I get asked a lot about my decision to drop out of regular college and enroll in culinary school but have yet to write much about it. I could say it’s because I enjoy my privacy. I could say it’s because I don’t want to treat the internet as my diary and bore everyone to tears. I could say those things but the reality is I’m scared. Terrified, actually. I still don’t know what I’m doing and for a long while I didn’t want anyone to know it. As young people we feel the pressure to pick a school to attend, choose a major to study, investigate career paths to pursue. Basically decide our lives before they have really begun. A few years ago I would look at the people around me and feel left out. All my friends seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do in life. And the ones who didn’t know seemed not the slightest bit worried how things would turn out.
I, on the other hand, was a bit of a mess. I would stress endlessly about the fact that I hadn’t found my calling yet. I worried extensively about my future and what it would hold. Would I ever be good at anything? Would I be able to feed myself and put a roof over my head? Would I wake up every morning happy? After having spent months watching cooking shows, reading food magazines, and drooling over the photos on Tastespotting, I had a realization. I loved this stuff. I didn’t mind grocery shopping and planning our family’s meals. I could think about recipes and menus and flavors and cooking and baking techniques all day long. To this day, years later, I’m still surprised that I haven’t grown tired of it all.
Now I had the confidence that being passionate and enthralled with something can bring a person. But I still didn’t know what I wanted. I graduated high school and started college, announcing my major as Communications. I was doing what I was supposed to do. I was doing what everyone else did. Two semesters went by. Sure I enjoyed classes like philosophy, sociology, and English, but what kind of career could I pursue with vague interests in the liberal arts? I was told liberal arts degrees like that rarely lead to a good job, especially in this economy. After completing my first two communications classes I realized I didn’t even like them; they were boring. I started to panic. This wasn’t what I wanted to spend the next three years doing, let alone my entire life. But what could I do? I felt like I had no choice but to continue down the road I was on.
By now my own blog had grown into something more than a hobby and I was ecstatic. I started fantasizing about pursuing a career related to cooking, baking, and just being in the kitchen. I figured that after I had graduated college, found a job, and begun my life, I would one day fulfill my dreams by going to culinary school. It was a lovely thought that got me through those boring communications classes. Just a fantasy, until I had another realization. I didn’t have to do this. I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing. I didn’t have to make my life decisions based upon what other people would think or how much money it would make me. For the entire first half of last summer I spent countless nights tossing in bed, going back and forth between my two options. Do I stay on the same path and go to college and get a “safe” degree that will lead to a “safe” career? Or do I create a new path and enroll in culinary school? I had come to a fork in the road, and not the kind you use to swirl pasta. This decision weighed heavily on my conscience. I felt if I chose the wrong path my future happiness would suffer. I felt like everything in my life to that point depended on this decision. It was burdensome, to say the least. I started to realize that the more I thought about the classes I would have to take in college the following semester, the more depressed I became. I discovered that I hadn’t really let myself fully imagine what going to culinary school would be like on. I would actually want to read my textbook and do my homework. I would actually want to remember what I learned instead of just memorizing to pass the next test. I found myself saying out loud, “I want to go to culinary school”.
Now, almost a year later, it seems funny that I struggled so much with that decision. I feel like I’m on the right path now. Sure, there are days when I wake up and wonder what’s next. I haven’t ruled out the option of going back to college and getting a regular degree in time. I feel like right now, at this moment, I’m doing what I want to be doing. And what more could you ask for from life?
All photos © Tessa Arias of Handle the Heat