Was there something you really, really wanted to do when you were younger, but you walked away from it because you didn’t think you could do it? Have you had childhood doubts since?
I loved to write. No, I mean, I loved it. I kept diaries, I had literally dozens of pen pals all over the world. I crafted short stories that I believed would someday win awards. Writing was in my blood.
When I was in high school and exploring college programs, I floated the idea of writing professionally. “You can’t make a living that way,” advised my guidance counselor. “Why don’t you do that in your spare time?” suggested my parents. “Earn a degree in something that will pay the bills” was the message I received.
So, I entered college with the intention of earning a business degree. I dropped out after almost two years and before attaining an Associate’s degree because I was tired of going to school. I wanted to get on with living my adult life. But I always regretted that decision, and 25 years later I decided to pick up where I’d left off: I returned to college to earn my undergraduate degree when I was 45 years old.
When I first went back into a classroom, I thought I must surely be the oldest student on that – or any other – campus, but I soon learned that I was just one of hundreds of “mature students.”
In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the year I returned to college there were 2 million students over the age of 35 enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities; in 2016 that number had grown to 3.5 million. “Retirement” certainly has a very different connotation for us than it did for our parents’ generation.
What Do You Want to Be When You “Grow Up”?
I hadn’t decided about what I wanted to do once I had a degree, but decided I’d figure it out while I spent the next few years back in school. Of one thing I was certain: I knew writing would factor in somehow.
I ended up spending seven years attending college part-time. During that time, I was also raising two teenaged daughters and flying across the country to spend a week or two of every month as one of my mother’s caretakers while she battled ovarian cancer. One of the lowest points of those years was spending the night in my mother’s hospital room, unable to sleep and trying to complete homework in statistics, a subject I struggled to understand.
Those were some of the most challenging years of my life, but I was determined to reach the finish line this time, and I took it one semester at a time. One of the high points was graduation day when I received a BA in English Literature and graduated summa cum laude – what a feeling of accomplishment to not only achieve my goal, but to also be fêted by family and dear friends!
And then what? Can you believe I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up?
Overcoming My Fears Gave Me Strength
I’d always loved reading and writing, but as a young woman I had doubted my ability to write well enough to earn a living at it. Now that I had overcome my fears and finally attained that degree, I wondered if I might also flex those long-dormant writing muscles.
I started writing essays, short stories and articles for newspapers and magazines. Reconnecting with my love of writing eventually led to a job in the publishing world, where I actually got paid to read and write. It was nirvana!
When I later became a freelance editor, I decided the best way to connect with potential clients was to start a blog. As I tell all my clients, blogging is a fantastic way to not only hone your writing skills but also to meet talented, interesting people. And I’ve met dozens of them over the years, several of whom have become good personal friends, too.
Today I look back on my youthful fear of failure – believing I couldn’t make a living through writing – and I wish I could tell that young girl to have more confidence in herself and in her ability to carve out a place for herself in a field she felt passionate about.
It’s Never Too Late
But as novelist Nancy Sayer put it, “It’s never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise.” I revised by going back to school, and you can too. Whether you want to learn a new skill, begin a hobby or reinvent yourself, today is the day to start overcoming that youthful fear and revise your life!
What “I can’t” story did you tell yourself when you were younger? How have you overcome that negative voice? What long-forgotten dream will you resurrect, and where do you think accomplishing it might take you? Please share your story in the comments.