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  • Writer's pictureRachel Swanick

A Fork in the Road



There are moments in our lives when we are greeted by a fork in the road. In these moments, we make a tiny decision to simply go one way or another, and it changes the course of our lives completely. You know what I mean – the decision to walk out of an awful job that leads you to the perfect one, the decision to stay a bit longer in the club that led you to meeting your soulmate….. These are big events caused by small moments. Sometimes though, it can take a little longer to make those decisions and we may sit at the fork in the road for a while. Sometimes, we need to plant a seed at the roadside and wait and see what happens…. Let me explain.

 

A big fork in the road that I faced in recent years was the decision to start my PhD. I have always wanted to do a PhD, even as a youngster (Is this weird?! Hope so ☺) so to be accepted on to a programme blew my mind. I knew on some inner level that I was capable of doing this and, once I was accepted, I had external validation that I was capable, too. So off I went – planning, ethics applications, literature reviews, case study collection…. And then I started to write my thesis. That very long, final essay. My thesis is a bit different to a traditional PhD in that I had to write an overview of all of my own relevant, recent work from my job and say how it had made a difference to others. Up until this point, I had been a ‘good girl’, following the protocols and processes and now I was on my own, having to advocate for myself. This became the hardest part of my journey.

 

My thesis is in two volumes – one is the essay and the other is a catalogue of my work. My supervisors had been reading Volume 1 (my essay) and kept asking me for more depth, more explanation, more thought. I couldn’t get to the knowledge they wanted, though, because I was blocked. Something was stopping me really getting into it. When I gave my supervisors Volume 2 (my catalogue of work projects), something changed. Instead of needing more, my supervisors were using words like ‘exciting’, ‘interesting’, ‘impressive’. And it was this word, impressive, that was my hook. We all have a word, or phrase or feeling that hits home; that makes us want to cry. I found that impressive was mine. I didn’t believe that it described me, that I could be anywhere near this and for these intelligent and powerful people to describe me this way felt too much. As I think about this now, the catalogue of my work was easy to make because it wasn’t about me. I had to bring together the work materials I had made to help other people. The focus was on them. My thesis, on the other hand, was everything about me and I was finding it too hard to take up space and own the progress I had made. Even my career as a musician is not about my own music; I play other people’s as a way to express myself and I was doing this again in my PhD writing. I was more comfortable talking about other people’s work than my own and it was hard for me to share the knowledge that I knew I had. Impressive was for other people to be, not me. At this point, I didn’t need someone to straighten my crown, I needed them to find it for me- see previous blog post here: https://www.musictherapyhere.com/post/straightening-our-crowns-imposter-syndrome-and-feminism

 

Roll on a few months later. I had just had PhD feedback about needing to be bolder and shouting out about my work more and I was feeling a bit deflated. It was all rolling over in my mind and I had to take my daughter to Parents Evening at school. My daughter’s teachers raved about her. She was so well behaved, a good person, brilliant in every subject. But, a theme was becoming very clear in the feedback – she needed to use her voice more, put her hand up, she needed to show us what she knew.

 

GASP. Deep breath.

 

My daughter was at the same fork in the road as me. And now my road had a huge magnifying glass on it. I wasn’t just making choices for me, I was making them for her. I had a chance to make a change for my daughter so that she would always know how impressive she was. So that she would always be able to take up space in this world. So she wouldn’t get to my old age and never know if she was worthy of being heard.

 

Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman shouts up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women”. I didn’t want to put this world/feminist pressure on my daughter just yet. And she is a teenager and really not into anything her mum is into but I had to say something. I had to plant the seed of possibility with this bright, beautiful young woman about who she could be in the future. In my most gentle way, I told her how special she is  and how I want her to take up space in the world and that, as a woman, she would have to battle to be heard throughout her life. I told her that showing how important something is to you is a good thing and it doesn’t matter if we don’t get it right all the time. She needs to know that her voice is important and that we, the world, want to hear it. And of course, I was saying this to myself, too.

 

To be honest, Reader, I am not sure what she heard. There were eye rolls and glances to her phone throughout my gentle and impassioned speech! But in that moment, we both had a chance to go somewhere different, to change the course and be something else. I planted a seed and now I will water and nourish it, in the hope that one day, my daughter will use her voice when it is most important.

 

I am lucky because I will get to see how this story ends. Sometimes the seeds we sow will never be known again by us and we have to trust that with kindness and compassion, our words and actions can help someone in need, when they need it most.

 

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