How Carla Dirlikov Canales Crushes 4+ Careers (Singer, Entrepreneur, Lecturer, Envoy)

by | May 12, 2023

Meet Carla Dirlikov Canales. She’s a multi-careerist based in the United States. We connected earlier this year when a mutual friend introduced us. Carla is an acclaimed singer and passionate about cultural diplomacy, something that resonates deeply with me. Carla’s journey is fascinating.

Carla’s Careers

  • Classical Singer
  • Cultural Entrepreneur; Founder & Director The Canales Project
  • Fellow at Harvard University; Senior Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • Guest Lecturer, Harvard University Center for Public Leadership 2023
  • Arts Envoy for the US State Dept
  • Senior Advisor & Envoy for Cultural Exchange at the National Endowment for the Arts

On her motivations for having many careers

I have a burning curiosity which drives me to learn new things, particularly related to how we communicate. This has fueled my interest in music as a tool for communication, in languages and linguistics, and in cultural diplomacy as well as policy.

On how long she’s had these careers

I’ve been a classical singer for 20 years, and have worked for the State Dept for 18 years. My time in academia started in 2021 as a Fellow at Harvard, and I’ve been leading an NGO which I founded, The Canales Project, since 2016. My most recent role at the NEA started earlier this year.

Advice to aspiring multi-careerists

Do it! There’s nothing to lose. If you find it’s too complicated or that something leaves you unsatisfied, you can just pivot or stop and try something else. There is no downside. The upside is that all you do will make you better at everything else you are doing!

On overcoming obstacles

There really are no setbacks other than managing the perception of others. Many people can’t wrap their minds around the idea of someone with multiple titles. It’s hard to put this in a box or category; hard to define. By default they may look at me as a dilettante. I work hard to prove myself rather than convince them of anything.

On how multiple careers are beneficial

Of course! My time as a singer informs what I want to

On personal time

I keep to a schedule and make it a priority to have time with my husband and my family and friends. That’s super important to me! I also build in time for creativity. It’s something I need: time to just think, read, go for a walk, write, and listen to music.


On what she wishes she had learned earlier

I wish I had invested in more business training early on. Many of the biggest tools I have which help me manage all I do I acquired later in life through the Harvard Business School Online offerings.

On what to read

I’ve definitely benefited from the Harvard Business School online courses. I’m a pretty avid reader, and use an Audible subscription. A tip that has been helpful to me is reading at 3x speed, which is possible on that platform.

On the stigma of having many careers

For sure, the stigma has to do with folks thinking that one person can’t pursue various interests at a high level. I don’t aim to change people’s perceptions, but just focus on the work and hope that I can provide an example that proves that wrong.

On what to share with others

I believe in taking the time to talk to folks. There’s no shortcut when it comes to getting to know people. Social media can be a great tool to share what I’m up to, but I always like spending time with folks, either on Zoom or in person, to share what I am passionate about.

On sublimating ego

I am lucky that my day job is creative. This year is the first time in my life that I’ve had a full-time day job, and I’m also balancing teaching and my other activities which the NEA is supportive of. It’s been a great fit!

A Day in the Life

  • 6:30 – Wake Up, read NYT, check out TikTok, Insta, Twitter
  • 7:30 – Coffee and writing docs/memos (I get my best writing done first thing!)
  • 8:30 – Walk my dog in the woods, often with my Italian friend which is a chance to practice another language
  • 9:30 to 4:30 – Varies, but usually meetings, Zooms, and time with NEA and Gov colleagues. Sometimes also in person meetings with Embassy folks and/or other artists
  • 5pm – Walk my dog in the woods again, often with another friend
  • 6 to 9 – Usually I have some kind of evening event, perhaps a concert, or a social dinner with friends, or a work related event such as an Embassy event or work dinner. I always try to go with my husband as we have the most fun together.
  • 10 – Bedtime

Where to find Carla


Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author.

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