Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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.

      Advertising

      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.

          Advertising

          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.

          Advertising

          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.”

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

            Featured photo credit: Presbyterian College via presby.edu

            More by this author

            Why Starting College at 25 Was the Best Decision I Ever Made How to Turn Life’s “Detours” Into the Best Road Trip of Your Life 27 Lessons I Learned After 27 surgeries: A Test in Positive Thinking 7 Ways Sharing Your Story Will Change Your Life

            Trending in Communication

            1 12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner 2 8 Proven Ways to Learn a New Language Fast 3 5 Best Language Learning Apps to Master a New Language 4 How to Change Your Mindset for a Happy And Successful Life 5 9 Free Language Learning Apps That Are Fun to Use

            Read Next

            Advertising
            Advertising
            Advertising

            Last Updated on November 5, 2019

            12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

            12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

            Formal education is something everyone has to go through to a certain degree, and the knowledge it offers isn’t always that practical in real life. Life long learning is how you improve as a person, bit by bit and day by day.

            Life long learners recognize the importance and joy of growth so they never settle for what they currently know and always seek for improvement.

            Here are 12 habits of people who value lifelong learning have in common – see how many of them you recognize in yourself.

            1. They Read on a Daily Basis

            Whatever problem or dilemma you currently face, there’s definitely at least one decent book that discusses it and presents a variety of solutions.

            Reading is a great way to open up new horizons, train your brain and revolutionize your life. I can’t even count how many times books completely transformed the way I view the world, and it’s always a change for the better. Through reading, you can connect with successful people and learn from the lessons they share.

            Life long learners love to get lost in books and do it regularly. Bill Gates knows that reading matters a lot; on his personal blog, he reviews plenty of game-changing books.

            Due to technology, you can access a bookshelf of the wealthiest entrepreneur on this planet.

            2. They Attend Various Courses

            Whether it’s online or offline, there are countless courses you can participate in without spending a dime on it. These are great opportunities to connect with clever and like-minded people and learn from them.

            Advertising

            Because of the advanced technology, you can now gain knowledge from online programs, starting from coding through self-improvement to programs from top universities.

            There are literally endless ways to thrive. What life long learners have in common is squeezing as much as possible out of these opportunities.

            3. They Actively Seek Opportunities to Grow

            Instead of spending your free time laying on the couch and watching TV, you prefer doing something creative and practical. You know every wasted minute is gone forever.

            That’s why you’d rather practice your language skills with a native-speaker you’ve met, engage in local meet up or attend a class that teaches something you always wanted to learn.

            Life long learners stay up-to-date with growth opportunities in their areas and participate in them frequently.

            4. They Take Care of Their Bodies

            “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” — John F. Kennedy

            A clever mind combined with a body in a great condition is the best asset you can have. Our bodies were designed to run, walk, jump, swim, lift and much more. Leading a sedentary lifestyle harms both your physical and mental sphere.

            Life long learners know the body is your temple. In order to make it flourish for as long as possible, they train regularly, move a lot and eat healthy.

            Advertising

            5. They Have Diverse Passions

            Among Steve Jobs’ wise quotes, there’s one I like especially. It’s about connecting the dots:

            “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

            Each dot is some event or skill in your life, and it’s only when you go through these elements that you know how to combine them into something great.

            Having a variety of passions indicates that you love to progress. By practicing different skills, you give yourself an advantage over the rest of the people. During hard times, you are more likely to to act intelligently and solve your problems with less effort.

            6. They Love Making Progress

            If behind the efforts, there is passion and a deep desire to grow, your chances of success are way higher, compared to when you are forced to learn.

            Life long learners love to experience the constant growth and improvement. The breakthrough moments help them to notice the impressive change that took place because of the learning process. Any milestone serves as a driving force for further headway.

            7. They Challenge Themselves with Specific Goals

            In order to keep growing, you clearly define your goals. Smart goal setting is one of the tools to ensure constant growth.

            Since you love challenges, a difficult goal doesn’t scare you. Quite the opposite, it keeps you motivated and engaged.

            Advertising

            Research showed that precise and ambitious goals increase the performance of an individual. As we already agreed, life long learners are people who care about their performance, hence they never stop improving.

            8. They Embrace Change

            A complete change can lead to incredible results. This is especially visible on the example of successful companies.

            Oftentimes, it’s that transformation which created space for their so-called overnight success. Twitter was originally created as an internal service to serve Odeo employees. Currently, it has over 300 million monthly active users and is considered the second biggest social network.

            As a life long learner, you know a change can lead to extraordinary results so you welcome it and stay open minded about making a shift.

            9. They Believe It’s Never Too Late to Start Something

            Some people tend to think after a certain age, they are no longer allowed to start something and become successful. The truth is, it’s just a lame excuse not to leave the comfort zone.

            Opposite to common misconceptions, there’s no wrong age to begin something. Henry Ford was 45 when he invented the Ford Model T car, which is considered as the first affordable automobile.

            Sure, for some domains like becoming a professional athlete, starting early is required. However, to learn and improve for its own sake, you are never too old.

            10. Their Attitude to Getting Better Is Contagious

            “We now accept the fact that learning is a life long process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” — Peter Drucker

            There’s nothing better than to see your surroundings getting involved in what you actively participate in. Oftentimes, the best way to achieve that is to inspire them and be the example. As Gandhi would say, you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

            As a life long learner, you are extremely passionate about the constant growth and people around you can sense that positive attitude. As a result, they start acting similarly.

            11. They Leave Their Comfort Zone

            Is it really better to step out of your comfort zone? The answer is always yes.

            You always embrace discomfort as you know the path to success leads through hardship and countless obstacles. Instead of being afraid of facing them, you challenge yourself to overcome more and more difficult handicaps.

            Every time you get out of your comfort zone, regardless whether you win or fail, you learn something new. That’s the part you love the most!

            12. They Never Settle Down

            “Knowledge is exploding, so you need to commit yourself to a plan for life long learning.” — Don Tapscott

            A sense of being clever enough is something you don’t experience. Without a doubt, you appreciate what you already know, but that’s never a reason to stop. You just know once you stop learning, you lose the amazing privilege humans have, namely an ability to a never-ending intellectual development.

            More About Lifelong Learning

            Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

            Advertising

            Read Next