School is 'Just a Formality'

“Every artist was first an amateur."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

True story: my friend Corey recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked as a satellite radio producer / programmer, to Manhattan. Like many industries, the entertainment business is pretty tough right now, so she wasn’t having much luck finding work.

One of the things Corey loves most is baking, and she’s awesome. Her culinary skills have been honed by years of dedicated practice in her own kitchen, baking simply because she loves to. (Her cookies and cakes are particularly good.)

After a few months of fruitless job searching, Corey decided to try getting a job at a bakery. There’s just one catch: workers in high-end Manhattan bakeries typically require degrees from the French Culinary Institute or a similar school, which costs upwards of $40,000.

That didn’t stop Corey - instead of enrolling in culinary school and taking out loans, she did something even better: she offered to work for a bakery for free as an intern. Here’s why, in her words:

“Interning is way cheaper than culinary school and I get to learn specifically what I’m interested in… I’m sure [my coworkers] could kick my butt in making puff pastry, but do I really want to make puff pastry? No. I want to make cookies, and that I know how to do (and I’m learning more)… without $40,000 in loans."

Instead of paying for her education, Corey managed to get it for free - working side-by-side with some of the best bakers in the city. Even better: after one of the bakers decided to leave for another job, Corey was hired to replace her.

Last week, Corey mentioned to her boss that she felt a bit intimidated being the only one in the bakery that didn’t graduate from culinary school. Here’s what her boss told her:

“Culinary school is just a formality. You know what you’re doing."

Are you interested in improving your skills, or having a document hang on your wall to impress people? The former is far more important than than the latter, and there’s always a way to get what you want faster / cheaper / better by doing things differently.

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Published: April 15, 2010Last updated: April 15, 2010

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