The Quest for a Niche

If one reads through my “About” page (an action I would highly recommend), they will read the following line: “I am an eighteen-year-old college student primarily studying hospitality management, although I love learning about basically anything and everything.”

Now, I am not about to tell you all that I have been lying all this time. (I feel guilt far too easily to pull such an action off.) What is of interest about the sentence to me, though, is my study of the hospitality industry, and of hotels specifically.

I have never felt fully secure in my decision to focus on hospitality management as my area of study, and this fact is one of the reasons why I am currently attending community college. Over the course of the past year, I believe that my confidence in my choice has ebbed and flowed; recently, my certitude has likely peaked, and then rapidly decreased. Consequently, I feel the need to review and reflect on my thoughts on my future educational and career path.

It is a bit odd for someone of my personality type to pursue a career in hospitality management; there is really no way around this conclusion. According to the “Lodging Manager” occupation article in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and under the section entitled “How to Become a Lodging Manager” specifically, some of the most important skills of these professionals are stated. These skills include “Customer-service skills,” “Interpersonal skills,” and “Problem-solving skills,” as highlighted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To be honest, I think that I have been trying to convince myself that I possess these kinds of skills, rather than actually proving my competency. I do strongly believe that I have the organizational abilities and determination to do well, but I also cannot deny the fact that I am quite introverted. In fact, confrontation and being required to think on-the-spot are situations that I avoid as much as possible, even though they are prominent in the industry I so admire. When combined with my craving for solitude and ability to be easily intimidated & overwhelmed, my potential to be effective as a future lodging manager is certainly questionable.

Insecurities have not halted my fascination with the hospitality industry, though; conducting research, learning about how data is analyzed, and even being able to interview members of the industry have particularly held my interest. Furthermore, my growing love of writing, partially from embracing my ability to write independently, is now a concept that keeps me engaged with my potential future in the industry.

Nevertheless, admittedly, I have felt fairly insecure in my hospitality classes, as in-class work and discussions demonstrate exactly why self-doubt is hard for me to shake off. As the hospitality industry is so heavily invested in communicating with others, naturally, discussions and group work are utilized quite often. In my various class sizes, participating in these discussions has largely been greatly intimidating to me.

Perhaps the often higher age range of my classmates (and their corresponding background experience) is to blame, or the issue may just be my naïveté in regards to the material, as essentially no high school classes prepared me for these hospitality-related courses. Whatever the cause is, I often feel insecure in these class discussions, and talking without hesitation in front of the class is rare for me; in fact, I feel most comfortable talking to my classmates when I have done much prior research on the specific topic (such as during presentations and when we are discussing already-completed assignments). Of course, I am a “make it work” kind of person, so I do my absolute best to not let any situation get the best of me, but I must note that I often feel more compelled to participate in class discussions within my other courses. But for my hospitality classmates, their overlying ability to conversationally, but intelligently, talk about the industry is easily sensed.

A couple of months ago, I actually had a legitimate “wet feet” moment while selecting classes for the upcoming semesters. At the time, it became apparent that I needed to bring my focus academically to hospitality management courses (I had been taking mostly general education requirements prior), and that realization, which I had been avoiding to a certain extent, struck me. I had genuinely enjoyed all of my general education courses, and restricting myself to mainly hospitality classes without exploring other areas I am interested in to a further extent, such as English, journalism, and political science, seemed to threaten my intellectual curiosity. A few days later, I met with my advisor (and hospitality management professor, whom I had enjoyed classes with already), and I was given much encouragement after voicing my insecurities. Discussing my value as a student, even in the hospitality field, and my desire to combine my budding love of writing with the hotel industry relieved some of my stress. Consequently, I ended up filling the next semesters with almost entirely hospitality classes.

Currently, I am taking one of those hospitality-related courses. I have found the focus of the course to be fascinating and a useful challenge for me, but I once again feel a bit out of place. There are some external factors to these feelings, such as the fact that most of my fellow students are focusing on the course’s subject for their degree, and thus already have much background knowledge, but regardless, I feel worried about my overall selection of an area of study. One day, I go into this class feeling confident and well-prepared, as I had worked for hours on my large project the day before. The next class meeting, though, I feel incompetent, and as if I am putting ten times the amount of effort into every decision I make than my classmates seem to need, which only leads me to having to revise my work. Once again, I am determined to do my absolute best in the end, as I am already an avid question-asker and validation-seeker, but my lack of instinct bothers me.

In my most recent class meeting, I really had a moment in which I felt as though my major might not be instinctual for me, and I realized later on in the class that my mindset and thought processes toward the hospitality industry are simply different than those of others.

While hearing about the ease with which my classmates contacted those in the industry, and were even able criticize the quality of facilities in an unbiased way, I became upset at myself for not being able to do the same. Furthermore, when discussing in small groups, and then as a class, about why certain decisions are made in the industry, my different mindset was clear. While others were able to immediately (and correctly) think about liabilities and costs, I was more inclined to think about the psychological associations between guests and staff members.

Such a different thought process worries me quite a bit. Acknowledging the multitude of mindsets people are able to offer can bring about different, but all-important, perspectives on situations; within these business-related classes, though, there is often one specific answer that is desired. Consequently, when other ideas are brought up, they typically are simply rejected. Once I noticed this trend semesters ago, my hesitation toward speaking up increased even more.

All the while, I have held the notion that my different personality and thought processes are what will lead me to being successful and creating the kind of career I want. There are so many extroverts who are able to recognize certain trends in the hospitality industry, so why not hire someone like me, who can potentially bring a unique perspective, skill set, and energy to a company? Furthermore, by being an introvert who finds solace in writing out personal experiences, will being a participant in this industry that I still love not be a great opportunity to help my fellow hotel-loving introverts make a mark on the area of work? Can blogging and books be a part of the plan as well?

The issue, though, is that I must deal with being the lone one out until I become competent & experienced and/or am able to create a niche for myself to feel more comfortable in. Therefore, should I wait (while pushing myself to adapt to the rather unique requirements of my hospitality classes) until I am able to properly sense my development, or should I instead just find something more geared toward how I think in the first place?

In other words, will my current bouts of discomfort help me reach my full potential, or will I become most successful within a sector I already feel somewhat comfortable in, even as an amateur?

Quite frankly, I often fall in love (at least a little bit) with subjects and areas of study that I dabble in, but I still love the hospitality industry as a whole and its potential, along with the analytical & rhetorical aspects of hotels specifically. And as mentioned before, I believe I can take what challenges me as a student and incorporate this work with what I already love (writing, creating analyses, etc.) and develop an appropriate career path for the person I am and hope to become.


Usually, I hope to end these sorts of posts with a potential answer, in addition to some questions for my readers. This time around, I do not feel as though I have a proper conclusion, other than a statement regarding my determination to use my interests as motivation to reach my goals in my endeavors, but I still would love some feedback from you all regarding the questions scattered throughout this blog post.

So, have you ever felt uncomfortable in your academic and career path? Is it best to stick it out, or to instead select another path that is still challenging, but perhaps is comfortable and well-suited personality-wise? Please let me know your perspective.

-Stephanie

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