“Back to School” – the most dreaded words of my childhood…now here to haunt me again in adulthood.

Making the decision to take the path of higher education at a much older age and with a demanding full-time job was exciting, overwhelming, and downright scary. After being in the workforce for half of my adult life, the prospect of books, grades, and tests made me question all of my life choices. I have a great job and do it very well without a college degree. So the prospect of going back to school and exercising a muscle (my brain) that on some days functions not so well seemed very daunting.  I weighed the pros and cons and always found more cons, but the one that kept me from fully committing was fear. Fear of not having the brain capacity to learn, maintain study habits, or pass my first test.  Fear can overtake even the most self-confident person and send them cowering and whimpering to the corner. What fought back the fear was when I really contemplated the potential outcomes: more money, promotions at my workplace, and the confidence of accomplishment, especially at an older age.  I would not only have life/work experience to offer, but a degree to go with that.

So here I am, over 40 and tackling the college experience again. The first time around, that experience was more about booze and boys than books and learning. So this time, I actually look forward to taking a test without a hangover and making it to class, not only on time, but early.  It helps enormously that my college experience is now an online experience.  Since we’re doing everything else online these days, you might as well get a degree while you are at it.

I swallowed my fear and signed up for my first class, Art History. The online learning and classroom experience is something I’d never dealt with before, and I found it both liberating and restrictive. I was required to post in the class forum three days a week—not just a “Hi, how are you,” but a thoughtful, intelligent post that engaged fellow classmates and the professor – no pressure there!  After a few days and then weeks, though, posting became second nature. In one of my first ‘wins’ in the online forum, I aced a discussion of the relevancy of art in a technological world by saying that no matter how far we advance, tech can’t replace art in teaching us to use our brains more creatively.

After pulling a low ‘A’ in Art History, I’ll be starting my new semester in October; each new one seems to be less daunting than the one before.

I wouldn’t trade my life and work experience of the past 25 years for anything. I most definitely have a Ph.D in Life.  Why do we assume that someone fresh out of a college with a degree is immediately more learned? I recall a conversation I had in the workplace with a recent college grad, regarding a budget document; when I said we would only be making monetary changes, she admitted she didn’t know what that word meant. So… college is not always foolproof.

It is most definitely a privilege, though, and not to be taken for granted.  I was given the opportunity and resources through my employer to go back to school, and that has been a gift. Even though it sometimes feels like getting underwear for your birthday instead of the cool new toy you really wanted. In the long run, the pros outweigh the cons, something I have to constantly remind myself of.  You are never too old to learn. Which means you are never too old to stress yourself out either…..wonder how long it will take to get my Masters?