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  • Writer's pictureDana Kent

Why Focusing on Purpose is More Important Than Following Shoulds

Updated: Dec 19, 2023


Martha "Music Lady" Bucklin Teaching Music 1920

Allow me to introduce you to my extraordinary great-grandmother, Martha McCain Bucklin, fondly remembered in the heart of Vermont as "The Music Lady." Although the origin of her name adorning a hiking trail connecting to the Long Trail may remain a mystery, her steadfast commitment to her purpose shines crystal clear. Martha's life story stands as a timeless reminder of the significance of embracing our true calling, even amidst the chorus of societal expectations. All too often, we find ourselves straying from our purpose, constructing our lives with the bricks of societal norms and others' desires. These "shoulds" can subtly influence our relationships, educational choices, career paths, and even our friendships. This month, let's engage in a conversation about the art of listening to our inner voice and embracing a life of purpose, rather than one dictated by "shoulds."


My great-grandmother was undoubtedly a woman ahead of her time. An independent Scotswoman hailing from Chicago, she earned her teaching degree at the Chicago Teaching College, specializing in child and adolescent psychology. She dedicated 15 years of her life to teaching music in rural Vermont schools, without financial compensation. In 1918, tragedy struck as she found herself widowed with two young children. Undoubtedly voices may have suggested she should remarry for the sake of her children, but Martha embarked on an extraordinary journey instead. She traveled overseas with her children, navigating the limited transportation means of the era — boats, slow steam trains, and even camels.

While the exact purpose of these travels remains a mystery, they undoubtedly shaped her determination and devotion upon her return to the United States. In 1920, she leveraged her education to bring the joy of music to Vermont's rural children, who lacked access to musical instruments. Over four years, with unwavering determination, she laid the foundation for the Vermont All State Music Festival. A handwritten scorecard from those early days reflects her immense pride. This idea sprouted during a boys' basketball game in Rutland, VT, where she likely faced resistance and doubters. She also played a pivotal role in establishing the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Both the VSO and the Festival endure nearly a century later.


Martha's pursuit of purpose didn't end when she handed over the state festival to the Vermont Headmasters Association. In fact, her passion for making music accessible to rural Vermont children led her to start her own radio show post-WW2, aiming to reach homes across the state.

Her radio show, "The Music Lady," quickly gained popularity, with countless letters pouring in from children in Rutland. She continued to follow her purpose as a single mother and grandmother, providing care for my mother and her brothers when my grandmother tragically passed away at a young age from cancer.


I often reflect on my great-grandmother's life, wishing I could ask her questions like, "How did you remain true to yourself?" and "What pressures did you face from others?" Her handwritten notes, photos, and newspaper stories offer glimpses into her mindset, but her unwavering belief in her purpose speaks volumes. When I look at her picture, I see a woman who never wavered in her commitment to bring music to young children. She believed that music and song had the power to unite the world.


Fast forward to almost two years ago, in the spring of 2022. I found myself in a new relationship with a the most incredible man Kevin McMillion whose incredibly talented and magical daughter Annie was performing in the 98th Vermont All State Music Festival. It was then that I learned of Martha's profound influence on Vermont children's music. This serendipitous moment and many since that day, as I returned home to Vermont after 26 years in the West, may not have been possible if she hadn't followed her purpose. What if she had succumbed to societal pressures? This moment made me question my own purpose.


More than a century after this photo was taken of her behind the piano, I am deeply inspired by her dedication to her purpose, feeling a sense of obligation to honor her legacy. As we engage in open conversations, let's also consider taking action. I pose a question to all of you: "If you knew that your actions today could impact your future self a century from now, what choices would you make? Are you following your purpose, or are you unknowingly following a path paved with 'shoulds'?"


Let's continue this immportant conversation.

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