Everyone says, “Go to university to be successful.” They were wrong. Here’s what actually works.

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Ever since I was a child, I was told to “Go to university and you’ll be successful.”

This mantra echoed through my family gatherings, school classrooms, and even my children’s television shows.

It was a given, an unspoken rule that seemed as universal as gravity. So, naturally, I followed the path that seemed to be laid out for me: high school, university, a solid job in finance — the full package.

I had checked all the boxes and, on paper, I was successful. But there was a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction, a sense of unfulfillment that grew stronger every day. Despite doing everything “right,” I felt stuck in a life that wasn’t quite right for me.

The turning point came when I quit my well-paying finance job to pursue a passion project—cooking. It started off as a hobby that I used as an escape from the daily grind. Cooking made me happy. So why not turn this hobby into a full-time career?

Friends and family were shocked. “You left your stable job to flip burgers?” they’d ask incredulously. But I didn’t just want to flip burgers; I wanted to create dishes that would make people happy the way cooking did for me.

And here’s the thing: it worked. It took time, effort, and a whole lot of resilience but eventually, I opened my own restaurant. Now, it’s thriving more than I had ever imagined.

And yet, when I tell people about my journey, their reactions are often mixed with surprise and disbelief. “But you didn’t go the traditional route of going to university!” they’d exclaim.

So here’s my story — an answer to those raised eyebrows and confused expressions. 

Finding my true passion

The finance world was impressive, no doubt about it. Every day was a new challenge, and the thrill of closing a big deal was exhilarating. But it wasn’t fulfilling. I felt like I was just going through the motions, doing what I was supposed to do rather than what I wanted to do.

I’ve always loved cooking. It started as a hobby, a way to unwind after work. The kitchen was my sanctuary, my escape from spreadsheets and meetings. One day, an idea hit me like a bolt of lightning: why not turn this passion into my career?

I started small, cooking for friends and family, then taking on catering gigs for local events. The positive feedback was overwhelming — people loved my food. That’s when I decided to take the leap and open my own restaurant.

It wasn’t easy; there were late nights, early mornings, and countless challenges along the way. But every time I saw a customer’s smile or received a compliment on a dish, it made all the hard work worth it.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying university is useless. It works for many people and can open up many opportunities. But it isn’t the only pathway to success.

The university equals success fallacy

The belief that a university degree is the golden ticket to success is deeply ingrained in our society. It’s something we’re taught from a young age, a mantra repeated by parents, teachers, and career counsellors. But my experience has shown me this isn’t always the case.

In my finance job, I had all the markers of conventional success—a university degree, a respectable salary, and a secure job. But I wasn’t happy. I felt like I was living someone else’s life, following a path that wasn’t truly mine.

When I decided to follow my passion for cooking and opened my own restaurant, many were sceptical. They believed that without a university education in culinary arts or business management, I was doomed to fail. But they were wrong.

By following my passion and working hard, I built a successful business from scratch. It was my love for what I did and the satisfaction I got from it that drove me to succeed.

This isn’t to say that university is unnecessary or unimportant. It’s just to say that it’s not the only path to success.

Embracing the unconventional path

When I decided to leave my finance job and step into the world of culinary arts, it was scary. There were moments of self-doubt and hesitation, but I believed in myself and in my passion.

The first step was to gain experience. I started by cooking for friends and family, then expanded to catering for local events. This gave me the confidence and the practical skills I needed to take the next step.

Then came the planning.

Opening a restaurant is no small feat, so I had to be meticulous in my planning. I researched everything from location to menu pricing. I also sought advice from successful restaurateurs who were generous enough to share their wisdom.

But above all, what truly mattered was resilience. There were roadblocks and setbacks, but I kept pushing forward. My love for cooking and my dream of owning a restaurant kept me going.

If you’re feeling stuck in a path that doesn’t feel right for you, remember that it’s never too late to change direction. Follow your passion, work hard, and don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back. It may not be easy, but believe me, it’s worth it.

Embracing personal responsibility and independent thinking

Looking back on my journey, I realize that the key turning point was when I stopped trying to live up to societal expectations and started thinking for myself. It wasn’t easy to step away from the conventional path that everyone around me was following, but it was necessary for my personal growth and happiness.

Here are some key takeaways from my story:

  • Recognize your dissatisfaction: It’s important to acknowledge when you’re not content with your current situation. For me, it was the lack of fulfillment in my finance job.
  • Think independently: Don’t let societal expectations dictate your life choices. Remember, what works for others might not work for you.
  • Take responsibility: Even though I didn’t enjoy my finance job, I knew it was up to me to make a change. Taking responsibility empowered me to make that change.
  • Pursue your ambitions: Don’t shy away from your dreams, even if they don’t align with societal norms. My passion for cooking led me to a fulfilling career.

It’s also crucial not to fall into the trap of blind positivity. Face the reality of your situation and come up with a practical plan to improve it. For me, this involved gaining experience through catering and seeking advice from experienced restaurateurs.

Remember, the journey of self-exploration is a continuous one. Keep questioning societal myths and seeking growth. Your reality can be reshaped, and it starts with you.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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