I know is a terrible habit and incredibly difficult to break. But my internship experience has really helped me shift gears and become more diligent in my work. As a result, I am better maintaining a schedule, keeping track of important details, effectively communicating with colleagues, and feeling on top of things in general. I believe internship would be a heck of a lot more stressful if I was procrastinating. So, MT students approaching internship…plan ahead and make it easier on yourself! The best thing I can suggest is to get your repertoire collection started now (because it’s a huge task), practice working ahead on assignments, and use a planner. These things will only help you in the long run.
Now I find it difficult to not work ahead, imagine that!

7.  Scheduling visits with patients is not the easiest; However…
When I found out that I was going to have my own caseload for a week, I attempted to be diligent and call patient caregivers ahead of time (end of the previous week) to schedule home visits. Nine times out of ten, I was asked to call back after the weekend was through. Initially, I was feeling overwhelmed…the first week by myself was approaching and I didn’t even know what my days were going to look like. But as I continued these calls, I began to see the patient and family perspective. And to anyone that has ever been involved during a loved one’s decline, you know exactly what I mean. The patient has a bad day and is up all night, the caregivers are trying to keep track of all the hospice professionals coming to the house, the family is trying to arrange future plans while simultaneously dealing with their own grief…you get the picture. It is exhausting. So while knowing my schedule is important, it is more important that I’m respecting the wishes of my patients and their loved ones.

8.  Be confident and kind to yourself. You’re learning (and always will be)!
I had sooo much anxiety approaching the start of my internship. I was not only transitioning into a new period of my life; I was moving far away from my support system. I was terrified and didn’t feel ready.
The night before my first day, I slept maybe three hours. I sat awake in bed contemplating everything I felt unprepared for. But the morning was interesting. As I was getting ready for work, my mindset began to shift. I had already successfully moved to North Carolina and lived on my own for two weeks…and life had continued. This next step would be fine, and so would I. I walked into work on my first day, acknowledging my anxiousness but embracing newfound confidence. Maybe I didn’t know what was going to come, but I was ready. Nobody- especially myself- was going to tell me otherwise.
I’ve had moments of doubt. Moments of homesickness. Moments of “oh crap I don’t know what I’m doing.” But I’ve embraced my entire NC experience (internship and otherwise) as a learning opportunity. I am here to grow in every aspect! So with each day, I am taking risks, asking questions, exploring new territory, meeting new people, and loving all the moments I’ve had here. I am thriving.

9.  You will not be an effective music therapist if you do not take care of yourself first.
Self-care is something always preached throughout undergrad, but it’s hard to put into perspective how necessary it is until you’re working as an MT everyday. I experienced this firsthand already.
I’ve done really well with maintaining my emotional self-care. I continue to discover new things everyday that bring me peace after a heavy day. But my physical self-care? A whole other issue. Tightness and chronic back pain has always been a problem for me as a musician, but it became especially unbearable by my second month of internship. On top of seeing patients all week with a guitar strapped to me, I have been working part-time as a care provider on the weekends for an adult who is 100% dependent. The transporting, feeding, toileting, and overall care was overwhelming on my already strained muscles. Long story short, I coughed up $100 for a neuromuscular massage just to find some temporary relief…I was so desperate. Not good considering I’m still a college student with existing expenses.
Now, I pay close attention to any changes I am experiencing (physically or emotionally). The other Four Seasons MT intern and I discussed this at one point, and she described self-care beautifully: “Identify what drains you, and what fills you.” When you are dealing with something that is weighing heavy on you, what do you do that lightens the load? Don’t be afraid to explore new things that calm and enlighten you. It may be something like exercising, meditating, resting, or treating yourself to a manicure or massage (though I don’t recommend the $100 ones, I’m cheap!). In the end, your patients will thank you because you are present and focusing on them during visits.

10.  Be present- stop overthinking about the uncertainty of tomorrow.
This one continues to be a big one for me, because I struggle SO MUCH with it. I’m a huge ball of anxiety when I don’t know what’s to come. Let me preface by saying that I have tackled this for many years of my life, and I’ve improved exponentially compared to where I used to be. However, when it comes to big things like A) what state will I live in after internship, or B) will I find a job before I’m done, or C) will I pass my exam to even be allowed to practice MT, all of it consumes my brain.
I’m trying really hard to focus on one day at a time…but the anxiety catches up to me often. I’ve created my own personal home here in North Carolina, and my heart has grown so attached to the idea of staying and planting my life here. What will happen if things don’t work out the way I want them to? The answer is simple (yet so difficult to grasp): I won’t know until that time is here. So in the meantime, I’m trying my best, loving and living my passion, serving others, and trusting my hard work will someday pay off. Everything comes in time.

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“What is Music Therapy?”- 2017 Music Therapy Month (Ohio)

Happy October, friends!  My favorite month of the entire year is finally here.  Guess how excited I am to be near the Smokey Mountains this year when the leaves change? (Extremely. The answer is extremely.)

On top of the beautiful Fall season transitions, October is a very special month in my home state for music therapists.  Every year, the Association of Ohio Music Therapists recognizes October as Music Therapy Month!  I love having this available as a chance to highlight the profession, advocate for what we do, and celebrate accomplishments and advancements in the Ohio music therapy world.

When I tell people I went to college to become a music therapist, I typically get a lot of questions.  As a passionate supporter of advocacy (and just an overall music therapy nerd), I LOVE these responses.  I am always happy to discuss and inform!  So in honor of Music Therapy Month, I am going to share answers to some of the questions and responses I receive most.  Please know that for many answers, I am directly referencing from the American Music Therapy Association website.  Check it out for more information, the site is a fantastic resource (and fun to browse!)- http://www.musictherapy.org

“So what exactly is music therapy?”- According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is defined as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

“What does a music therapist do?”- Just like other credentialed professionals in the field of healthcare, music therapists assess the well-being of clients; However, they assess through musical responses.  Music therapists assess clients in a variety of areas, including “emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, cognitive skills,” etc.  Each session is uniquely tailored for individuals and groups based on their overall needs, and music therapists use many different intervention approaches to assess, plan, treat, and re-evaluate.  Among these interventions are music improvisation, songwriting, lyric analysis, receptive music listening, music performance, music and movement, music assisted relaxation, and more.  “Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives.”

“Is it a newer profession?”- Music therapy has actually been around for a decent amount of time!  You can find writings dating back to Aristotle and Plato explaining music to be “a healing influence which could affect health and behavior.”  It wasn’t until after WWI and WWII, however, when medical professionals began to realize the effect music had on their patients.  Veterans experiencing emotional and physical trauma from the war were presenting significant positive responses when the musicians came.  Demand continued to grow for more training, and the first collegiate curriculum for music therapy was established in 1944 at Michigan State University.

“Who do you work with?”- I always like to say that music therapy can potentially make a difference from birth to death!  Scratching the surface, here are some of the populations that music therapists work with:

  • Children, adolescents, adults, and elderly with mental health needs
  • Developmental and learning disabilities
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other aging related conditions
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Physical disabilities
  • Acute and chronic pain
  • Mothers in labor
  • Veterans
  • Etc, etc, etc.

“Where can you work?”- Going off of that, there are a variety of settings you can find a music therapist in:

  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Rehabilitative facilities
  • Medical hospitals (childbirth, NICU, pediatric, ICU, oncology, surgery, etc.)
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Day care treatment centers
  • Agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities
  • Community mental health centers
  • Drug and alcohol programs
  • Senior centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospice and palliative programs
  • Correctional facilities
  • Halfway houses
  • Schools
  • Private practice
  • Etc, etc, etc.

“I saw music therapy on the iPod documentary.”- The Music and Memory℠ program does a fantastic job in revealing the powerful effects of music with older adults; However, it does not represent clinical music therapy.  The iPods provide residents with music they enjoy, but music listening does not replace the work of a credentialed music therapist.  They are trained to use music to meet clinical, non-musical goals with clients (such as enhancing communication, increasing socialization, reducing depression and agitation, decreasing pain perception, exercising remaining mental capabilities, enhancing quality of life, and more).  These personalized goals cannot be met effectively through music listening without further intervention.  This same principle applies to volunteers playing music at the bedside or in the lobby.  Ultimately, I believe that collaboration between MT and M&M allows us to better serve clients as a whole!  Positive partnering is key to helping music impact more lives.

“How many colleges offer a music therapy degree?”- Currently on the American Music Therapy Association website, there are 81 universities that have an AMTA-approved music therapy program.

“What all do you have to do to become a music therapist?”- “Those who wish to become music therapists must earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved program and have at minimum the entry level credential, MT-BC to ethically practice as a music therapist. The curriculum includes coursework in music, music therapy, biology, psychology, social and behavioral sciences, and general studies. Clinical skills are developed through 1200 hours of required fieldwork, including an internship in healthcare and/or education facilities. These experiences allow students to learn how to assess the needs of clients, develop and implement treatment plans, and evaluate and document clinical changes.  Once the music therapy degree is earned and internship is completed, the student is eligible to sit for a board certification exam to earn the entry level credential, MT-BC, (music therapist, board certified) from the credentialing body, the Certification Board for Music Therapists.  To maintain this credential, music therapists must demonstrate continued competence by completing 100 recertification credits within each five-year recertification cycle.”

“What goals do you address in Hospice music therapy?”- I get this question often because it pertains to the population I am working with in my internship.  Each client that I assess and plan for is going to be different, so not everyone is going to have the same exact goals.  However, there may be similarities.  Here is a compiled list of some goals I might address with clients in my chosen population:

  • Physical
    • Increase physical comfort
    • Increase relaxation/Provide distraction
    • Reduce agitation
    • Enhance respiratory comfort
    • Decrease pain perception
    • Increase sensory stimulation
    • Improve quality of life
  • Psychological
    • Exercise remaining mental capabilities
    • Engage in life review and reminiscence
  • Social
    • Enhance communication with care professionals
    • Increase meaningful social interaction
    • Increase social support
    • Increase family communication
  • Emotional
    • Elevate mood/Brighten affect
    • Provide comfort and solace
    • Increase emotional support
    • Acknowledge and process life changes
    • Reduce stress
    • Increase patience and family self-expression
    • Identify coping strengths/resources
    • Increase patient and family support and comfort
  • Spiritual
    • Offer spiritual support
    • Explore spirituality
    • Leave behind a legacy

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Out of Ohio, Week One

Well, it’s official!  As of September 16, I am a new resident of North Carolina.  It’s been weird and exciting, to say the least.

I am very fortunate to have found an apartment that is secure, quiet, close to work, and provides me with all that I need (it’s furnished, woo!).  I almost feel like I unfairly skipped the “young single adult with a crappy place to live” phase, but I’m not complaining!  My landlady also presented me with the opportunity to work part time with her adult daughter, who is 100% dependent and the sweetest thing you’ll ever meet. Over the summer, I trained and worked as a special needs in-home care provider and LOVED it.  So imagine my excitement when this new opportunity came up!  I look forward to learning and experiencing new things in the world of in-home care.  Also, she adores music.  Double bonus!

The first few days by myself were the loneliest.  I moved down here without knowing a soul, and two weeks before my internship start.  I had imagined the moment when my parents would leave the apartment and go back to Ohio, but I couldn’t really fathom the reality of it.  It was the first time I had to say goodbye to the people I loved most, knowing I could not see them again for many months…Knowing I could not drive home whenever I wanted to like in college.  I wanted to follow them out, cry, hug them again, but I didn’t.  This was a momentous step I needed to take by myself.  The door shut and I experienced the best/worst silence of my life.  I finally swallowed my reality; this was happening and I could not turn back.  Was I ready?

I feel ready.  A little over a week later, I’m settling well into the newness that surrounds me.  I’ve created a home out of my apartment, filling the walls with art and inspiration.  I’ve met and befriended new people almost every day.  I’ve explored my town of Hendersonville and the towns around me.  I’ve participated in new things I was too nervous to try in Ohio (I ran my first 5K in Asheville this past weekend!).  Every day, I have made an effort to stretch my comfort zone and discover my new normal.  I may still depend on my GPS in North Carolina, but I don’t depend on my anxiety anymore.  It is SO EMPOWERING.

Countdown to my internship start date: 1 week!!

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AOMT Conference Reflections and Countdown to Internship

This weekend was definitely a special one for me, professionally and otherwise!  On Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend my second state music therapy conference.  The Association of Ohio Music Therapists always prepare a fantastic program for this event!  From my perspective as an “almost intern,” I found this year’s to be especially informative for students with questions about the professional music therapy world.

With my work schedule, I was only able to go to most of the sessions planned for Friday.  I made it just in time to see Stephanie Morris, MM, MT-BC lead the ever amazing Athens County Community Singers.  I was a freshman at Ohio University when this choir first started, so it has been a joy to see them grow and develop throughout my time in undergrad!  Just since last year at National AMTA Conference (where ACCS also performed), the program has expanded to include a choir of children and adolescents transitioning at Beacon School in Athens, OH.  I am so proud to have attended college in an area that advocates for music therapy and values the entire community.

My favorite session of the entire day was led by Jessica Josefczyk, MT-BC, tailored specifically for students and interns.  She presented on the transition from music therapy student to MT-BC professional.  For me, I know I’ve always been slightly (or not-so-slightly) overwhelmed at the thought of this transition actually happening.  Graduation, internship, board certification, job searching…it seems so far away as a freshman, until it’s not!  Jessica was excellent at addressing each of these.  I loved that while she equipped us with important tips to being successful throughout this time, she also acknowledged our fears as normal.  It made me feel better that all the MT-BCs I look up to were once experiencing the same thing I am right now.
My favorite section of Jessica’s presentation included direct insight from internship directors and former interns.  She divided preparation into four categories: musical prep, education prep, practical prep, and psychological prep.  I appreciated this breakdown SO MUCH, because it emphasized that taking care of your clients and taking care of yourself were equal priorities.  From this, I realized I had been putting most of my focus in the musical/educational prep categories, and not enough in the other two.  I reflected back throughout my summer, remembering moments where I felt overwhelmed with repertoire, research, or feeling like I didn’t know enough approaching internship.  However, this presentation helped me to take a step back and view internship as a developmental process.  I’m not supposed to know everything going in!  Starting in October, I begin a 6-month journey that involves learning from new mentors, taking risks, making mistakes, and shaping myself into the best MT-BC I can be for my clients.  I won’t have all the answers right now, and I shouldn’t.  Thank you, Jessica, for helping me identify these things in myself.  I’m growing everyday!

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So, I am officially on a one-week countdown.  My new life in Hendersonville, North Carolina begins on September 16.  Even though I am now in “moving mode,” I wake up each morning with a surreal denial of it all.  I’ve known I was leaving Ohio since February, so internship has always been this drastic life change far in the distance.  I’ll blink and April will approach just as instantly!  I become an MT-BC this coming year…2018.

Change is usually difficult for me.  Weirdly enough, however, making the choice to uproot my entire life has been beautifully transforming.  I am not the same person that I was when I started at OU…I am not even the same person that I was two years ago.  If someone told me my Junior year that I was going to move nine hours away with no familiar people around, I would have laughed in their face.  I have discovered a new self-confidence and self-love that I didn’t think would ever exist.  I am exhilarated rather than terrified to experience life 100% by myself, truly for the first time.  I believe in my dreams far more than my doubts, and I intend to chase them!

Still, it’s bittersweet to leave home.  Ohio is home, and will always be home to me.  It’s emotional to leave my family, my friends, my church home, my OU.  But I look forward to shaping a new life too, a place just for me with endless possibility.  I can’t wait!!