My colleague Dana Putnam Fonteneau posted a blog a few weeks ago titled: “Your Career Is What you Create it to Be: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Graduated from Music School.” She has since turned this blog into a book.

You need to read her brilliant blog turned into book because I really feel like she nailed it. Here are the 5 items she listed.

1. Your career is what you make it to be.
2. Learn how to talk to people.
3. Surround yourself with people who make you grow.
4. Open up a savings account and learn how to use it.
5. Prioritize self-care.

Beyond offering wonderful advice to young musicians, this blog really spoke to me, particularly what Dana wrote about under category one.

Your career is what you make it to be!

The Plan When I Began College: To be a middle or high school band director.

The Reality:

I’m currently a professional performing flutist and teaching artist combining my love of performance with my love of teaching and integrating musicians wellness. And yes, I do mentor middle schoolers once a week for my symphony job and I do co-conduct an elementary and middle school orchestra for my symphony job. So I hit that one somewhat close. I love working with young people and at the same time I never want to give up playing and performing.

The Plan When I Finished Undergraduate Studies:

To further my studies to get a masters and or doctorate in music and land a college teaching job or full-time orchestra job.

The Reality:

After I graduated from college with degrees in Music Education and Flute Performance I decided to fly to Africa, and marry my college boyfriend who was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

So I graduated from Kent State University and within a week was on a flight to Europe and then Swaziland, Southern Africa for a year with my boyfriend and to start a job teaching High School English.

Fortunately before I left that spring, my wise flute teacher suggested I do my graduate school auditions before I fled for the African bush.

These auditions were quite an interesting experience given my plan to defer my graduate degree to go teach English in Swaziland.

I remember very clearly an interview I had with the admissions director of of a major music school. I remember him saying to me, “You are not a serious musician. Why are you wasting your time to go live in Africa, you clearly don’t care about your musical future.”

I left this interview in tears and had to go take my theory placement test and ear training test. The poor ear training professor ended up testing a crying mess of a student and all I remember is completely bombing my Neapolitan 6th chord identification. I left the audition day, completely defeated and wondering if I was making the worst decision of my life to go to Africa. Even so they sent me a letter a month later wait listing me for the following year provided I sent in a recording of my current level of playing.

Fortunately another audition went much better. And off I went to Africa with one acceptance and one waitlist not really knowing what the future would bring. But of course, do we ever?

Reading Dana’s blog triggered this experience for me because I really internalized what this admission director said to me when he accused me of not being a serious musician.

So when I read the following quote from Dana’s blog:
“If you do something non music related it means you’re not a SERIOUS musician.” To that I say BULL SHIT.”

And my first reaction on reading her blog was ABSOLUTELY BULLSHIT!

The year in Africa was one of the most challenging and enriching years of my life. I got to experience what life was like living in a remote rural area, we went without running water for weeks at a time, we often didn’t have electricity. And there I was teaching English grammar, spelling and literature to high school students, some of whom were older than I was. Freshman and sophomores in Africa read Shakespeare just like they do in the United States. And they had to read the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe who I was introduced to for the first time. I loved teaching this literature class and teaching in general. The students were wonderful and had challenges and joys that I couldn’t even possibly imagine before this experience. I married my boyfriend and we spent the year traveling all over South Africa, Lesotho, and Namibia during our school breaks. To this day the year in Africa was one of the best experiences of my life and has given me a reference point of perspective to everything I’ve done since and 24 years later we are still married.

While in Africa I had to opportunity to play in the pit orchestra for a Gilbert and Sullivan production in Mbabane, Swaziland. I had to take a bus and hitchhike a couple of hours to do it. (my first “freeway” philharmonic job so to speak). When I relocated to the Bay Area from Central Ohio 16 years ago, I put all of the performing experience I could think of on my resume and sent my resume to personnel managers in the area. Image my surprise when one of the first gigs I got a call for was from Lamplighter’s to sub in a Gilbert and Sullivan production.

So the real reality post Africa was I ended up getting a Master’s and Doctorate in Music, licensing to be an Andover Educator and teaching on the college level for 5 years flute, chamber music and ear training, and performing in the Ashland Symphony and the Wheeling Symphony. Then after moving to the Bay Area of California I entered an Alexander Technique Teacher Training program. I have combined all of these interests including my first degree in Music Education to my last credential in Alexander Technique to become the musician and teaching artist I am today. So now my current day to day life is spent practicing my flute and piccolo, freelancing throughout the Bay Area and beyond, teaching Body Mapping and Alexander Technique all over the world and mentoring musicians of all levels: beginners and intermediate flutists through the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Music for Excellence program; and incredibly high level professional musicians through Andover Educators’ Teacher Training Program and my private Alexander practice in San Francisco and Orinda. My career is what I’ve made it to be and one man’s opinion 24 years ago when he told me I wasn’t a serious musician was obviously wrong.