Back to School

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.


9 thoughts on “Back to School

  1. I just saw this quote on Pinterest (of course), and thought of your post: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt. And perhaps it applies even when we are comparing ourselves to our younger selves, or to the visions we once had for where we would be and what our lives would be like by the time we arrived where we are now.

    • They have quotes on Pinterest? I might have to join after all! And what a great one. It really is all about the comparisons, isn’t it? Even when it’s comparing young self to older self.

      Thanks for that!

  2. I was going to start by trashing our 18 year old selves- such smarty pants!!! But then I remembered I rather admired your 18 year old self. But with all due respect, she was wrong (and was she really so judgmental? Or is that our older self somehow projecting back?). It’s not really her fault. She was missing a lot of information. Like the future. Like what life was really supposed to be. Up to that point, all we get are ideas and theories about what life from our families and school (even if we define ourselves against them). But we don’t really know. We aren’t really getting our hands dirty at that point. My 18 year old was really a brat. In fact I may have to write post on how dreadful she could be at times. She gave up on a lot things before she even tried. She’d convinced herself of things that have later proven to be untrue.

    But we can only go forward, and I applaud you for doing that, humbly and honestly. You haven’t failed, you’ve done the bravest thing, which is to do what you need to do today. I have always been very proud of that bravery of yours- to pursue your craft and your art, to choose to leave it, to jump into a corporate role, to move across the country, to move to another one. Finishing your BA is just another thing for me to be proud of you for.

    You know what kills though? Just think about what our 80 year old selves are gonna say about our 36 year old selves one day!

    • Thank you, lovely lady! You made tears come to my eyes.
      Yes, my 18-year-old self was definitely that judgemental. She just hid it really well :). And it’s true, she didn’t have a clue what life was really like. Neither do I, really. I mean, I know more now than I did then, but still, I have more to learn every day.

      And when you said your 18-year-old self was a brat, I wanted to say “No she wasn’t! I liked your 18-year-old self!”. And she was doing her best, even if it seems now like she made bad decisions. (True for me too, I know).

      Our 80-year-old selves are going to roll around on the floor holding their sides and laughing until tears run down their cheeks at all the stuff we’re worried about now.


  3. The idea of going back to school is just one of the many life circumstances that now make me feel out of place in my own skin. When did I become “mature” anyway? (That’s such a polite euphemism.)

    Not wanting to face former decisions I made, that’s familiar to me too. Sometimes those decisions were obviously mistakes but not always. It scares me knowing that I can alter the course of my life with honest, heartfelt, informed decisions… that don’t work out. And that I have already. Is that failure, experience, or both?

    Looking back at my 18-year-old self though I don’t know if I would have wanted to know back then how I was going to feel now. Life is a big endeavour and maybe I needed my naivety to help me take risks, try new things, experience life, get up and try it again. I loved being so sure of my destination. (So sure there WAS one!)

    I hope your younger self makes peace with you and you with her. You gave her the gift of being hungry and foolish and beautiful and wild… and now she needs to give back and cut you some slack. 🙂

    • You are always so insightful and articulate! I really appreciate that about you.

      Yes, I am sometimes afraid too of making decisions because I know now that they could possibly turn out differently than I think they will despite all my best intentions. But maybe things always turn out for the best. I try to believe that as often as possible. Maybe this is the best possible scenario, and we just don’t know it. If we had divine, cosmic vision and could see all our possible futures, maybe we’d choose the ones we have right now over again.

      And yes, I often feel out of place in my own skin. How did I get to be in this grown-up woman’s body? And I think more and more often that it must be so weird to be a senior citizen. I can’t imagine looking at a much older face through these eyes.

      And I guess I did let her be hungry and foolish and beautiful and wild. And maybe she can return the favour!


      • I appreciate the kind words and promise I’ll be inarticulate and un-insightful frequently!

  4. Blackberry Honey: I have never met you, I don’t know who you are (yet), and yet I am so full of admiration for you. That judgmental 18 year old in my own life/mind has become a judgmental 28 and 38 year old and because of this, despite what others may consider to be a terribly successful career and life, I have never completed my Masters’ degree. I have started it 3 times. And I am still enrolled, but mostly so I can put it on my linkedin profile (no one really reads the “expected 2013” bit once they’ve seen the “MSc Organizational Psychology” bit). But the fact is I know that it takes a HUGE amount of courage, work, determination and well just mental rigor to get through hours of study every week, and I’ve chickened out… every time I’ve tried. You are a tough and humble and courageous woman. Take it from a judgmental one 🙂

    (oh, and while we’re on emoticons (and being able to quote snippets of research in conversation, just as you mention above)), I read yesterday that the inclusion of emoticons in writing actually can trigger activity in the emotion-centers of the brain, so I no longer use them apologetically)


    • Hi Pavlova,
      It’s nice to meet you (in this virtual way) :)! And thank you so much for your comments. It’s really nice to be able to see myself through someone else’s eyes as “courageous and tough” when I often feel so vulnerable about going to school.

      And, though I don’t know you, reading your comments, I want to say – go easy on yourself about your MSc. It is hard. Especially at this age when we have careers and so many other responsibilities. Though really – this is horribly hypocritical since not finishing my BA has plauged me forever and continues to do so. Maybe my comment is really for both of us :).

      And thanks for the emoticon research, that’s really interesting! You can bet I’ll be passing that on to others the next chance I get. 😀

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