PHOTOS BY CHARLENE MANN PHOTOGRAPHY
We all know, there’s a story behind every beautiful face and sometimes people endure trauma which would break others. Only the strong survive! Those of us who find the strength to rise above, find a way to use the experiences we survived to be our driving force to success and as a foundation to help others. Karen Mungenast is an inspiring woman, who rose above the darkness she experienced and is a woman on the top of her game. She has it all. She is a successful travelling Information Technology (IT) executive. She’s a mom. She’s a survivor.
Karen prides her accomplishment of raising two successful daughters who became a school teacher and a physician’s assistant. Being a successful parent is often challenging when you endured abuse in your own childhood. Karen was abused sexually from the ages of 5-16. She describes her life at that time as “similar to being in a concentration camp”. On the outside, her family was a successful entrepreneurial family. Behind closed doors, there was something else going on.
Karen says, “I thank the good Lord my largest obstacles came when I was very young because that gave me the chance to work on it, grow my character and make it a positive. I finally gained the courage to speak out and seek help. I was frightened as I did not know what would happen to me next. I thought I might be killed, but I was protected and was forever set free. Every day, I thank the good Lord for my freedom. God is my best friend. He helps me through each day with strength and guidance. He never lets me down as he knows what is best for me”.
While growing up Karen always wanted to be a successful businesswoman. She climbed the ranks and was the Regional CFO for Verizon Upstate New York at age 40. Karen enjoys her current position as a national and sometimes international, travelling IT executive. She is blessed to travel and experience cities she often dreamed about. She loves managing Fortune 500 premier clients. She finds her work exhilarating as it “pushes her to her max”. Most enjoyable, is the ability of being exposed to bright clients who expect excellence from her, and her team and she is delighted to provide it. Most challenging, is learning to develop skills such as being organized, packing all the time, finding ways to still incorporate her faith when travelling and saving time for family and friends. Oh yeah, don’t forget physical strength is important for running through airports on a regular basis and managing the three computers!
Karen reflects saying, “I worked in my parents’ businesses since age 9. It was very difficult working every weekend and not being able to hang out with my friends. However, these sacrifices kept me out of trouble and away from the drug and alcohol scene. In my free time I rode my standard bred horse Golden John, a 16 hand chestnut beauty. I learned what real work commitment was early in my life. This is the foundation of why I can handle insurmountable challenges”.
Karen shares, “I love my career and I love my family. I must always use balance. I’ve gotten better at saying no, with age. This my friends, is true liberation! I set my priorities and I stand by them. I plan to keep contributing fiercely. There is no taming this lioness. For me, life is a journey. As long as I have an expectation on myself to keep contributing at a significant level, the rest falls into place. I always aim high and I make it happen”.
Karen’s career transition a few years back was a huge accomplishment. She went from being a Financial CFO to leading multi-million dollar, international IT (Information Technology) programs as a travelling executive. This brought a whole new aspect of responsibility, learning and a large level of commitment to take her international team to the next level. These roles in many companies are staffed by men. Karen broke the glass ceiling and excelled, leading her company to great new heights. She is very proud and wants others to know that they too can change their entire career and achieve the unimaginable.
One of the most favorite memories Karen has during her career was the ability to live outside of London across from Windsor Castle. She lived here for three years in an elite gated community. She recalls pinching herself daily to be able to live there and work every day. She remembers running on the Queen’s Long Walk in the Great Park. Her girls played in the Queen Mum’s garden. Remarkably, on weekends, the family travelled to a dozen or so additional European countries.
Karen treasures her relationships with friends and family. When asked who the most significant persons are in her life outside of her relationship with God, she says, “My two daughters, Danielle and Rachel, two Marks and my grandson Jax”. Her brother Mark was her lifeline and confidante during her childhood. Her significant other, also a Mark, is her biggest cheerleader and advocate. Karen indicates she gets hope from her grandson Jax for our world’s future.
Karen also enjoys being a philanthropist. She takes this role outside of her employment on a personal level. She supports many charities including Bivona Child Advocacy, Trillium (AIDS), Alzheimer’s Association, Just Breathe (Cystic Fibrosis), the Rochester City Ballet, Center for Youth and Make a Wish Foundation. These charities touch Karen’s heart, as they are about helping “the kids” and all ages, genders and walks of life. She truly enjoys supporting her community and giving back as a whole. Karen also helps the unemployed by offering job coaching skills on finding employment. She does not charge for these services. Attending church as stated, is the foundation in Karen’s life. She loves singing her heart out with her worship team.
She chuckles, “I don’t have a great voice, but God does not care! I am a survivor. I turned negative into positive. God is number one. The rest is all the rest. I know I have great empathy for people. I love people. I understand all people are fighting their own battles and demons. I try not to be judgmental. I leave that up to God to sort out.”
Karen has another side than being just the serious business-minded executive.
For those who know her personally, she is known for a signature pose when sharing pictures on social media. Her “signature “ leg pose. Karen shares, she always had a love for fashion. Signature Hollywood beauties like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe were inspiring while growing up. Karen shares. “My mother blessed me with stunning legs so why not show case them? Plus it’s kind of a whimsical pose, why not live your inner child forever?”
Karen also points out saying, “Exercise and a healthy diet are critical. In order to sustain long work hours, challenging work situations, and horrendous travel schedules, one must be fit in mind, body and spirit. Exercise is a natural drug. Working out every day is like brushing my teeth”.
In closing, RWO asked Karen what advice she has for our readers stating, “Set those goals and dreams! It may all sound overwhelming in the beginning, but if you create goals that are achievable, step-by-step, if you follow your plan, before you know it you made your life-long goal, then keep going! The saying, “Fake it until you make it” is a great philosophy. In my lifetime, I hear people say, “I cannot do this or that as I never did it before”. Have confidence in what you can do. Try new things. Do not be afraid. Have faith in the power and influence you hold. Don’t allow defeat to win, before you get started. A few other quotes I love are, “Persistence pays off” and “Attitude equals altitude”. Stay relevant by continuously learning and reinventing yourself. All of these things equal a successful career and life that is sustainable. My personal last quote is “Get rid of toxic people”.