Originally published in print in Transitions magazine…
This one is a guest post by Dan Riney. Dan worked with me as a research intern last semester doing research for a medical book I’m working on. DWP
When my construction estimating business began to fail a couple of years ago, I made a mental list of possible job alternatives that included selling life insurance products, selling other kinds of tangible products, returning to teaching, or going back to college. I wasn’t eligible for unemployment insurance, so that option was out. After a great deal of effort, frustration and wasted capital I came to the conclusion that I was a very poor salesman and a very dissatisfied teacher. So that left me with one last possibility – return to college. To those of you who will quickly gag at the thought of more school, I would ask you to give me a moment of your patient consideration. To those of you who will dismiss the possibility of continuing your education because of finances, I would like to let you know that the availability of financial aid is so extensive that only a college or university specialist can sort out the possibilities for you.
In case you think that your financial situation is too dire, and that my experiences have not been discouraging, let me share some personal history. My house was foreclosed, my car was repossessed, I was evicted from my apartment, and my family broke up. Oh yes, and I’m 70 years old. I tell you all of this to assure you that returning for further education is still possible for you!
I can hear the wheels of some of your minds turning as you read. You’re thinking that I have found learning and education easy, and that your experiences have not been positive. Let me share some more personal history. When I took math courses in high school and in my early college years, I had a very poor record – “D’s” and “F’s”. That bothered me, and so, I bought a book from Barnes and Noble to see if I could do better. I found that with a more mature attitude, and a serious focus, I could successfully work my way through the text. I then began taking college courses in Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, and Statistics. I received “A’s” in all of them. I also took courses in Computer Science, Accounting, Finance, Business Management, Surveying, Construction Management, History, Creative Writing, and several others. My overall grade point average is 3.7+. That’s a “B+”.
I’m sure that this sounds quite egotistical to write so much about me. My point is not to congratulate myself, but to illustrate that a person who had only modest to average success as a late teen to early twenties’ student can do much better with some maturity and a change of attitude. I believe that you will find the same thing to be true.
I had some misgivings before I signed up for my classes. And when I first entered a classroom looking for a desk just right for a student one half century older than the young people around me, I thought I might be resented or scoffed at. After a momentary surprise by the Professor and the students, things went very well, and in just a moment I felt quite at home. In fact, I found a great deal of respect for the experiences that I could share in class discussions. You will be surprised, I think, at how much you have learned in your lifetime that gives you special insights to many subjects in a college curriculum.
Have you ever noticed that when you ask someone about themselves – especially men – they tell you what their occupation is or was? “I’m a plumber.” “I was an insurance analyst.” Going back to further your education can change the answer to who you are: a plumber can become a teacher; a retail sales person can become an accountant or an artist. The first point to recognize here is that you are much more than the title of a job. You are a whole complex of interests, skills, knowledge, and potentials that may not have been realized as yet. Returning to school could be viewed as a way to improve the abilities that apply to your previous career, or it can be viewed as a whole new definition as to who you are.
Perhaps you have spent your life being “practical”. Perhaps all of your life’s decisions have revolved around what is the best way of making a living. With many of us who have made “practical” decisions all of our lives, we have ended up being broke. Maybe it’s time to make some “impractical” decisions. Why not explore your past dreams and interests that you dismissed, and consider whether you should explore those ideas once again? If you can’t recall what some of those dreams were, get a college catalogue of classes, and wander through it to see if anything inspires you or revives old images of yourself.
Let’s summarize the reasons for returning to college:
- You can redefine, and upgrade the marketable knowledge that you have for a future career.
- You can learn some very interesting information that, when put together with what you already know, can give you a much greater understanding of the world around you.
- You can become a very positive influence on your family, friends, and community; and on their education.
- I think that there is a health benefit as well. I believe that when you are actively involved in learning, your attitude has a positive effect on your sense of well being.
Whenever I’m faced with a great deal of new information, I get frustrated and uncertain of where to begin my search. I hate asking questions that make me seem naïve, dumb, or uninformed – it happens a lot! Here’s a suggestion: find a librarian, and explain to her what you would like to do. I find librarians very, very anxious to be of assistance. Plus, they are highly educated people who know how to find the information that you need. Pretend that the whole search is like a ball of yarn. Just pull one piece out and study it. You’ll be surprised how your initial questions will unravel the whole ball of yarn.
If you’re still reading this stuff, perhaps you’ve had some curiosity aroused. Don’t let it just drift away! There are terrific new endeavors that can become a part of your life! Email me, and let’s talk! firstname.lastname@example.org.