Back to School

Over the holidays, after a serious discussion with my wife, I decided it was time to go back to school. After finishing high school, I went to The University of Tennessee at Knoxville to study Journalism and Electronic Media. At the time, there were so many things going on with our economy, the Internet and the evolution of citizen journalism that the media industry was headed for big change.

When I was in high school and college, I had a love for technology (which I still do today) and I focused on starting a career with a now-defunct cable television network called TechTV (originally ZDTV). The network married exactly what I loved doing: exploring new technology, sharing stories and broadcasting information.

In middle school and high school, I was quite a geek. At home I had an “office” outfitted with multiple computers, a television, a big VHS-camcorder, a “Hi 8” camcorder and containers of random cables, components and connectors. I loved every aspect of what I was doing. I loved the technical part involving switchers and sound boards and cables and VCRs. I loved the idea of creating scripts which I read through my homemade teleprompter. I even loved editing the footage to include realistic “lower third” graphics and background music.

Looking back, the whole theatre of producing was more important than the content I was creating. Sure, very few people would see the videos later uploaded to YouTube, and it was unlikely anyone would find my VHS collection of computer “how to videos,” but with each new project I completed, I was another step closer towards imitating what I was seeing on the television. This education of trial and error brought me joy and at sometimes frustration.

Through my endeavors, I found myself appearing on ZDTV/TechTV to ask questions about hard drives and CD-ROMs. During this evolution of webcams and how they were used by cable television, I even made a few appearances on MSNBC. One of the most memorable was when I was 13 and speaking about the antitrust suit against Microsoft when Jon Gibson ended my segment by saying, “I’m reminded of Art Linkletter who said, ‘kids say the darnedest things.'”

Those are memories that I will have forever and part of the reason that I became so interested in journalism, television and digital media.

So why didn’t I stick with it? It came down to one thing: money.

I watched several upperclassmen graduate and start their careers as journalists. They would publish stories above the fold in city papers and investigate some truly interesting topics and stories, but at the end of the day their paycheck just didn’t seem like enough to me.

Call me materialistic, call me focused on the wrong thing, but what I wanted out of my career wasn’t strictly to follow my passion or to find a way to keep up with the Joneses, I wanted something that I could do that would provide financial security, upward mobility and the opportunity to work in different places.

Ultimately, and serendipitously, I found this with my first “real” job: working in a hotel for one of the greatest hotel companies in the world.

Looking back on my decision to quit journalism school, I am very grateful. If I had gone down that road, I would have very likely disappointed myself. The network that I had my sights on has since closed up shop. The number of positions available at many of the other places were limited and the pay was not what I could sustain a comfortable living with.

On the other hand, my career in hotels has provided me the opportunity to meet a multitude of people (including my wife), travel around the country and work in very unique roles that I never would have considered when I was in college. The industry that I fell into provides so many unique and interesting opportunities, that I sometimes suffer from choice overload and can’t seem to figure out what to do next.

Now that I am enjoying a comfortable living, I am ready to move my career forward. However, in order to do that, I need to get a piece of paper that tells the world I committed to something, satisfied all of the requirements and proved my ability and knowledge. Luckily, I am in a time and place where I can now appreciate the process of learning, the information I’m gaining and the trajectory it will put me on when I am complete.

As someone that took classes in a traditional brick and mortar institution that carried a lot of history, I can tell you that learning online through a university like the one that I have chosen is absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I have the ability to study when I want, to read what I want, to find a multitude of resources outside of those provided (thanks to the Internet) and most importantly, the ability to set my own pace and learn whatever way I want. This freedom has made the experience not an obligation, but an opportunity.

When you look at something as an opportunity, your entire perspective changes. Instead of worrying, “what class am I going to have to take next?” I’m thinking, “wow, I could really use this if I ever want to become a ________,” or “I wonder how I can use this to help me _____.” Knowledge is power and I’m glad I’m finally wise enough to take the time to absorb as much of it as I can.

Looking back on this post, I realize it has been more of a stream of consciousness than a focused article or summary. However, this is the story (well some very small parts) of what led me away from my passion to what I’m doing now. Some of you reading this might wonder, “why did you throw away your passion and do something you weren’t passionate about?” Don’t worry, I didn’t throw my passion away. In fact, as you can see from some of the posts on this blog, it is more alive than it has ever been.

I believe in something I call the 80/20 rule. I believe 80% of your energy should be invested in your career, and that your career (unless you are extremely lucky) may not always align with your passion. 20% of your energy should be reserved for what you are passionate about, and it doesn’t have to be one thing. For example, I’m passionate about cooking, cocktails, technology, writing, photography, creating videos and sharing stories. Although my primary job doesn’t exploit most of these talents and skills, by exercising them with 20% of my energy, I can always pursue mastery and look forward to them. My job may cause stress, difficult decisions and a lot of hard work, but my passion will always remain something that I can look forward to at the end of the day as something that brings me pleasure, purpose and fulfillment.

With a full time job, which takes up 80% of my time, I had to make the decision to make my education part of my passion, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to fit it into my life. When getting better at something brings you excitement, the work that it takes to get better becomes exciting itself. Telling myself that my education is not just a “step I need to take,” but rather an opportunity to move forward and master something makes it so much more valuable than a piece of paper on the wall.

Like cooking, flying drones, wearing a silly head-mounted computer for a year and traveling, learning is just another one of those things that I can call a passion. Sure, it would have been nice to be passionate about it before. Regardless if I wasn’t then, I am now and that’s all that matters.

One thought on “Back to School”

  1. I think it’s a great decision.
    I also like your use of the 80/20 rule in this case. It makes complete sense.

    We get older, we have more responsibilities, and families to feed. Make some money and you’ll be in good shape to tend to those passions at the same time.

    Way to go, Peter!

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