Ashley Gowan fell in love with the hospitality industry, but when it started to take too much, she had to reconsider whether it was still a good fit

author headshotWhat do you want to be when you grow up? That is a question that surrounds us in our childhood, and at 26 years old, I finally feel as though I am prepared to answer that question.

In elementary and high school, my answer changed as often as the weather: ballerina, police officer, chef, voiceover actress, journalist. By the time I started college, I had decided to be a lawyer, but then changed my mind once again, believing the tourism industry was where I was meant to be.

Even while taking my tourism management degree, I never settled on what I wanted to do when I was done school. I bounced between starting my own company, working on a cruise ship or managing an outdoor adventure organization. When I finally finished school and entered the workforce, I landed at the front desk of a hotel.

Thriving amid challenge

I fell in love with the hospitality industry. It was a fast-paced, ever-changing and exciting industry to work in. Every day held a new set of challenges, there was always something new to learn and the clients were a revolving door of characters.

I quickly advanced to a supervisor position and was ecstatic for this new challenge and for the chance to grow my knowledge. I continued to thrive and conquered each challenge presented to me.

Over time, however, I began to feel the toll the industry was taking on both my mental health and my personal life. Hospitality is a 24/7, year-round industry. Without realizing it, I had allowed my professional development to overshadow the importance of the relationship I had uprooted my life for.

Reassessing priorities

My husband, who is in the military, had been posted to New Brunswick early in our relationship. After graduating college, I moved from the safety and security of home in Quebec to an unknown life in a new province.

During those first years in New Brunswick, I was unintentionally prioritizing work more and more. In the fall of 2018, while working a 12-plus hour shift, it dawned on me: I had been working and sleeping at the hotel most of the week due to a computer outage, and hadn’t been home to see my husband or even share a meal with him in days.

My enjoyment of the work I had thought of as my future began to decline. I tried to take a firmer stance on the separation of work and life, but it didn’t always work. I was frustrated by this after making myself fully available for years. I even experienced self-induced guilt for taking a week off for my honeymoon, my first real time off in the 2-1/2 years I had dedicated myself to the hotel.

More Careering Client Side articles

As spring of 2019 rolled in, I felt an awakening in myself, but not a good one. Most days I came home from work in tears; even good days began to feel like a hardship to make it through. I felt my mental health decline, even though I would never have admitted it, and as both my attention span and patience shortened, my husband and I began to talk about what I could do to get back to enjoying my life.

The discussions at first seemed to be a roundabout conversation, always bouncing back and forth between the same ideas. Should I go back to school? Should I ask for a department transfer? Would I feel better working at a different hotel? Would a government or private sector administrative position work?

Nothing piqued my interest and I fell deeper into what felt like a hole that I could not get out of. Many discussions revolved around how we would support ourselves if I went back to school. While going back to school to obtain my law degree was feasible, I no longer felt a draw to the field. Government work came with stability and a much larger paycheque, but I wasn’t ready to jump into another job I wouldn’t enjoy.

RV driving down scenic road beside lake
A job posting for “RV Salesperson” ignited a flicker of interest in Ashley. (iStock)
Making changes for the better

I ended up taking a much lower-paying retail job over the following Christmas to get myself out of the hospitality industry. It was not a perfect fit – I had no passion for it – but it was a way to keep money coming in while I figured out my next step.

And then came a turning point. In February of this year, a job posting jumped out at me during my search: “Seeking RV Salesperson.” Many of my favourite childhood memories revolve around summers in my parents’ RV, and for a moment I felt a flicker of interest that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I immediately wrote out a cover letter and submitted a resume, with only a small glimmer of hope that they would hire someone with minimal sales experience.

Soon after I was contacted for an interview, and in it, I shared the joy that camping brought me as a child, along with the hope that if I received this job, I could perhaps shape the same sort of memories for more families. The very next day I received a call to let me know that a letter of offer was waiting for me. I was nervous but also elated that I had this opportunity to make a mark in an industry that shaped so much of my childhood.

Though there have already been challenges, including an unforeseen global pandemic, I already feel a connection to this new industry that I haven’t felt in a very long time. There are still opportunities for me to use the tourism management degree I took in school, and every day presents its own set of challenges and hurdles to overcome. I’m thankful for my “quarter-life crisis,” which led me to this new and unforeseen path.

So, what will I be when I grow up? No matter what I’m doing, or where I’m working, I will always make sure it makes me happy.

Ashley Gowan currently resides in Fredericton, NB with her husband. She is happily selling RVs and is still learning to take time for hobbies, and non-work-related passions. These include reading, baking, art and travel (though at the moment just locally).