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Why Starting College at 25 Was the Best Decision I Ever Made

Why Starting College at 25 Was the Best Decision I Ever Made

There I was, thrilled to get my very first college acceptance letter. I couldn’t believe I got into the musical theatre program at University of Michigan! All my life, I dreamed of pursuing a career in theatre, on Broadway, in every musical possible. This was my golden ticket! I worked so hard all of my life for this and felt that at 18, everything had come together: I would train for Broadway, win my Tony, and conquer the world. I was set for life.

Everyone figured out who they were in college. I envisioned college to be this glorious “life-making” machine. You could get through twelve years in the education system, doing whatever it took to score the A, pass the final exam, and win top honors, just to finally fit into that magical collegiate utopia, where four years later, you’d suddenly know who you were. You’d be living a real life, with a real job, and a real purpose. College was where adults were made.

At least, that’s what I thought as a type A high school honors student. I didn’t realize that two weeks after I was waving my Michigan envelope around, dancing like a lunatic, that my world would drastically change forever.

Quite a few surgeries later, I’m here now, enjoying the summer off before my final year of college – and the final year of my twenties. By the time I graduate, I’ll be the big Three-Oh. I know, I know. Thirty isn’t that old. But it took guts deciding to fill out college applications, go to college tours, and do those nerve-wracking college interviews at 25. Now, I’m so glad I did.

Four years ago, when I was twenty-five, and a newly-enrolled college freshman (yes, you read that right), it was obvious that I was not your typical 18-year-old carrying a sheaf of spiral notebooks and fresh set of pens on her first day of classes. Then again, I don’t really have your typical life-story either.

Amy O Performance

    Prior to that, I planned for my “life schedule” to be nothing but typical, running like clockwork. For me and my high school friends, college seemed like the no-brainer after our senior year exams and SAT tutoring. A degree, job, family, and real life would then ensue. Ten years ago, when I was a fresh-faced 18, I was an excited and audacious high-school student, determined to study a quirky blend of musical theatre and religious studies in my upcoming college career, before I set my sights on Broadway.

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    I envisioned that the world of higher education was going to be a magical world of “independence.” I could finally live on my own, have a social life, go to the kind of parties I saw in teen movies, and feel like a real-life adult. I dreamed of getting a degree in the arts, and becoming a teacher, a writer, artist, actress — anything I set my mind to, really.

    So, how did I get to the advanced age of someone in their mid-twenties, setting foot on a campus (cautiously) for the first time, in a long-delayed bid to get a degree? Life has a funny set of storyboards. You think you know exactly how things will turn out, or how you’d like things to turn out, but crisis had intervened in the meantime. My path would become much more meandering and turbulent than I ever expected.

    A Straight Set-Out Path? Not Quite

    Free MixedMedia Original Art

      What I never anticipated was that unexpected and frighteningly sudden medical circumstances – terrible, life-threatening digestive issues – would freeze my life in its tracks when I 18.

      I hazily awoke from a coma to see medical staff darting about, frantically trying to keep me alive. My first conscious memories were bits of sound and blurry sights, as I tried to piece together what had happened to me. I eventually learned from doctors that I would be in the ICU for an indefinite amount of time, and that their medical team had fought to save my life. I could hear these words, but my “self” was still frozen as a high school student. I had “just” received my college acceptance letters! (I had no idea I had woken up months later.)

      The first thing I asked, in the most endearingly clueless way was, “What about college?”

      Starting from Square One

      The answer to that question was college was out of the picture. Years of medical triumphs and setbacks followed, adding up to a wealth of life experience. Always a creator and busybody by nature, I went on to do more in my “sick” years than most people do in their lifetime: I founded a chocolate business, wrote and starred in a one-woman show about my life, mounted art shows, taught nursery school, and most importantly, I was alive. However, something still felt empty.

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      What was it? College. I wanted college. At 25 years old, I had never received that degree of which I had dreamed. I never even went to a Friday night, red-plastic-cup-in-hand campus party. I gained so much in the meantime, and accomplished three resumés worth, but I still felt like there was something I was missing out on. My life may have strayed away from me, but this was a story that I wanted to finish. I wasn’t going to leave any blank chapters.

      When Is It Too Late?

      I thought: is it really “too late?” Did I miss the boat with a few years passing? Then, I thought of the practicalities. At 25, how was I going to feel surrounded by a bunch of 18-year-olds? How would I feel being on a campus for four years?

      If We Stand Like Trees
        Me, with my art.

        The ever circulating question in my head was: “Is this really going to get me somewhere?” So, I had to think about what I wanted out of this experience. At 25, with a load of real-life experience under my belt, what did I want to gain from college and a degree? At this point, college certainly wasn’t to stay busy or to get a job. I got through years of medical trauma and uncertainty by accomplishing feat after feat, which was also how I rediscovered myself; however, I was hungry for a different kind of experience.

        I just simply wanted the opportunity to know “what else” was out there. I want to see what I had missed out on. I wanted to expose myself to diverse interests, meet people from all over, and study subjects I didn’t even know existed. College seemed like a huge, unknown realm of endless possibilities, where I could graduate with unexpected, new-found inspiration.

        Gutless Performance 2
          Cramming for exams and cramming food into my face.

          Despite this uplifting sense, feeling the occasional downward pull of doubt, I asked myself, “If not now, when?” When I couldn’t give a good enough answer, I knew it was time to start browsing colleges online. It then took a bunch of courage and getting past a lot of inertia to decide that after years of an “education in real life,” I wanted to go through the entire college application process again.

          What followed was months of printing out college applications, submitting forms, and re-writing college essays. Reflecting on what years of medical disappointments and frustrations had ultimately done to my spirit, I titled my essay “Keeping Hunger Alive.” Six years with no food or drink? Let’s just say I picked an essay topic I had become quite the expert at. College had nothing on me!

          Dreaming (But Reality Intervenes), Then A Dream Finally Becomes Real

          How has it turned out? When I was confronted with medical trauma in the blink of an eye, I re-routed my life on an alternate pathway of creativity and healing, branching out from my original plan to study performing arts. Going back to college gave me an even wider array of colors to paint my life’s path with. I feel as though my vistas are much more boundless. In effect, I’ve reawakened and regenerated my thirst for knowledge.

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          I plan on graduating with a degree, but that’s not my main concern. More importantly, I’ve given myself the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas, people, subjects, and stimulation. I’ve networked with career counselors, learned how to make a tattoo, met kids from other countries, and the best thing of all, I’ve put myself out there.

          I just turned 29, and I’ve experienced even more highs and lows in the three years since I started college. I’ve been frustrated by more disastrous surgeries, and have also been overjoyed by planning the wedding of my dreams last year. I’ve toured the country (to other colleges, ironically) with a musical theatre sexual assault prevention program and I’ve given a TEDx Talk. I’ve had even more medical hurdles, and I’ve dealt with devastating grief. I’ve learned what it means to have life change in an instant, in ways I could have never expected after having surviving death, when I had to move on after learning my husband had filed for divorce.

          These aren’t all typical things you deal with during your junior year of college. In college, everyone’s on their own path anyway. In fact, I’ve never felt a firmer sense of belonging. Every morning I come to campus, I come away with a bit more of myself. Me with or without an ostomy, with or without my husband, and with or without the “why me’s” I’ve wanted to shout as I watched years go by from the window of a hospital room, wondering when life would finally start or me.

          College taught me that life can start now – at any given moment. It’s a lesson I need to continually remind myself of whenever life takes a detour. It’s never too late to get back on track. As I finish the academic year, having gained and lost a husband, lost and gained a few more medical complications, and allowed myself to learn from every surprise in my path, I’m filled with pride for what I thought I could never achieve.

          When doctors forbade me from eating and drinking for years, I barely had the focus to concentrate on reading a magazine ad. Now, what amazes me the most is that I’ve really finished my third year at Hampshire College! I’ve written a three-act play about my story, I’ve taught art to children, and continue to study art education. I’ve also learned how to make puzzles, sculptures, studied Asian performance art, and have even become well-versed in psychology.

          Late Bloomers Still Bloom

          I’ve shown myself that it’s never too late… for anything. Even late bloomers bloom, and in the most beautiful spring colors.

          Of course, there are also real-life matters to figure out as I finish my final year of college. I’m still figuring out how I can sustain a business, pay the bills, take care of my medical situation, and make a two-and-a-half-hour commute every week. However, I feel so lucky to have the chance to learn and get my education at any age.

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          In my final poetry session at Hampshire, my professor used me as an example for the class. I was the only one gabbing on and on about a poem, and he asked why more students didn’t volunteer their opinions. I responded with:

          “Professor – in the class’s defense – I feel like I kid in a candy store, going to college at age 28. If I had just been through 18 years of school and had to go right to college and concentrate some more, I think it’s possible I wouldn’t give a hoot what you were saying!”

          What I was trying to articulate (I think) is what psychology calls cognitive reframing. Actually, my long-delayed college student status turned out to be a gift. In fact, things were far better, than if everything had gone as originally planned.

          Singing Tree Revisited Original Artwork

            It’s true. I almost feel like I’m sneaking my hand into a big jar of candy, reaping the sweet rewards of learning from inspiring and amazing professors, students, and ideas. As a teen, I know I probably would not have cared as much. Now, at this age, I’ve also got real-life experience behind me to help really put into action what I’m learning in textbooks.

            In effect, there is a “context” behind my professor’s lectures. I’ve always been interested in the arts, creativity, and working with others, and now I’m gearing myself towards a degree in expressive therapies. This is an amazing way to integrate my love of the arts with education. It’s also a way to help others heal as I have healed from my own terrible trauma. It’s all because of life’s crazy interventions… and college, of course!

            I’m grateful that life’s been rocky and turbulent. Only now have I realized how strong I am and how independent I can be. I’m also incredibly grateful for these forced “gap years.”

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            It’s better late than never – and sometimes, it’s just better late!

            Featured photo credit: Presbyterian College via presby.edu

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            Last Updated on July 20, 2021

            How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

            How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

            You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

            Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

            Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

            Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

            1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

            According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

            “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

            Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

            Warming up

            If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

            If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

            Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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            1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
            2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
            3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

            Stay hydrated

            Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

            To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

            Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

            Meditate

            Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

            Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

            Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

            Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

            2. Focus on your goal

            One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

            Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

            Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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            Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

            If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

            3. Convert negativity to positivity

            There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

            ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

            It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

            Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

            Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

            Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

            4. Understand your content

            Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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            However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

            “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

            Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

            Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

            One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

            5. Practice makes perfect

            Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

            In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

            Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

            6. Be authentic

            There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

            Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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            Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

            To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

            With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

            Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

            7. Post speech evaluation

            Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

            Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

            We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

            You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

            Improve your next speech

            As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

            Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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            • How did I do?
            • Are there any areas for improvement?
            • Did I sound or look stressed?
            • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
            • Was I saying “um” too often?
            • How was the flow of the speech?

            Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

            If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

            Reference

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