It is early in the morning, and I am wondering, as I often do—how did I get here? This goes back to an earlier and very important question—why am I here? It is this common question that has been my guide, leading me through the twists and turns of my early career in music and social services, and one, I hope, that will not cease to bring me into a future full of the unexpected!
My identity as a musician was established at an early age. Whatever musical opportunity was presented to me, I accepted and dove in deeply. Singing and playing the piano, the flute, and the oboe were all praised and recognized by friends, teachers and family. By the time I was ready to choose a major in college, there was no doubt in my mind that I would become a musician. I considered nothing else! A Bachelors Degree in music led to a Masters Degree, and the Masters Degree then led to a Doctoral Degree.
About two years into my DMA at Stony Brook, I started to notice a nagging feeling. The feeling said to me that maybe I didn’t really want to be an orchestra musician and teach at a college, like I had been telling myself and everyone else for the last eight years. It pointed out that what I really cared about was people. And what was I going to do about it? I felt helpless. What was I supposed to do—start all over with a new major in Social Work? That was not going to happen. I was ready to be done with school. Besides, I still loved playing music. I didn’t want to give it up! The problem was this feeling, intruding on my carefully thought-out plans.
I made a new plan. I would do more music teaching, which I loved, but I would also volunteer once a week with New York Cares. I thought that would satisfy my urge to serve others and help me focus on my performance career. Not so. The more I worked with people, the more I wanted to do it. I increased my volunteering and started to think about getting involved in a non-profit social service organization. I decided that the best way for a person with a doctorate in music to gain practical experience in a non-profit was to join Americorps, the national and community service organization. It was easier said than done. For months, I applied to positions on the Americorps website and didn’t hear a word. Although I had faced rejection before, I still wondered if everything would work out in the end.
Eventually I was accepted into the New York City Civic Corps and spent a great year working for the Department of Parks and Recreation for the program Shape Up NYC, coordinating free exercise classes in low-income neighborhoods New York City. When my term was over, I had gained valuable management, administrative, and organizational skills, and I felt I was finally ready to realize my dream of working in a non-profit social service organization. Even with all the working, teaching, and volunteering experience I had accumulated, it still took four months of steady searching to find a position that was the right fit.
As Assistant Director of Arts and Education for the Center at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, I design and manage 60-70 weekly arts and education programs for older adults, while working with a great team of co-directors to run the daily operations of the Center. I teach, manage conflicts, supervise interns, submit reports, and essentially do whatever needs to be done to keep the Center running in the best possible way. My job is an incredible combination of teamwork, independence, creativity, teaching, and direct service.
I achieved my dream! Or did I? Certainly I have work that I consider very meaningful—each day I help people have better, more fulfilling lives. Artistically, I have some great projects going, so I haven’t given up the music that I love either. But I’ve also learned that when you have a dream, you never ever get to the bottom of that dream. There’s always another challenge in front of you, always something more you can learn, always some way you could improve or build on what you’ve begun. Not getting to the bottom of it is the greatest challenge and the greatest promise of a life-focused career.
Maybe you want to make a difference but don’t know how.
I offer these simple suggestions for use wherever you are, whatever you’re working on.
- Make a Plan. What can you do today to move toward your goal?
- Never Give Up.Rejection and failure are important parts of the growth process!
- Be Flexible, and Keep Growing.Adapt to your circumstances—opportunities wait in unexpected places.
- Enjoy Today. Nothing will ever be perfect, including your dream job, so practice positive thinking for the here and now.
— Karisa Antonio ’09
Karisa Antonio is an oboist, teacher, program manager, and career development specialist. Her education includes a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from Stony Brook University, a Master of Music degree from Yale University, a Bachelor of Music degree from Grand Valley State University, and Career Development training from the National Career Development Association and the American Management Association. Her current position as Assistant Director, Arts and Education, at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House is a culmination of her experience thus far; she teaches music and exercise courses, programs arts and education activities, and manages teaching staff, interns, and volunteers. Karisa also performs with orchestras and chamber music groups in the New York Metro Area as well as offers workshops and individual career consultations.
Making educated career decisions can be difficult at any stage of career development. The ASK (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) Blog is intended for Stony Brook University students and alumni to learn career knowledge and get advice from experienced alumni, working in various career fields, about lessons learned from their career experiences.