Editor’s Note: Smart Meetings reached out to San Diego State University master’s student Anthony Bollotta to discuss the benefits of furthering your career via education. 

Like every one of us who somehow found their way into the meeting and event industry lightyears before the fundamentals of our work were formatted into curriculum-based certification and undergraduate programs, I was on my own to determine how to utilize my skills and learnings to best support clients.

My Bachelor of Fine Arts is in musical theatre. I earned it at Syracuse University, where I also discovered a lot about the cadences, components and logistics of theatre. The training has proven extremely applicable, but if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s how fast paradigm shifts can occur. Besides, I’m no longer in the theatre—a fact I kept coming back to whenever I did think about continuing my education. If I went back to school for a master’s, what would the subject be?

Industry-Specific, Leadership Focused

I discovered the Meeting & Event Management (MEM) master’s degree program at San Diego State University and realized I found the right fit. Not because I’m an aspiring planner myself. I quite like the space I’m in.

But because the business is one I know and the information would again be applicable. Also, it would be more than a little shortsighted of me to think there’s nothing more I could learn.

Much to my chagrin, news that I had matriculated into the program was met with mixed responses. Many asked why at this point in my career I felt it necessary, while others insisted I could teach

A portrait of Anthony Bollotta, a San Diego State University master's student. He is a white man with an orange plaid shirt.
Anthony Bollotta

the curriculum (without knowing it, mind you). And still others roared with encouragement, “Good for you! You see…it’s never too late!”—a response I think I’ll refer to from now on as the smack of backhanded wisdom.

Listeners of Bollotta-FIDE, our podcast devoted to events, entertainment and engagement, know that I revel in the ability to chide my baby-boomer self about the length of my tooth, but in reality, I don’t think I could have picked a better time to go back to school. The world I grew up learning how to live in is simply not the world I’ve come to know. The stakes are higher, and the pace of change is accelerating. Now more than ever it seems you’re either on the bus or you’re not.

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Lifelong Learning

Even I, with my more than 35 years of industry experience, 28 of them as the owner of Bollotta Entertainment, could benefit from being in college. Not only through the curriculum, general enough to apply to planning positions and those on the periphery and specific enough to be individually meaningful, but also in my quest to grow as a human being who just happens to serve in the role of leader.

So where am I 10 months in and juggling the course load along with everything else? Overall, I’m feeling more challenged and more empowered. Here’s why.

  1. School is validating some long-held practices built on instinct and applied to meeting and event engagement creation and execution, while introducing me to more advanced decision-making techniques.
  2. School is giving me guided access to new ideologies, strategies and practices, helping me better lead in today’s fast-evolving and increasingly competitive meeting and event marketplace.
  3. School is forcing me to think beyond beliefs that may not always serve me, by encouraging me to adopt and practice more productive habits.
  4. School is reinvigorating me, inspiring me to take bigger bites.

I’ve also come to more comfortably and effectively preside over the $12 million social services nonprofit board on which I sit, onboarding a stabilizing and much-needed culture and engagement program we deemed critical to our health as the greatest employee walkout in history continues to play on. While it hasn’t been easy, I can say without question that it would be a lot more difficult without the newfound lessons I’m now able to apply.

What Emotional Intelligence Really Means

Hopefully, those in my stead are benefiting from the lessons as much, if not more, than I. It’s a byproduct of the leadership curriculum I hadn’t expected, and one I’ll work to sustain long after all classwork is completed.

As a small creative agency owner trained in theatre, “raised” in the business by other creative agency owners, and engaged in deadline-driven, high-stress work, I hadn’t learned about and therefore misunderstood the concept of emotional intelligence. I though it meant having to take on the emotional weight of others. That was way too heavy a lift, and if I am being totally honest, only made me feel overburdened and resentful.

But within eight weeks of starting the mandatory readings needed to complete impending curriculum-based assignments, I came to see that I had been wrong, and that there indeed could be immense value in possessing emotional intelligence. Not necessarily to manage people, although to that end you really cannot go wrong, but to motivate individuals to reach beyond self-limiting fears and inspire them to always do their best. For their benefit and yours. And who in the meeting and event industry doesn’t want a win-win?

Anthony Bollotta is president of Bollotta Entertainment, based in San Diego, California, and host of Bollotta-FIDE, a podcast that focuses on events, entertainment and engagements.