Hospitality students like to ask me for advice—strange, because I’m not in the field; I just write about it. Here’s what I tell them.
It’s always fun and eye-opening for me to chat with hospitality students, and I meet a lot of them at various conferences and hotel events. Often they ask me for advice, which is always a little disarming, considering that I’m not actually in the hotel industry—I just write about it.
Last month I spent time at the South America Hotel Investment Conference with two senior hospitality students who study at Boston University. It was so refreshing to see both young women networking with brand executives, getting excited about job prospects and so open to what the next few years might bring. They had both done internships all over the place, had seen different companies and countries, and were eager to see where they might end up, career-wise. They were both so smart and poised and able to carry on intelligent conversations with people from all over the industry and the world.
Spending time with students like that always makes me wish I had known more about hospitality degrees when I was in college—what a fun way to see the world and try so many different kinds of jobs! I would have been all over that.
We were at dinner one evening and the topic of women in hospitality careers came up, because they observed they didn’t see many women at all on the speaker agendas of big conferences. They were a little confused, because in their university setting they see lots of diversity around the classrooms and in instructors and guest speakers, but they don’t necessarily see that reflected on the main stage at any big hotel conference. I told them that’s the norm—there aren’t many female CEOs in the hotel industry, but the landscape slowly is changing.
They were very aware that our industry doesn’t necessarily look at the top the way it looks throughout the ranks. We talked about whether the hospitality industry in particular is tougher for women to rise up in, not because of ability, but because of the time commitment it might take to devote to a 24-7 career like hospitality, that often means moving around a lot, when women often still are the primary childcare providers (sorry guys, it’s true).
The conversation turned to work-life balance in hospitality, for women in particular.
These two women talked about being concerned that in hospitality, they wouldn’t be able to “have it all,” meaning have a CEO-level career and have a family and kids.
The conversation made me think a lot about that “having it all” idea. And how much I dislike it. I hate, in fact, that people (especially young women) still think they need to “have it all,” and feel pressured by others, or pressure themselves, to do so.
It has to be worse today, in our social media-driven age, when other people are so bent on always showing that indeed they do have it all, and can do it all—no matter how much Photoshopping went on to make it look that way.
These women were surprised, I think, to hear me debunk the “having it all” theory and tell them that I don’t know anyone my age and at my career point—woman or man—who even wants to have it all.
It’s not about having it all (whatever “it” even means), at all. It’s about having the freedom, power, skills and ability to choose what you want to have, when it works for you. I told them those things will change throughout your life. You want different things in your 20s than you may want in your 30s or 40s or 60s.
I was surprised, to be honest, that people that young were concerned about having it all. Maybe a message to perpetuate that’s the ol’ social media influence at work again, who knows? Regardless, it’s a bad message to send. Think about the most interesting people you know: Did they “have it all” when they were 25? Do they even “have it all” now? And what’s “it,” anyway?
My advice to them was simple and it’s the same thing I tell anyone who is ridiculous enough to ask for my advice at all: Travel. Live in other places—don’t just visit. See that there’s a world that looks different from the people around you on your university campus. Learn how to interact with people from all locations, backgrounds and ages, and do it with kindness and the mindset of always learning more.
Time will tell, but at this point I’m pretty sure that’s the only “it” that really matters.
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