“Give Your Gifts, Even Imperfectly”
I’m officially coming out of the closet! Here goes. I, Barry Vissell, besides being a counselor, author, doctor, and workshop leader, am also a musician!
There, that wasn’t so hard.
So what makes me hesitate to announce this beautiful, musical part of me? It’s quite simple: I don’t feel good enough. Even though many people love my singing voice, and I really enjoy singing, there is still a part of me that compares my voice to what I judge as better voices.
I accompany myself on the harmonium, an East Indian keyboard instrument that sounds a bit like an accordion. Again, a part of me compares my playing to more accomplished keyboard artists, even though many people love the simple way I play.
And then there are the songs I write. Nothing fancy. Just what I consider heart-felt messages of love and spirituality. And yes again, people love my songs. And the most important person who is my greatest fan is Joyce. So why is there still a part of me that compares my songs to the elaborate and polished songs of “professional” musicians?
It’s all about not feeling good enough. I have a gift to give, but it’s far from perfect. So I hesitate to give it.
Joyce and I have written eight books and are working on two more. Are they perfect? Absolutely not! Are we polished and professional writers? No. Did we take even one writing course? Again, no. I’ll never forget trying to publish our first book, The Shared Heart. We got rejected by about thirty publishers. Obviously, the message was that our book was not good enough. We felt like giving up. Someone suggested self-publishing. We bought Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual. Aside from the great technical advice in that book, two quotes really helped us. The first compared commercial publishers to birthing a child and then having someone else raise it. And the second went something like this: “There are three kinds of people in this world. There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and the third who wonder what happened.”
Those two quotes motivated us to self-publish The Shared Heart in 1984, to give our gift and not be stopped by feelings of not good enough. Still, we had a moment of panic when we sent the first batch of books to reviewers. Then a few days of fear as we waited for the reactions. Finally, a small padded envelope arrived at our mailbox. Inside was a cassette tape, which we hesitatingly inserted into a player. We had no idea what to expect. After a few moments of tense silence, during which both of us were holding our breath, there was the sound of a man crying. Mystified, we listened intently as the crying continued for several minutes. Then the crying stopped and he said, “This is the most beautiful book I have ever read,” and then he began crying again.
To this day, that first response to our first book has been the most important validation of our writing. We couldn’t have gotten any better feedback. The Shared Heart went on to become a best seller, inspiring and helping so many people. And to think, we almost didn’t give this gift to the world because we felt it wasn’t good enough.
One more personal example. Although, after medical school, I primarily studied psychiatry and psychotherapy, I still worked many years as a medical doctor. I saw patients at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Santa Clara, then at the Santa Cruz County Health Center. I kept receiving inner guidance for a deeper gift I wanted to give, to work with people’s souls instead of their bodies. On one of our spiritual pilgrimages to Mount Shasta, my dissatisfaction with my medical job became unbearable and, when I returned home, I quit my job. I felt so happy and relieved, although a bit worried about making enough money to support our growing family.
The physician in charge of the Santa Cruz County Health Center told me he needed a doctor to be the director of the Watsonville Health Center. He offered me a raise in salary, and the freedom to run the clinic any way I chose. I fell for the bait. I took the job, excited about the possibility of having meaningful staff meetings. Watsonville, however, although part of Santa Cruz County, was, especially in the early 1980’s, practically like being in Mexico. The clinic staff was much more interested in preparing tamales than sharing their feelings. I lasted two years before burning out once more and then quitting.
I felt ready to focus all my energy on the real gift I came to earth to give, my purpose in life, working with individuals, couples and groups on a soul-to-soul level, rather than just their bodies.
But yet again, I yielded to temptation. Out of the blue, Jerry, the medical director of the University of California at Santa Cruz, offered me a job in the health center taking care of the college students. If I could have picked the best medical doctor job, it would have been that one. I accepted. I worked there for several years. But alas, it was still medicine, and I was still not living my purpose. The benefits were great. The salary was great. But I became more and more unhappy.
Then came divine intervention! Jerry called me into his office. We had a great relationship. He said, “Barry, I’m going to free you up to do the work you really want to do. I’m letting you go.” Then he added sadly, “I wish there was someone who could do the same for me. I would love to pursue a career in music, rather than directing this health center. But I don’t seem to have the courage to fire myself.”
Jerry and I hugged and shared some tears. I left knowing I would never again work in the medical field. Together with Joyce, we began in earnest to share our deeper gifts with the world, the work we still do today.
About a month later, I was notified that Jerry had a massive heart attack and was found dead in his office. His death has always served as a reminder of how vitally important it is to pursue your dreams, to go for your higher purpose, and give your gifts to life, no matter how imperfect they may be, or how inadequate you may feel.
I’d like to quote part of one of my recent songs:
“Why am I here?
What gift can I give?
Can my path be clear,
Guiding how I live?
Why am I here?
Is there more than strife?
I’ll move beyond fear,
To a fulfilling life.”