Official or authentic power – which matters more? When you speak up, where is your voice coming from? Do you tow the line of status quo, speaking in politically correct ways to avoid the criticism of what others might think of you if your way seems too way out?
This question came up recently during a high profile conference I was invited to attend in New York.
I was amongst thirty five neonatal music therapy experts invited to present at an invitational Music and Medicine symposium at a leading Medical Center in New York City. Professionals from ten countries around the globe, from China, to Australia, US and Canada, to Ireland, England, Germany, Russia, Korea and Israel gathered for three days to share their expertise and form an international consortium.
I was invited to present on the role of live singing as a healing music modality in the neonatal intensive care unit.
One of the things which moved me most was to be the representing our medical research, rather than the medical physician who oversaw the project. Though I am the founder of the entire healing music project at the hospital,
I do not hold an advanced academic degree.
Many years ago, I made a strategic decision to not continue academic studies. I am the one who is bringing this ancient technology back to this world. It is not taught in any academic institution. I consulted with a professor colleague whom I deeply esteemed who told me to trust my voice and go my own way. He said that the knowledge I share will naturally find its audience.
So after a period of deep soul searching, I decided to trust that. Founding a music project in the neonatal ward was a big step towards physically proving the healing properties of this forgotten ancient music form. Spiritually, it was already clear. So, to be professionally acknowledged for my founding this project had a profound impact upon me.
Since my work is experiential in nature and the idea of the symposium was for us to share our knowledge with one another, I decided to present through singing, rather than the officially accepted didactic powerpoint presentation. I began as I usually do, singing wordlessly into the frame drum.
You could have heard a pin drop.
The silence was palpable, so deep that all those in attendance were at ease. Silence so golden… that is until I broke into tears and sobbed out my first words… thank you, thank you…
I found myself amongst medical professionals from Harvard Medical School, Children's Hospital of Australia, and directors of an International Music Therapy Association that represents music therapy protocols across the spectrum of many
nations. My heart felt tears evolved into a healing singing session. "Is my authenticity helping or hindering this official presentation?" I wondered. I kept going with the flow of tears and the harmonious blend of beautiful voices that joined me.
Going all the way...
On the last day of our symposium, we had an session to brain storm how to develop a worldwide consortium for certification of neonatal music therapy. Our professional experience as pioneers in the field was the reason for us having been officially selected to attend this symposium.
I liked learning how different people from different countries have widely different expectations about how to bring about change. It was exciting to learn how different countries operate systematically. It shattered my assumptions of "how things should officially work" into little pieces of glass. I found that refreshing to the authentic side of me, that loves to see things in a new light.
Several people ruminated over the minimum level of professional proficiency required to provide music therapy in a neonatal care setting. Some said a masters degree would be minimum. Others said study towards a doctorate degree would be preferred.
Do I fit in?
I suddenly began to squirm. "Am I in the right place?" I wondered. I have no advanced academic degree, even though the more than 45,000 hours I have invested over the last sixteen years – from live field research to studying the relevant medical and archaeological research finds could provide me with more than a few post doctorate degrees. "Should I authentically speak up?" I mused. "Should I keep quiet? I already broke into tears during my official presentation. This might be too much"
I found myself raising my hand, and when my turn was called I stood and claimed:
"I really appreciate this session and I really appreciate having been invited as one of the experts to this symposium to contribute towards the evolvement of neonatal music therapy. Though I am the founder of the neonatal music project at our hospital, and have had my writing published in international medical journals, I have no advanced degree. I made a strategic decision many years ago to NOT go for further academic study because my message is to help people trust their own voice, and know that who they are is already enough. If the criteria for training will be academic degrees, I am not sure where this leaves me?"
Authentic, or official suicide?
I sat down feeling so good about having authentically spoken my truth.
I felt very good about myself. On the other hand, I had no idea what would be the response of my colleagues from around the world. Perhaps I had just committed professional suicide? My loving inner voice replied: "If you committed professional suicide, then this is not the right place for you anyway. You are committed to authentically show up and in the right place, you will be supported for that".
Upon this closing session, we said our goodbyes. When I went to thank the symposium director, and say goodbye, I felt a bit nervous. After all, my closing words had been anything but "politically correct". To my great surprise she thanked me for my contribution adding that who I am and how I present myself provided inspiration for many people.
Showing up unofficially, but authentically provided great rewards. The biggest one is my increased self confidence and self esteem.
Is your authenticity official?
Where have you had the courage to authentically speak up for yourself, when the stakes seemed very high? What happened? What were the results? Where could apply this to other areas in your life?
I'm waiting to hear from you.
If you could use some support to show up and express yourself more authentically I invite you to join us in the Authentic Voice telecourse which will begin on the 26th of this month.