A Return To College After A 20 Year Hiatus

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October 2nd, 2013 by schoolbound

In late 2008, after a wonderfully successful 17 year climb up the career ladder, suddenly like so many Americans I found myself laid off in a mass wave of cutbacks from a job I thought I would have for life. It was a devastating blow both financially and to my self-esteem. What followed for the next three years added even more to diminishing what was left of my confidence.  I rightfully thought: “my resume is top notch! I am a seasoned experienced executive with a variety of roles under my belt! I won’t be out of work long at all.”

I was dead wrong. My job suddenly became finding a job, full time, 24/7 for the next three years. I worked… but I was undervalued, underpaid and it was always freelance or temporary. The economy was failing, the job market suffered and I was “too experienced” for positions for which I applied, or inexperienced for what was available. I had never been in a situation like this before and neither had most Americans. I was a hard sell for the first time in my career. I was always either over- qualified or I did not have the experience in a particular industry for many job openings that were hiring. I was the cliché “between a rock and a hard place”. The constant rejection was brutal.

So I found myself barely marketable. I was struggling and dwindling my savings that I had previously been so proud of. I became overly stressed and of course, being relentlessly hard on myself, guilty if I decided to take a break from my endless job search to relax a day to take care of myself and read a book. You can truly be your own worst enemy and I beat myself up constantly condemning myself for not doing enough. Something had to give! I was going to give myself a heart attack in my 40’s if I did not find a better solution!

I began to research what I could do to boost my already established experience. I had worked so hard to get where I had been at the time I was laid off, and I had skills that surely beat out the entry level applicant – real world work experience! I had to build on that and make myself marketable again. Looking at my industry I knew that there were kids graduating who would work for half what I needed to survive. I had to somehow advance myself to a level that they could not reach and set myself apart from the pack.

I had graduated in 1991 with a fine art degree (BFA) and worked my way up to an executive position over the next 15 years one step at a time, gaining a variety of experience expanding on my skill set. I thought about the industries that were always hiring and of course my location. I own a house and would hate to sell in this market, or move. The Medical industry was ALWAYS hiring, especially in Florida where I lived. What could I do in the medical industry that did not involve blood, that would help me prosper when my experience had nothing to do with that industry? And then it occurred to me… Art Therapy! I took classes in college for Art Therapy and I did enjoy it. But would I still? I really do love working with people…

As I researched Art Therapy as a career I found  the salary was good and would of course get better with experience. In order to practice in any setting you needed to have a Master’s degree in Art Therapy which of course involved a lot of Psychology coursework, and a degree in art. It was April and I decided to take a Psychology class at Florida Atlantic University over the summer and test the waters. My criteria for choosing this class was that Psych 101 is one of three prerequisites for applying to any Master’s program in Art Therapy, so I had to take it if I was even considering advancing my education seriously the following year. I chose this college because it was convenient and local, and the credits would transfer anywhere.  I was currently working a freelance gig and a part time retail job, and had not set foot in a classroom of this sort for over 20 years.  I plopped myself into an accelerated Summer Course, condensed from a whole semester into 6 weeks. What was I thinking!? I was thinking that I would take the intro course and then if I liked it I would take the other two courses I needed during the fall semester so that I could start applying to Master’s programs that January for the Fall of the following year. I am certainly not getting any younger and I would be starting over essentially. No time to waste!!!

I have to say that even though it was intimidating, I really jumped in with both feet and fully enjoyed it. The difference between taking classes now and when I was in my 20’s is night and day. This time I was doing it for a different reason, looking at it all with a mature eye and being incredibly motivated.  I was taking steps to improve myself and my future. It was strange to sit in this huge lecture hall with young kids who were chatting, texting, eating, listening to music, reading other subjects, talking and joking. I felt my age but more than that I felt enriched. THIS was my competition for work. Know your opponent!

I worked my butt off for those six weeks. I was early to class, I read all my chapters ahead of the lectures, studied constantly, took my online quizzes each week for credit (which did not exist when I first went to college), participated in class quizzes with my “clicker” which also took attendance, and took my exams with ease. I got an A for the class and ranked in the top ten of 200 students who were on average 20 years my junior. It was the best I felt about myself in three years!

And THAT is the real point of this article. You CAN do this. It WILL help you.  And you WILL surprise yourself. It can be frightening to make a change in your career, especially if your hand is forced to do so. It can be intimidating at first but you will settle in and make it all work. But only you hold the key to your own future and if you want a better one, you CAN make it happen.  After taking my Psyche 101 class my confidence was rejuvenated. And I really enjoyed it. It seemed that taking that class changed the tide for me and I landed a good job that paid me well and got my career back on track. I learned a lot in that class which actually helps me in my work now.

Learning a new skill will ALWAYS help improve YOU. You cannot fail.