Throughout my adolescence, I always considered myself to be a very intelligent person. In high school, I never needed to work very hard to achieve good grades. I never studied because learning new information came very easily to me. There was never any question that I would attend a private college, maintain a high GPA, and likely graduate with some sort of honors before heading on to a rewarding career in education. My life seemed neatly laid out in front of me, and the world was mine for the taking.

This was the expectation. The reality looked very different. I did attend a small liberal arts college and started out strong. However, it soon became apparent that my plan was not enough to ensure my success. The plan was clear: get good grades, make good impressions, graduate, get married, have a great job and a great family. Forever. The End. But what happens when we start to stray from the plan? What happens when we’re no longer interested in what we started? Can we abandon the plan? If we do, what’s next? Does this mean we’ve failed? More importantly, how do we tell mom and dad?

I wrote and rewrote different versions of my plan for five years after high school, all the while punishing myself for not being the focused, accomplished, and successful achiever I felt I should be. When one plan wasn’t working out, I rushed to formulate a new plan, either by enrolling in a new school or changing my program of study. After five years, I was burning out.

I tried to convince myself that plenty of people have trouble choosing what they’d like to do. There was nothing wrong with being nearly 23 and not having earned my degree or really figured out what to “do with my life.” One rainy spring morning, I got a rude awakening.

I had received a recommendation for a new stylist from a woman that I worked with in the cosmetics department of a local store. When I walked into the salon, I noticed that one of the stylists was a girl that I went to high school with. We began to chat, and she told me how much she loved what she does. She knew that she didn’t want to go to college, and she’d always been interested in hair and makeup, so she went to beauty school instead. She then began to describe how she and a good friend of hers opened this salon and that they were so pleased with the way business was going. That’s when I head the record scratch in my head. This was her business? She was making a living at this? I began to imagine the pile of schoolwork that remained unfinished and I could hear the clock ticking on late assignments. I thought about how I was still living under my parents’ roof with no end in sight, as the pay from my part-time cosmetics counter job was being used primarily to finance my social life. I left the salon that morning resolute (and looking fabulous). I was going to beauty school.

Because of my job in cosmetics, I knew that I was very interested in skincare, so I enrolled in the Esthetics program at Altoona Beauty School. I promised myself (and my father, and my grandmother, and everyone else who was freaking out) that I would someday return to college and finish my bachelor’s degree. From day one, I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy my time in beauty school. I had a fantastic instructor who was passionate and energetic. My classmates very quickly became close friends, with whom I still communicate today. I readily realized that esthetics is so much more than skincare, and beauty school is much more than school.

Beauty school taught me how to give facials, wax bodies, and contour someone’s makeup. These skills were, of course, essential to my success as an esthetician. However, I also learned how to budget my time and how to prioritize. I went on to the teacher’s program and I learned how to organize a classroom and to write lesson plans. What’s more important, though, are the lessons I learned that never appeared on a lesson plan. I learned to value myself and the skills I had worked hard to develop. I learned to trust myself, my knowledge, and my ability to help people improve their self-esteem. I learned that I didn’t have to move mountains or win a Nobel Prize to make a difference in my community. I was now in the business of making people feeling confident and beautiful inside and out, and that made ME feel confident and beautiful. Inside and out.

Eight years later, I consider myself lucky to walk into work every day and hone my skills. No two days in the beauty industry are ever truly the same. I’m not working for some big think-tank, writing dissertations, or analyzing ancient tomes written by philosophers of the Golden Age. I’m probably never going to win “Alumnus of the Year” and I don’t have office hours. But part of my plan did come to fruition. I have a rewarding career in education. My students feed my passion, and I consider myself fortunate to cultivate theirs. Whether I am working in this field or any other, the lessons I learned in beauty school have left an indelible mark on my life.

Sarah Pratt, Esthetician Coach