When I was eighteen, and in University for the first time, I vividly remember slouching in the back of a lecture hall, perching my Doc Marten boots on the back of the seat in front of me, staring at the “mature students” sitting at the front of the class, and thinking, “What losers. That will never be me”. What I can’t get over now is not only how sure I was, but also how clearly wrong I was.
The road that has led me back to getting the BA I didn’t think I needed has been long and varied, and seven months into being a truly “mature student” at thirty-six, I still can’t help feeling shocked that I ended up here. Sitting at the front of the lecture hall now, although I’m used to being a student again, I feel embarrassed. As though that eighteen-year-old self is still sitting in the back of the class, boring her eyes into the back of my head.
When people ask me about going to school (part-time, while working full-time), I feel like I want to crawl into a tiny black hole. Instead of saying “I’m getting my BA”, I say “just taking a couple classes, you know, for fun”, and then I change the subject as fast as possible. But it isn’t fun. Yes, I do like learning new things, and sharing annoying fun facts like “studies show that driving while talking on your cell phone is just as bad as driving drunk” with my boyfriend. But it’s also a lot of hard work, and time stolen from a myriad of other things I’d rather be doing. The truth is that the lack of that little piece of paper has been a real problem for me, and I decided that I finally had to just suck it up and get it done. But that story seems too embarrassing to tell, so I don’t.
Why is that? Because I think people will see me as a failure. And of course, if people think I’m a failure, then I must be one, right? Of course not, but try telling that to my insecurities. The thought I’ve been entertaining this week is that maybe it’s not people’s judgement of me that’s the real issue, but my own condemnation of myself that first took root back in 1994. I see my own eighteen-year-old self in everyone’s eyes, and I do not want to face her.
The question then, of course, is what to do? Because honestly, if that judgement were coming from other people, I could probably reason with them, but this part of me does not seem to respond to reason. I tell myself that going back to school is to help a career change, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t help. I tell myself that I have never really been interested in a conventional path, and this is all part of it, but that doesn’t stick either.
Maybe at the end of it all, it’s as simple as knowing that my eighteen-year-old self, although idealistic and burning with passion, was just plain wrong. Life isn’t a straight path to glory and success, if only you’re smart enough. Life is messy and confusing and even the best of us may walk a road that ends up in swampy, boggy places. And I could ask her to have a little compassion; for me, and anyone who has ever felt confused or lost in life. And for the time being, at least, that seems to help.