In 1985, I decided that it was finally time to get a college education. I was 21 and had already been in the culinary business for five years. To date, I had experience working in restaurants, hotels, and on a privately-owned yacht. Up until then, I had not done well throughout my secondary school experience in England. I chose to leave school at 16 to work in a job I actually enjoyed, all while getting paid.
At the time, the idea of college was daunting for me. Looking back now, I have to say that my college experience was amazing! I had great professors and met several life-long friends while queuing up for registration. These were the pre-internet and computer days, after all!
Going back to school to get my degree was the right decision for me. I worked hard and graduated in three years with my undergrad degree (something that is difficult to do nowadays), and I choose to continue onto graduate school. At the time, I loved linguistics and all things international, so I decided to get a graduate degree in International Studies. When I graduated in 1991, I knew it was time to go out into the real world, make some money, and live happily ever after. But don’t be fooled: I had trouble finding a job in my desired field. I eventually fell back on what I loved to do—hospitality.
Eventually, after 27 years in the hospitality industry, I started to wonder what else there was for me to do. I wanted to “give back” and use my experience to help the next generation of those entering the workforce. Because I had a graduate degree, I was able to teach some college level courses at the local community college, which is another benefit to going to grad school. Teaching made me decide to go back to school. I took 18 graduate hours in hospitality and tourism at the University of Central Florida, and eventually, I was able to teach at UCF. This experience led me to apply to UCF’s PhD program in Hospitality Management. I am now in my third year as a PhD student and plan (not hope) to graduate in 2019.
Moral of the Story: Don’t give up on your dreams! Perhaps many of you who are still in school are having similar troubles to what I went through. You might be questioning your degree program, or worrying that you won’t be guaranteed a job once you finish.
My advice is to stay calm. At the end of the day, everything will work itself out. As the great Steve Jobs once said during a 2005 commencement address, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
If you feel like you’re at a crossroads with your education, just know that you will one day look back and be able to connect those dots. Someday, you will know that you made the right decision to not only stay in school but to finish school. If that means you get an undergraduate degree, that is great. If that means you go straight to grad school, even better! I am sure many of you will agree that life is never a straight line, so expect the unexpected. Expect that your goals will take a little longer to accomplish, and be proud when you finally see them through.
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