Seeking Joy and Promoting Self-Care with Nathan Mensah

In this episode, we speak with Nathan Mensah about his journey from IU Bloomington to his valued role at Hartford HealthCare. He talks about all his ups and downs throughout his undergraduate studies and how those challenges opened new doors in his career. He also speaks about pursuing something that attracts you, as that attraction is the determining factor for success.

Nathan Mensah is a Rehab therapist at Hartford Healthcare, where his job is to provide inpatient music therapy and psychoeducational services to adolescents and adults with mental health and dual diagnosis of substance abuse disorders.

Before therapy at Hartford HealthCare Nathan had numerous experiences that played a role to get him where he is today. This included being a research assistant at Indiana University School of Medicine, Choir Director at Seelyville United Methodist, Music Therapist at Cincinnati Children`s Hospital Medical Center, etc. Throughout these experiences, Nathan mentions that music therapy was not always his end goal. Nathan had always wanted to be involved in healthcare and he was determined to do so. Nathan took his love for music and his desire to help people and used it to his advantage, finding a career that would satisfy both passions. Nathan emphasized how important it is to do something that you love and are truly passionate about. He advises that joy be your top priority and to seek it as often as possible because to find joy in your workplace is one of the many secrets of life.

Prior to music therapy, Nathan served as a Music and Theatre Adjunct Instructor at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where his job was to teach music courses at the college level, including “American Music: from Jamestown to James Brown and Beyond”, with music technology, music history, music composition, and music listening components. Nathan does his best work believe it or no listening to music. Seem obvious? Well, it has to do with the brain’s cognition response and its correlation to memory.

Nathan currently resides in Westport, CT, where he is impacting the lives of many, using what he loves best, music.

Participate in Themester 2021 — Resilience

Season 5 of All Careers Considered is produced in conjunction with the College of Arts + Sciences Themester 2021 on Resilience. One way you can participate in Themester is to attend a Themester event.


Ricardy: Hey Hoosiers. Welcome back to the All Careers Considered podcast hosted by the Walter Center for Career Achievement, which is the career services center that specifically serve students and alumni in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. We’re on a mission to help you achieve career success by supporting you in your pursuit of impactful experiences, designing your life, sharing your story, and building meaningful connections. My name the Ricardy Ellie and I’m an undergraduate intern to the Walters Center for Career Achievement, working with an amazing team of both undergraduate and graduate students that you will hear from in later episodes of the podcast. A College of Arts and Sciences degree can allow so many opportunities that you may have not even thought were possible. I’m here to show you that really is the case by interviewing alumni and hearing each of their stories and how they got there.

Next up is this week’s episode with Nathan, rehab therapist at Hartford Healthcare. Through music therapy Nathan inspires others to find what they love and run off with it. Nathan graduated with his Bachelor’s in Psychology from IU in 2010. I had a great time learning more about Nathan’s career path, resiliency and how this College of Arts and Sciences degree has influenced his life to this day. I really enjoyed our conversation and believe you will all find a lot of wisdom in this conversation. Enjoy the episode.

Ricardy: Thank you so much for being here with us today on the College of Arts and Science All Careers Considered podcast, Nathan. To begin, you’ve had a great number of experiences in music therapy as a young professional, from working at the Music Therapy Intern at the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center to your current role at Hartford Healthcare. Nathan would you like to start us off by telling everybody about your current role as a rehab therapist at Hartford Healthcare?

Nathan: Yeah. So, at Hartford Healthcare, I run a few therapy groups a day as part of our rehab team. I’m part of a team of other creative arts therapists, dance movement therapists, art therapists, drama therapists. And I work with adults and teens who have mental health disorders and also substance abuse and addictions.

Ricardy: That’s awesome. And how exactly did you choose your field of study and what motivated you to pick the industry that you’re currently working in today?

Nathan: Actually, you know, music therapy kind of found me later on. I had actually wanted to be a pediatrician for a very long time. When I was still studying at IU, my first degree in psychology and I was, I also had a music minor. But I was doing the pre-med path the entire time and, you know, it wasn’t until age 25, where after taking the MCAT a couple of times, doing a post-baccalaureate pre-medical studies at IUPUI, doing a year of AmeriCorps, and, and all these other things that I had finally thought, maybe medicine isn’t it for me? I wanted to be, I didn’t have a passion for it I had once felt. And my brother-in-law shared this wonderful quote. He said, you should find a career where your greatest gifts meet the world’s greatest need. And once I thought about it in that term, one of my older sisters suggested music therapy for me knowing that I had a passion for music, I had already completed a psychology degree and I had a lot of the interest in working in a medical setting. So it just kinda worked out.

Ricardy: Yeah, totally. And how do you feel that your degree from the College has enhanced your career or influenced it so far?

Nathan: Oh a great deal. So, you know, in order to become a music therapist, you have to have a music therapy degree, or an equivalency. So I did have to go back to school and get another degree. But, I use so many lessons and knowledge from my Psychology degree in my current job to work in Psych. So it had been years, and I was like, well, thank God. This is the stuff that’s kind of ingrained in me now, where it’s just a matter of thinking back to those days. And you know, a lot of the skills that I picked up there, counseling and group counseling, group dynamics, and all the other psych, you know psychology terms and different psych, like children’s psychology, psychology of relationships and all that stuff really, really helped shape me into the clinician I eventually became.

Ricardy: Awesome. And as you know, our podcast, our theme is resilience. So in your own definition, in your own words, what does resilience mean to you and the work that you do?

Nathan: Ooh. Resilience, to me, it means tenacity, it means never giving up. But when I think of resilience, I think about the clients and the patients that I’ve worked with in the past. The ones that are courageous enough to say, hey, um, I need some help or hey, I have a problem and I, and I can’t I can’t work through it on my own. To me, that’s resilience. Admitting that and being able to move forward and work on things.

Ricardy: Definitely. And, throughout your journey, who or what was your biggest motivator that kept you going even when things got tough?

Nathan: Goodness! We could be here for an hour with that question. So many. Um, when I was at the College, when I was at IU, I was in this group called IU Soul Revue and, you know, it was a music group. But I feel like they also taught us a lot of lesson pertaining to life, and hard work, and excellence. At the time, I worked with Professor Malooly and Tyrone Cooper, Mara Prentiss Godean and Marlin McKay. Those four were very, very big motivators for me to just keep on, keeping on. And then when I went to St. Mary of the Woods, that’s where I got my music therapy degree, all the professors there, strong motivators as well. So quite a few, honestly, I could go on and on but I think the professors at the various stages of my journey.

Ricardy: That’s, that’s awesome. Our professors really support us throughout our goals and what we wanna do in the future.

Nathan: Also, a man, I’m not even sure if he’s still at IU, but Dan Woodside. He, he was associated with the Hudson Holland Scholars Program, cause that was the scholarship program I was doing when I was over there, but he was instrumental in my development. Encouraging me at every turn to know, at first, switching at first from biology to psychology knowing that I was interested in it, supporting me, always helping me learn things in new ways, yeah. Very big deal over there.

Ricardy: And right now with the recent pandemic going on, what advice would you give to current IU students to balance school, and just their futures with all the struggles they might be going through right now?

Nathan: I’m so impressed by all of you. I can’t imagine being in school during all this. I would say, you know, one day at a time. That’s really hard to do. Um, if you’re in college, you are actually working towards a goal and a, a specific future. So it’s very hard to stay and be mindful here and now. But with so much going on and all the stress, you know, taking it one day at a time, um, and engaging in that self-care, whatever that looks like for people. I think that it’s okay to say, Hey, I’m just not with it today, or I’m just not with it this week. Yeah. A little grace can go a long way.

Ricardy: Yeah. And speaking on self-care while you were a student at IU Bloomington what was your best way of relieving stress when you, to the stresses of maybe taking a test or all the studying that you had to do?

Nathan: Yeah. For me, I leaned very heavily on my friends. Um, I had some of the absolute best friends one could find, many of whom I’m still great friends with to this day. We would often eat meals together, we would stay up late or take a break from studying playing Smash Brothers or MarioCart, and uh other Wii games. Yeah, so you know, 2006 through 2010, so the Wii was still a big deal. Which is crazy cause yeah now we’ree on the Switch and PS5. But yeah, I leaned very heavily on them. We made every small moment an adventure. Going out to eat, driving, driving around town, you know. I wouldn’t have gotten through, if it weren’t for them, honestly.

Ricardy: Yeah, definitely, we definitely all need friends around us throughout college and just life in general. So back in 2014, you received the Fearless Freshman/New Student Award from St. Mary of the Woods College. How as a first year student did you develop those traits that you needed to succeed, and what advice do you have for IU students who may also be looking to gain the confidence they need, whether that be in the classroom or at work?

Nathan: You know, it’s funny, I forgot all about that award, but I remember being happy to have had been awarded it. Yeah. What a, you just took me back. I, I had in what we call an advantage because I had already been through school. So being back in school, I had four years ingrained in me of what worked and what didn’t. So, I did a lot better my second time around, you know. At IU Bloomington, I was scrapping, scrapping and trying my hardest but scrapping and barely graduated with a 3.0. At St. Mary of the Woods, with both my second bachelor’s and my master’s, I had a 3.95 GPA or higher. Yeah, I knew what I was doing this time around. Hard to pick up on it. You know, we all have different learning habits.

Ricardy: And what are the biggest changes you see in yourself from now then to when you were an undergraduate.

Nathan: Huh, it’s going to be an interesting answer. Admitting my weaknesses. Um, and really my weaknesses to people. Uh, I used to consider it strength when I would have problems or things going on and I would, uh, bottle it up. Not really share. If it wasn’t a nine out of ten or a ten out of ten, I was like, oh I don’t need to share. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that’s not really strength, it’s weakness. I think strength is really when we do admit those problems and we share them with others so that they can, they can help us out. And I’ve heard from my family, my friends, my wife, that it’s when those moments occur, when I share, Hey, this is what I’m struggling with, this is what I’m going through, when they feel most connected to me, when they feel like I’m being most authentic and then that they can support me best, um cause of honest, authentic communication through all, so, yeah.

Ricardy: That’s a great answer. Was ever any moment in your past that you wanted to quit, and why? But what gave you the motivation to keep going?

Nathan: Yes, countless times. I had wanted to quit in school. Many, many a times. And that happened with all the programs, you know. With the pre-med stuff, it was, I wanna quit because this is too hard. But the psychology stuff was, I wanna quit because it’s uh difficult to catch up on two years of schooling and still graduating on time. But music therapy, with those degrees, it was like, Oh I wanna quit because I’m used to being pretty good on one instrument, and suddenly I have to become good on multiples, and learn all these different skills. It’s very easy to want to, but that being said, very rarely was I actually going to take the steps to do it, you know. Uh, I think knowing what the end date of anything is, it always helps. You know, we can deal with a lot. Even all of you in college, you know, knowing that, hey, it’s stressful, but at the end of four years we’ll be done, you know, if you’re a freshman. And it was the same way with me for all of the schooling, knowing, hey, I’m super stressed out, this is not, but this is not forever, and I need to hang in there. Because it would not do me any good to quit, it really wouldn’t.

Ricardy: And what would you say has been your biggest teaching moment in your career so far?

Nathan: Um, biggest teaching moment that I received or that I gave?

Ricardy: Uh, either or.

Nathan: Oh, wow. Either way, wow, I don’t, I’m not sure I know. Um, I’m not sure if this is the biggest, but it’s the one that comes to mind. When you are studying or engaging with something that you love, you can’t miss. You can’t miss. You’ll, you’ll know, because, if you’re going through and you’re learning about things, you’re still stressed, you still have a lot of work, you’re so motivated because you’re interested. The amount of nights where I was like, I was like, ugh, so tired, I don’t want to work on my graduate thesis for my music therapy master’s, or like, ugh I’m so tired, you know, I don’t wanna, um, I’d much rather play video games than read about this chapter. But like you do though, when you’re interested in what you’re studying, you are self-motivating and it’s not learning for the purposes of a test, or the purposes of a quiz. You’re learning because you’re genuinely curious and it’s going to stick with you.

Ricardy: Yeah definitely. And how important do you believe joy is in the workplace? And do you believe students should seek joy as a top priority when job searching?

Nathan: Absolutely, oh man! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I’m so glad that question’s in there. Um, for the people that are listening, please, please. No amount of money. I’m telling you that. No amount of money is worth it, if you’re not happy or joyful in what you do. I promise you. This is why there are countless stories about executives and CEOs, the people making six figures that switch gears and do something a lot less, a lot less lucrative, like, uh you know, teaching or, or instructing at a small school or opening their own shop, or something like that. Uh, they may not be making as much money, but they’re finding themselves so much happier. It is. Yeah, please. If you’re listening, you know, if you need that courage to step into something that’s going to make you happy versus pay the bills, you know, you can do it, but you’ve gotta be happy. You gotta, you gotta find that joy.

Ricardy: Yes, I definitely agree with you. And final question, what is your favorite instrument and how hard was it for you to master it?

Nathan: Yes. So I play seven instruments now, though, that ranges from, uh, cello, which I’m absolutely terrible at from only taking one semester in college, and it’s, it’s, you know, I’m awful at it. And I could barely get through uh, playing very simple songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” all the way to trumpet, which I feel like I can play in my sleep. Trumpet is my first instrument, my first love, and to answer your question, my favorite. And, you know, I’ve been playing since I was 10. I definitely don’t play as much as I used to. In music therapy, primarily I use guitar and piano and my voice. Um, so most of the time when I’m playing trumpet it’s for different ensembles, which has been limited since the pandemic started. Um, but, um definitely trumpet. And uh, I don’t think I’ve mastered it, nor will I ever, but I always try to go towards mastery.

Ricardy: Definitely. Well, thank you so much Nathan. If students have any questions or want to keep up with the amazing ways you’re changing the world, how can they go about doing so?

Nathan: Yeah, uh, I have no problem with uh students reaching out. I think it’s wonderful, I think, and I think it’s wonderful, what you guys are doing. I think this is a great idea and a great resource. So yeah I have no problem with students ever reaching out, even if they’re not going to music therapy. Yoou know, I love supporting students through whatever they’re going through, um, so yeah, there we go.

Ricardy: Thank you so much! And Nathan is on the Walter Center Success Network so if any students want to reach out to him, he’s available to you guys. Thank you for your time today.

Nathan: Thank you.

By The Walter Center For Career Achievement
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