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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.”

            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 September 18, 2020

            13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

            13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

            For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

            “We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

            “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

            Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

            You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

            Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

            1. Take a step back and evaluate

            When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

            1. What is the problem?
            2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
            3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
            4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
            5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

            Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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            2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

            If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

            At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

            Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

            3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

            Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

            4. Process your thoughts/emotions

            Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

            1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
            2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
            3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
            4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

            5. Acknowledge your thoughts

            Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

            By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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            Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

            6. Give yourself a break

            If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

            7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

            A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

            Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

            After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

            8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

            As Helen Keller once said,

            “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

            Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

            9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

            In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

            1. What’s the situation?
            2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
            3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
            4. Take action on your next steps!

            After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

            10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

            A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

            Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

            For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

            11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

            No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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            12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

            No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

            13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

            There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

            After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

            Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

            Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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