Going Back to School at 40 Is Surprisingly Scary

CC0 Public Domain
CC0 Public Domain

In the last quarter of 2015, I decided that 2016 would look like this: celebrate the new year, turn 40, and then go back to school two days after. At first, I was excited about this new challenge. Now, with the start of classes less than a week away, I’m surprisingly scared.

I’m going to BCIT to update my marketing communications credentials. The purpose is to not only better serve my WordPress design and development company, but to also better serve existing and future clients. More and more of my clients want help expanding and managing their social media marketing efforts, and I want to make sure I’m on top of current trends and best practices.

I’m doing my courses through distance education. At first, this really excited me. I did my BA in psychology through Thompson Rivers University the same way. I love to learning, more than I could ever articulate. If I could take every degree possible, I’d do it. So, of course, I can do this!

Suddenly, I found myself with only one week until I start this crazy endeavor of trying to cram an extra 30 hours per week into my existing, already jam-packed work-family-life schedule. Cue the panic, anxiety, fear, self-doubt, frustration, and, well, basically all of the emotions.

“Go back to school,” he said. “You love learning,” he said. “It will be fun,” he said.

Or, maybe not.

It’s like my brain said to me, “Oh, hey! You don’t have a gaming convention to manage this year. How about you fill those free hours with another huge undertaking instead of enjoying some free time!”

Something has got to be wrong with me, right?

The fear and associated panic and anxiety are the results of so many things.

  1. Having to re-familiarize myself with a style of writing I haven’t used since the days of my BA; writing a blog post and writing a paper are such two different animals.
  2. Working in a paced learning environment. I haven’t done this in ages! My BA was self-paced. The only deadline was handing in all assignments by the end of the term, allowing me to complete a four-month course in one month. Even in high school, most of my teachers allowed me to work at my own pace because of my unique learning style. Am I going to be able to meet weekly deadlines? The question is irrational, but it still exists.
  3. Participating in weekly online class discussions and group projects. This is another thing I haven’t done in ages. One of the reasons I did my BA through distance education is because I’m on the autism spectrum. Group projects and discussions are simply just bad. People scare me. It takes a long time for me to be in a group environment, even online, before I’ll start to speak. It takes me so long to figure out the social rules involved. Being forced to be social? Just put me out of my misery now. Then add that if the group projects don’t get a minimum of 50 percent, the final grade for the project will be zero. Cue all the high school memories of, “Hey, Jules! You’re the smart one. Do all of the work for us and we’ll get your grade. Thanks!”
  4. Can I still learn? Another irrational question. Of course I can still learn. I have to learn on a daily basis in order to perform my various jobs. But that question still exists.
  5. Have I put too much on my plate? Should I have started off with one course instead of diving in with three? Last year was a year full of health crises, will I make it out alive? (Organize Me is going to be my best friend.)

Then there is the frustration of having to complete tasks in certain courses that are far below my level of expertise. Simple (for me) things like: create a website using WordPress; write a blog post; create a Twitter account and use it at least once day.

One very good upside to BCIT is that their philosophy towards education is teaching in a practical manner and not focusing on theory. I have one teacher who has asked that we correct her if she is teaching something that may be outdated because most of the students in her class already work in the industry in some way, and are mature students like myself. She wants to learn from us as much as she wants to teach us. I really hope that will apply to the courses where the assignments are things that I already do on a daily basis, alleviating the frustration of doing redundant assignments.

What in the name of insert-your-thing-here have I gotten myself into?

I think I will be fine. That is the hope, anyway. I mean, it’s not all bad. I seriously love learning. The idea of textbooks has me beyond excited. I much prefer reading non-fiction over fiction, and every day I read something simply for the sake of learning something new. I am very much excited over the prospect of learning something new while reinforcing my current knowledge base.

Also, quite thankfully, my children are older and juggling family is much easier now.

But, right now, the fear outweighs the huge excitement I felt when I received my “Welcome to BCIT part-time studies!” e-mail.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. There are other GeekDad writers who went to school in their 30s and 40s, and they survived. They, too, were nervous and scared at first. But somehow, they managed to juggle work, family, and life with school, and actually found themselves enjoying it. They reassure me that it can be done!

So, I can totally do this, right?

If you went back to school later in life, how did you feel about it? What are some of the things you did to help you get through it all?

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4 thoughts on “Going Back to School at 40 Is Surprisingly Scary

  1. Possibly the most important thing I did was to try and clearly communicate what support I needed from spouse and family. By setting clear times when I needed to work, I was able to keep myself to a schedule. I didn’t miss too many deadlines over those 2+ years, and to keep my quality of work at both work and school at an acceptable level.

    Second thing: LEARN TO KNOW WHEN TO SLEEP. I can’t pull all-nighters like I used to, so managing my aging body’s need for sleep was important. Fortunately, I have an hour-long train ride, so could manage some naps or reading as needed. I had one group project in that time and it was AWFUL.

  2. I’m 38 and returned to school last fall to get my degree in Computer Information Systems. Because of my hom life (I have 2 kids I’m homeschool and taking care of my elderly mom) I’m attending an online program through my local community college.

    I started last semester with many of the same thoughts and fears, but you know what? I survived my 15 units (including my intermediate algebra class where I had to pretty much teach myself all of the material) but I walked out with straight A’s! WOOT! I even had a couple of my instructors tell me “If I could just copy you or install your kick-ass attitude in some of my younger students…” HA! I even had a few of my younger fellow distant-education students asking me for advice and how to study, which was pretty cool. I think it helps that since I’m an older student, I know how to communicate and relate with my instructors – I’m not afraid to ask questions and politely argue my side.

    Now, I’m heading into the spring semester with 5 classes (17 units), 2 of which will be math classes (I’m working on a second associates in Mathematics so I can have an easier transfer into the computer networks program at a local university). People think I’m freaking CRAZY but I seem to thrive on it! But then again, I’m one of those that has to be always learning.

    I can tell you this – I’ve gotten so much more out of this program and experience (both in my education and self esteem) now than I ever would have if I had attended a similar program at 18 or 20 years old. I’m sure you’ll find the same happens to you.

    Good luck! May you kick many many asses in your climb to your educational goal.

  3. I’m 36 with two daughters under 6 and almost every start of a semester I want to go back! I feel the same as you about wanting to learn everything I can. Good luck to you and thanks for the motivation and inspiration!

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