Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your thoughtful comments on the last post. The majority of you posted things I want to print and hang on my wall, if not tattoo across my body, because those are the kind of words to live by, no matter what you’re doing. Those of you who delved a bit deeper into career-related details or end goal results, that was really good advice too. I think at this point I’m thinking more about the journey I think sounds meaningful and interesting to me, and less about the specifics of what it all might mean several years down the road—or what might change in the interim.

Small steps: first, see where I’m at with my own dusty, ancient mishmash of dubious collegiate achievement. Who knows, maybe I’ll be complaining to you about suffering through some remedial night course in pre-pre-pre-pre Algebra for Mouthbreathing Idiots soon. God, it sounds awful. God, it sounds . . . kind of wonderful.

Can we make our own second chances? I’m a thousand times more dedicated, disciplined, and excited to learn new things than I ever was at eighteen. Or twenty-eight. What might it feel like to spend my nights doing homework again, this time actually giving a damn about it? What might it feel like to actually pass those groundwork classes I dropped out of, all those years ago? What might it feel like to eventually ace a class in something that’s tapped into what really turns me on? Goddamn, even if I’m the oldest motherfucker in the entire school, what might that feel like?

I know it’s not necessary to go back to school to change careers. I know I make more money in my current field than I’d probably ever make as a fitness/health professional. And maybe adding school—even one class!—into my life would be a terrible mistake, the tipping point of what I can handle and crash, all the carefully-juggled balls come down at once.

But like many of you said: life is short. I’d rather have tried something and discovered it didn’t work than live with regrets. I could sit back and dream about everything that could have been . . . I could wait until some mystical “perfect” time . . . or I could plan the very next step.

There’s a quote I keep thinking of lately, by a crazy ultrarunner dude named Dean Karnazes. It may not speak to you, but it sure means a lot to me.

“We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.”

Comments

43 Responses to “Turning”

  1. Wendy on December 21st, 2009 11:05 am

    Having worked in higher education for a long time, let me assure you that you are very unlikely to ever be the oldest in the school, especially if you start at a community college (which can be a great place to get started if you have pre-req stuff to do first).

    I’m excited to read more about this.

  2. Okay Already on December 21st, 2009 11:09 am

    I’m stealing this quote. Brilliant.

  3. Alyce on December 21st, 2009 11:23 am

    At 34 I went back to school to get an MBA. I’ll be done next August. I got to a local University and not some high-powered institution that comes with a goddamn seal of approval.

    It’s been hard, and there have been tears. But it’s been so worthwhile. Even if all I ever do is be barista (my most satisfying job to date, honestly, I don’t meant this as an insult), I’ll know that I accomplished this thing. This incredible thing that proved my worth to myself. And no one can take that away from me.

    I know you won’t regret it.

  4. caleal on December 21st, 2009 11:52 am

    This post makes me so happy, it’s stupid.

    And even if you are the oldest… hell, you look younger than me and I’m 24. So, no one will know.

  5. Ris on December 21st, 2009 11:52 am

    School is so fucking awesome. If you love it, and love learning, you should go. Even if it’s only one class. More education never hurt anyone.

  6. mixedupfiles on December 21st, 2009 12:06 pm

    I went to law school immediately after completing my undergraduate degree, and here’s the thing: 1.) I really wish I had taken time “off” to experience the real world for a few years first and 2.) the people who HAD were by far the most balanced, admirable students in my class. The three happiest people who graduated with me were out of school for five, ten, and thirty years, respectively. They added so much to our class and are now great at their jobs.

    Meanwhile, I made a decision last week that will hopefully change the whole course of my life and career. It’s scary! But I’m ready to make steps towards being happy and satisfied in my work, a concept that is so alien to me now, I find it hard to type that sentence…

  7. Jen_Ann_W on December 21st, 2009 12:07 pm

    Ditto, ditto, ditto. One of my major regrets is that I didn’t take my education at ALL seriously, and I feel that going directly to college at 18 was a complete waste of time and money. I hope I have the opportunity to go back sometime too.

  8. Jess on December 21st, 2009 12:27 pm

    The college I went to had a program designed specifically for non-traditional-age students. I believe the oldest one ever to graduate was 88 years old. You can see more about the program at http://www.smith.edu/ada.

    There were always one or two of them in my classes and what I noticed is that nearly every single one of them was really invested in what they were doing, way beyond all of us bored 18-year-olds. They always did the reading, not because it was assigned but because it was interesting. They were always engaged and they always had fascinating comments that drew on their own life experiences. Watching them, I felt like maybe we’re doing it all wrong–why should we cram all our education into the beginning of our lives and then never do it again? In some ways it makes a lot more sense to integrate education into different points of your life depending on where you are and where you want to be.

    So it just makes total sense to me that you feel more dedicated and excited about this now than you were the first time around. And I think that will really enhance the educational experience for you.

  9. Jennifer on December 21st, 2009 12:47 pm

    I missed the party on your last post so I’ll clutter up THIS comments stream with my blathering instead. I went to school at age 38 and got my MBA just before turning 40, and I was NOT the oldest person in the program!

    I still take classes (now up here at Western in Bellingham) because there are always things to learn and taking classes that you WANT to take (rather than things you were required to take at age 20) is much more satisfying. You feel like you’re doing something JUST FOR YOU and you sure get a lot more out of it. As with anything in life, “you get out of it what you put into it” and you’re definitely to the point where you’re willing to put your all into it.

    p.s. WWU is such an undergraduate-heavy school, I’ve easily been the oldest in many classes, and you know what, it’s totally fine. The “kids” in class (many of whom probably have parents younger than I am) really respect a lot of the experience I have, and we can all collaborate and learn from each other. Education just ROCKS.

  10. Violet on December 21st, 2009 12:52 pm

    I will tell you this: it feels awesome. All of those things feel awesome. Even the hard parts feel awesome. Studying because you WANT to feels totally weird and, yep, awesome.

    In September I went back to school full-time after being a stay-at-home mom to our boys (who we adopted 2 years ago). I am 34 years old. Formerly worked in the corporate world and am back in school for Social Work. In order to go back, we had to refinance our mortgage. Cut back. Re-budget our budget. Then we paid thousands of dollars in textbooks and rec fees and Sharpie pens and notebooks.

    I just finished my first semester with As and A+s. I have spent nights locked in my room and only emerged to say goodnight to my boys. I have cried about the lack of balance. I have questioned every step. I have worried that my kids would go feral. I have been exhausted for months on end trying to be a full-time Mom and full-time student. I have freaked out about not replying to email or blogging or having time to read anything that’s not a textbook..

    But holy cats, my soul? It’s ALIVE!

    My boys are proud of me – really, really proud. My husband thinks I’m awesome. And I am so unbelievably proud of myself that I could burst.

    I have 1.5 years left to go. More thousands to pay in fees and tuition. More budgeting. More nights locked in my room… and when I’m done, I’ll get a job making about 1/3 of what I made before I quit the corporate world for my kids. Seriously.

    But this is THE most awesome thing, this whole “follow your bliss” thing. Do it. DO IT!

  11. Kristin on December 21st, 2009 12:52 pm

    I guarantee you that you would not be the oldest motherfucker in the whole school. GUARANTEE. And anyway, you’ve got the hotness going for you, so screw ’em. :)

  12. js on December 21st, 2009 12:53 pm

    That quote is amazing. And so true. I find the things we struggling for the most and have to push through (be it running or life in general) are so much more rewarding at the end. You can sit back and revel in the fact that, Holy SHIT! That was incredibly difficult and I DID IT!

    I dropped out of college three times and wish I never had. Now at 30, raising my daughter alone, working insane hours, I wish I could go back. When I was younger and taking courses, I always (secretly) thought it was really kickass when there were “old people” in my class.

    I think you’ve proven this year that you can do anything. I know you many not always (or ever) feel like it, but you are an inspiration. I want to be like you when I grow up.

  13. Jinxi on December 21st, 2009 1:01 pm

    Wow! I absolutely adore that quote and think that I want to get IT tattooed on me. =)

    Thanks for your inspiration, Linda.

  14. Steph the WonderWorrier on December 21st, 2009 1:02 pm

    I really, really like that quote. There’s a complacency and a lack of motivation right now in the younger generation and it makes me SAD. (Okay, this may be some spill over from my ranty Blog post today, lol).

    I also think that grasping that “I’m never too old to give it a try!” attitude is what helps people live to 103. Those old biddies you see who are still kickin’ it — they’re the ones who had dreams and goals that kept them GOING. I always hope I’m willing to change direction, learn something new, and see no friggin’ end in sight.

  15. Amanda on December 21st, 2009 1:28 pm

    I didn’t get to reply to the previous post, but I can now. Straight out of high school, I went to work. Continued on my path for 15 years. Last year, after giving birth to my second child, I realized I wanted more. Better job stability doing something I actually enjoyed. I enrolled in our local community college while working full time and having a three month old and a six year old.

    I know for a fact that I take it more seriously now than I would have at age 18. Granted, I’m taking online classes so I’m not in a “real” classroom all of the time so scheduling is a bit easier. I do have to go on campus a few times during the semester for testing. During that time I saw people of all ages working away at their studies. I was not the youngest nor the oldest hanging out there.

    I have now completed one full year plus one semester. It’s been difficult at times and a true balancing act. But if I can do it, anyone can. Somehow you pull yourself up and get the job done no matter what.

  16. Sharon on December 21st, 2009 2:16 pm

    When I graduated from college there was a 62 year-old woman with 7 kids who was in my graduating class. She received a standing ovation when she accepted her diploma.

  17. Mike on December 21st, 2009 2:23 pm

    I am 35, working full time, and schooling full time, with 2 very young ‘uns. I like what you are doing and look forward to reading about it. I’m also digging the NOLA stuff. You are inspiring me to reach higher.

    Thanks!

  18. Rachel on December 21st, 2009 2:36 pm

    “Can we make our own second chances? I’m a thousand times more dedicated, disciplined, and excited to learn new things than I ever was at eighteen. Or twenty-eight. What might it feel like to spend my nights doing homework again, this time actually giving a damn about it?”

    Yes, you can (you already have). And let me tell you, it feels absolutely fabulous. I started back at about 33; I’m 35 now and I’ll probably be going till I’m 40 (for an AS degree and an RN certification), but I love it. LOVE. I didn’t go to college from high school, where I was a brain but a bit of a screwup (strangely, they like you to do homework there! who’d have thought!) and so now college is my chance to show myself what I can do academically when I actually make an effort.

    Do it. Do it do it do it. You won’t be the oldest, you won’t take the longest, you won’t regret it.

  19. Brenda on December 21st, 2009 2:41 pm

    I just turned 40 and am going back to school next month after being out of college for 20 years. I haven’t been happy in my job and figure even after I get out of school (4 years) I will still have 20-30 years of work ahead of me. Why not do something I WANT to do…something I will enjoy. I think that when you are in high school you really don’t know what you want to do with you life. You haven’t experienced life and have no idea what the working world is going to be like. Anyways, I hope you do what you want to do and what will make you happy! Good Luck!

  20. Melissa on December 21st, 2009 2:42 pm

    I’m still working on my degree on and off. Tough with kids sometimes but it was pretty comical walking into classes with 18 and 19 year olds while I was 8 months pregnant with my first. Now I’m pregnant with my third but as soon as I get #3 into a good routine (haha), I will be heading back to finish for good. So true that you become much more motivated as you get older and to be honest, I think you get a lot more out of it as an older student.

  21. Andrea (@shutterbitch) on December 21st, 2009 2:45 pm

    I think about this all the time. I settled for a subject in college that I thought would give me stability. Turns out, I settled for boredom and zero challenge because I thought stability and a solid paycheck was the be-all, end-all of life. My grades just got me by, and my level of maturity had a lot to do with it, as well as picking the wrong career path. Now, work is a four letter word to me, and I hate it.

    I am envious of you, inspired by your words, and in 5 years when we’re officially free of our credit card debt, I’m going to remedy that situation. I wonder what I’ll be now that I’ve grown up.

  22. Anne on December 21st, 2009 2:53 pm

    LOVE that quote! I always think of that study on baby rats, where the rats the put in the cages with nothing more than food, water, and cedar chips had less dendritic connections in their brains than the rats that had obstacle courses, etc., to challenge them. I guess the moral I take from that is, people are the same as rats? Wait, that doesn’t sound right…anyway–you get where I’m coming from, right?

    My next “education” is going to be learning to play the banjo, but it’ll have to wait until at least the oldest is out of daycare (not enough time or $$ right now…)

    Go for it–GO GO GO! :-)

  23. Sarah on December 21st, 2009 3:30 pm

    Education is wasted on the young. I coasted through both high school and college skillfully avoiding any class that might challenge me. And let me tell you, business schools do not look kindly upon undergrad degrees in Linguistics.

    I am NOT a math person (scored in the 5th percentile in the math portion of my GMAT!), but I had to take Calculus, Accounting, Macro- and Microeconomics, and three separate finance classes. Sure they were hard, but they were also FUN. No seriously, calculus is fun and makes sense in a way high school math never did. And you know what? I never would have found that out had I not bit off more than I though I could chew and went for it.

    Doing homework becomes a grind after a while but you appreciate (and effectively use) your free time SO MUCH MORE. The most annoying thing I found was limiting our vacation times to times when I wasn’t in school, but hell, you have to do that with kids anyway!

  24. Margaret on December 21st, 2009 3:42 pm

    I missed the post yesterday, so my two cents a bit late: My mom went back to law school at 35. LAW SCHOOL. She had two small children at home, and damnit she was in the top 5% of her class. Her professors LOVED her. She was there because she had decided that’s what she wanted to do, and she put her mind to it and worked her ass off. I took Organic Chemistry when I was working as a tech in a biology lab — I’d avoided the subject like the plague in college, but 5 years later I thought it would be useful (and it was) and I went into it prepared to work hard, and I loved the class. It was useful! And relevant! And interesting! And it’s amazing how much more you can enjoy a class when you do the homework and reading and don’t sleep through class, like 200 or so of the 350 college sophomores sitting in that lecture hall around me. Being older can be a HUGE advantage. Do not let it scare you off.

  25. Mary H. on December 21st, 2009 3:44 pm

    I work full-time and work on a PhD part-time. It sucks. A lot. But it can also fee great sometimes. More importantly, what I always say to myself when I’m questioning what the hell I’m doing: I will be [insert old age} with or without that degree! So WTF? Just get started!

  26. Kristy on December 21st, 2009 3:50 pm

    At the age of 35 I enrolled in college for the first time. I graduate with a great g.p.a. At the age of 38 I enrolled in my Masters and that is now…now is fantastic because age and location are just lattitude and longitude but attitude is the map to one’s soul. When I am 40 I will be enrolling for my Phd.

  27. vickie on December 21st, 2009 3:57 pm

    My husband returned to college and switched degrees when he was 50 (after a heart attach)and graduated when was 53. It’s never too late. And yeah, he was the oldest in his class, especially his Algerbra I class.

  28. MichelleH on December 21st, 2009 5:08 pm

    I agree with this quote so much. I think what you want is never so clear and tangible as when you are in that struggle. The bottom line really is, growth is not always (ever?) comfortable. And if you aren’t growing, what’s the point, really?

    As for going back to school, I think you sound so ready for it if it works and you have the time. I actually was there for a semester while I was pregnant. Going in two weeks early to take my math mid-term because I was worried my water would break during the original date was a little surreal. And you really do get so much more out of it. You have an understanding of the investment you are making in yourself and you just value the time so much more. I DID have moments where I thought, “WOW, my study habits suck just as much as they did when I was 18!!” but it was one of those walls to push through….very much like what you are already doing with all that running. It’s such a valuable life skill to have-and pretty much a metaphor for ..EVERYTHING. Good, luck Linda. So excited for you. On the verge of changes myself, so 2010 is looking like a very promising year! Can’t wait to hear all about it.

  29. Kaitlyn on December 21st, 2009 5:29 pm

    “What might it feel like to spend my nights doing homework again, this time actually giving a damn about it?”
    Let me tell you. It feels wonderful, it feels invigorating, it makes you feel powerful.
    You CAN achieve this. Taking a class you previously failed? Gives you confidence because it kills that little voice that tells you you failed because you *couldn’t* Taking a class based on something that interests you? Awakens you to a whole new world around you.
    You can do this, and you won’t regret it, I promise.

  30. Ashleas on December 21st, 2009 6:48 pm

    This isn’t really something to do with schooling, but with rather setting a challenge. Right now I work at Pizza Planet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. Yeah, Buzz Lightyear is totally my homeboy.

    One of our jobs is stocker. When you are on stocker, you make sure the cookies are stocked, the salads are stock, all the drinks are stocked, that the soda person has fresh ice, that there are chips and rice treats for the fillers on the line who are filling the orders. During the rush, it’s not uncommon for them to run out of things at the same time; or to hear constant shoutings of “Salads!”; “Chocolate Chip!”; “Small Lids!”.

    I LOVE stocker.. because I make it a game. I race myself to see if I can keep the ticket expediter (who calls out a lot of the things they need) silent for an hour, two hours, three hours. I stay on top of what they need and in the end, keep myself busy and working hard. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

    Just.. a litte.. story. Yeah…

  31. lindsay on December 21st, 2009 6:49 pm

    Struggle and Boredom are essentially the only two states of being, according to some philosophy dude I learned about in college, but of course forgot his name.

  32. monkey on December 21st, 2009 6:53 pm

    I filled my math pre-reqs for the MBA through Extension courses (online variety) at UCLA. I took Calculus and Financial Modelling, and I’m taking Stats next semester. I did them both entirely online but most extension schools will also offer meatspace classes for those who need a more structured environment.

    Incidentally, since your last post I actually got into b-school (at a Top 15 institution no less) and won this year’s Forte Foundation (it’s a woman in business thing) fellowship so they’re giving me a gigantic chunk of my tuition back in scholarship money. For me, at least, the proof that I could make this work and have it pay off was in my ability to make it through to the end-from re-teaching myself math after 14 years to sitting through those online math classes to getting through the miserable application process. Best of luck to you on your journey.

  33. Lesley on December 21st, 2009 7:49 pm

    Linda, going to school as a mature adult is so much more fun that going as an inexperienced kid (still jaded from the hormone-fueled torments of high school).

    As for your age, hell, you could pass for your kids’ babysitter on your worst day, so I wouldn’t give that a second thought. On the other hand, you’re probably going to have 20-something guys hitting on you on a regular basis so yeah, it’s going to be hell. (For JB.)

    Btw, I can visualize you running one of those ultra marathons one day and coming in first. In sandals.

  34. Lesley on December 21st, 2009 8:03 pm

    I want to add – if it’s any help for your goal or plan – that if you look at population trends, the overwhelming majority of citizens are baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1968. Even the oldest boomers (those in their sixties) expect to live longer and have an investment in a better quality of life, physically, than their parents. As a member of the demographic who wants to preserve her youth and look and feel as good as she can for as long as she can, I’m invested in health and fitness. When I’m looking for a trainer, I want someone with life experience, not some young thing still wet behind the ears (and saying “like” every five seconds.) I do not want a twenty year old training me, I want someone aged 35 to 45. Someone who will, even if they aren’t as old as me, have some appreciation for where I’m at.

    You’re in the optimum age bracket to be a fitness role model. Young enough to appeal to younger people (who need someone to look up to), but old enough to appeal to the generation of dinosaurs who still visualize themselves at Woodstock living the high life.

    Anyway, I don’t know what your plan is, but you will have no shortage of clients. And baby boomers have disposable income, too.

  35. sooboo on December 21st, 2009 9:40 pm

    I went to grad school in my 30’s and I was not the oldest or the youngest. In fact, there was a 83 year old man in my program. He had two hearing aids that would squeal during lectures. You won’t be the oldest. Fo sho!

  36. nicole on December 22nd, 2009 7:17 am

    I agree with that quote 100%. At the same time, I think that life is long and just because your life is one way right now does not mean that it will be that way forever- something that I didn’t really believe when I was younger and thought every decision was make or break. I felt like I would be stuck with my choices forever.
    I think that its possible to change careers, and I hope to do it soon. But I also realize that every chapter in my life is worth enjoying and living to its fullest. I’ve been staying home with my kids instead of pursuing any new projects (I work freelance) and at first, I would spend lots of time planning and yearning for the day I started work again. Then I realized that I was only wasting my time at home if I wasn’t putting my heart into it. My kids will only be little for awhile and I can work until I’m dead, if I feel like it. I just had to realize that it was a chapter in my life- not the only life I would ever know for the rest of eternity. You say that you can’t imagine finding a way to add anything to the careful balance that you have in your life right now. But maybe that is ok if that means enjoying this period of your life the way it is and once both boys are in school, adding the pursuit of a degree. I don’t think that it means giving up on your dream, it just means getting the most out of each part of your life.

  37. Mel on December 22nd, 2009 9:07 am

    It’s never to late to change things. It’s not. Life is not supposed to be about money, it’s supposed to be about doing what makes you at least somewhat happy. There are people that decide to change careers in their 40s and 50s for instance. My mother? She was working in accounting. Now she’s back in school studying radiology.

    Anytime is the right time to change things.

  38. Jenny on December 22nd, 2009 10:52 am

    I’m a college professor and my favorite students are the non-trads. They are so much more focused and interested, as a general rule. My best student this year is a mom of five who’s an art major getting her BA.

    You can do anything.

  39. J on December 22nd, 2009 1:01 pm

    I am in my thirties, finishing my nursing degree, and preparing to sit for state boards to get my RN license. Talk about a major change! But, it was something I always wanted to do and had the desire to do. Life just happened before I got to it.

    Now that I am older, I SO appreciate the hard work it takes to accomplish my goals and dreams. And, I have worked harder to get where I am than I EVER would have at 18 or even 28. I also have more focus and patience.

    All of the that to say, the victory tastes so much sweeter when you realize how much is at stake and go for it anyway. It’s NEVER too late!! Go do what you desire to do!

  40. pvz on December 22nd, 2009 1:41 pm

    My wife just went back to college (Community College) here in Seattle to see how passionate she is about horticulture. She’s got a good degree from a good college, but is still curious/searching. And it’s been good. It’s been a stretch for all of us (2 small kids and me working too) but worth it. And she’s kicking butt — something about being away from school for 15 years refocuses you a bit.

    I suspect you’ll find the same.

    Looking forward to hearing how much you’re loving it (or not – it’s about exploring, not about guarantees).

  41. Rachel on December 23rd, 2009 2:57 am

    I’m 33 years old and started back at school last spring. It has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in years. I have so much more appreciation for the learning and the work that I’m doing than I did 10 or 15 years ago. Much of the information I’m learning has so much more relevance than it did all those years ago. I’m even able to take all my classes online (not sure how possible that would be for you), but it allows me to work at my own pace and not have to schedule an actual class into my week. You will not regret doing back to school.

  42. Jenny on December 23rd, 2009 8:05 am

    Ah here I am again offering a probably lame comment. But! I am that mouth-breathing idiot who had to take a remedial course in Algebra when I went back to school! And then went on to take an advanced math course after that because it was all they had available and I thought if I was too over my head I could drop it and . . . I aced that class. When I got my grades online and I saw that “A” in type on my computer screen I, well I bawled like a little baby. I have never been so proud of myself in MY LIFE.

  43. kathleen on December 23rd, 2009 3:45 pm

    yes yes yes. go go go. !!!

    i decided late that exercise was what i wanted to study and do (it took a scary health diagnosis, which i’m now so thankful for) and am so glad i made the choice. please please let me know if you have any questions or anything that you want to bounce off of someone who has been there.

    thinking about you– and sending thoughts on an exciting new year! scary stuff is the best stuff. go for it!

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