For me, the hardest part of getting an MBA was the time it took me away from my family. My work-life balance was grossly disproportionate. However, I did maintain a rule that I would be home for dinner every night and put the kids to bed before starting on my school work; that meant lots of late nights.

There’s a 24-hour diner that I used to frequent. It’s an area out by the interstate that has fallen into some bad hands. A few of the hotels are run down, and instead of renting rooms to travelers like in the past, they rent to transients by the dozen.

These hotels have become known for prostitution and drug trafficking.

Despite its seedy location, there I sat night after night at the 24-hour diner in a booth banging away on the keyboard doing my assignments for class, headphones in jamming to music and drinking coffee well past midnight.

I never kept track of how many cups I had.

So, why in the heck did I spend my time there?

I work from home, and if I was going to work nearly 24-hours a day, I needed a change in scenery at night.

I needed a place that was open 24-hours. The trendier and hipper coffee shops in town closed at midnight. That wasn’t late enough for me.

The food was average, but the service was exceptional it kept me coming back. The entire staff got to know me, and I was always treated with a very personal touch. I don’t know if my coffee cup was ever empty.

I enjoyed the conversations I had with them. Many of them opened up to me about their problems in life. Some of them had abusive boyfriends they wanted to figure out how to get away from, others had drug problems and other broken dreams.

I offered them a sympathetic ear and advice when I could summon it.

I especially hit it off with the manager. We became friends, and I would go outside with him sometimes on his smoke breaks. Even though I don’t smoke.

Then one night he sat down in the booth with me. He had tears in his eyes. He told me that seeing me come in night after night and work towards my MBA and the conversations with me had inspired him to quit meth and go back for his GED to complete high school.

That next week he moved out of the hotel and away from his heroin and meth dealing roommates into a halfway house that was going to help him get clean and finish high school.

I gave him a big hug on his last night and told him how proud of him I was.

Two months later, I graduated.

Academia took me to some unexpected places, none more so than a run down diner on the shady side of town. While I don’t go out there anymore, I will be forever grateful that it was part of my journey.

You never know how even the smallest gestures of kindness or words of wisdom might actually help someone make a difference in their life and turn things around for the better.

Inspiration and hope are truly the best gifts you can ever give someone.