Like so many others, you joined a select group of students who are ready to conquer the world. By now you are already looking forward to the day you graduate with your top-notch Swiss hospitality education and degree. You probably know where you want to spend your internships and see yourself eventually running a five star hotel in the Caribbean, Asia, or perhaps even in the USA.
I was just like you when I entered Les Roches. I had it all mapped out, I knew what I wanted and how to get it. However, something came along called coincidence. Others may call it destiny, luck, or even fate but whatever name you give it, it tosses that perfectly planned future around and spins it into something that becomes a challenge. Do I stick with the original plans? Do I go for it? What if it doesn’t work out as planned? How will this impact my career? All these questions will keep you awake at night, trying to determine the best possible decision for your future.
Looking back at my own career, it became evident that perhaps it wasn’t all luck or coincidence, but instead, at times we are presented with unique opportunities that we can either take or leave. For me it was how I got in touch with Les Roches Marbella in the first place. I certainly did not plan a career in hospitality; the truth is, I was actually about to apply at a bank’s marketing department, yet by coincidence I moved to Spain and arrived with my suitcase in front of a building that read “Estudios Universitarios de Marbella”. Taking advantage of unexpected opportunities was also how I secured my first internship at the Four Seasons, how I got my first job as a dishwasher at the age of 16 and how I ended up teaching in the United States. Furthermore, it was embracing opportunity that led me to my current position as Director of Operations where I run events, plan meetings and organize conferences for Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. None of it was planned; it just happened and I never regretted a single step I took.
Nevertheless, with all this luck and coincidence, I believe there is one key element that should be part of an essential skill set in each and every one of you: flexibility. Above all, flexibility is what makes this industry so great; to give yourself the opportunity to follow the flow of events, to change destinations when an opportunity comes along and to embrace that challenge when presented with it. It is flexibility that shows your determination when you are undertaking an internship and pick a shift that no one wants. It is the flexibility that makes you say “sure, why not” when your supervisor needs an extra hand. It is flexibility that sets you apart when you’re at work and your colleagues want to celebrate a holiday and you pick up a shift for them. It is flexibility that gives you the motivation to move to a different country or to go for a lateral career move.
One of the biggest fallacies however is that flexibility means always giving in to what others want and simply saying “yes” all the time. Nothing is further from the truth. Being flexible does not mean giving up your ideals, passion or beliefs. Nor does it mean taking the easy road and just going with the flow. Being flexible is knowing where and what to change. Moreover, flexibility is to understand when that same change may not be in the best interest of the guest, student or client.
Once you start you career, you will come across people who prefer to take the easy way out. We’ve all seen them: the teacher who never changes his delivery, the student who talks himself out of an assignment that was due, the supervisor who takes credit for accomplishments from others or the employee who takes naps in a guest bedroom knowing that his/her shift is ending in 45 minutes anyway. Nothing is worse than working in an environment where others like taking the easy way out, yet it is these same people who do not see that they are the ones who lack the flexibility to grow the organization.
Throughout my ten years of teaching in a restaurant environment, I have tried to maintain my ideals and passion focused on what the outcome for the students needed to be by providing them with the best possible knowledge so that they could have the greatest opportunities going into this industry. In a practical environment it is sometimes the semi-intangibles that make you stand out most, so I never give in on punctuality, attention to detail or appearance.
However, the restaurant today is completely different than it was 10 years ago when I arrived. Actually, it changes every single year to incorporate new ideas, remove service skills that are no longer used, update procedures or change layouts and concepts. And, as the students are always new, it would be easier for me to just sit back and keep repeating the same thing over and over again. But that is not what this industry needs. It is the flexibility to move with the times, to see new opportunities that you will always carry with you while also setting you apart from your peers without compromising on quality.
So go on! Dream, plan and map out your future – just don’t forget to be flexible!