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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 November 26, 2020

            How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

            How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

            As playwright Wilson Mizner supposedly said all the way back in the 1930s,

            “Be kind to everyone on the way up; you will meet the same people on the way down.”

            The adage is the perfect prototype for relationship building in 2020, although we may want to expand Mizner’s definition of “kind” to include being helpful, respectful, grateful, and above all, crediting your colleagues along the way.

            5 Ways to Switch on Your Relationship Building Magnetism

            Relationship building does not come easily to all. Today’s computer culture makes us more insular and less likely to reach out—not to mention our new work-from-home situation in which we are only able to interact virtually. Still, relationship building remains an important part of career engagement and success, and it gets better with practice.

            Here are five ways you can strengthen your relationships:

            1. Advocate for Other’s Ideas

            Take the initiative to speak up in support of other team members’ good ideas. Doing so lets others know that the team’s success takes precedence over your needs for personal success. Get behind any colleague’s innovative approach or clever solution and offer whatever help you can give to see it through. Teammates will value your vote of confidence and your support.

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            2. Show Compassion

            If you learn that someone whom you work with has encountered difficult times, reach out. If it’s not someone you know well, a hand-written card expressing your sympathy and hopes for better times ahead could be an initial gesture. If it’s someone with whom you interact regularly, the act could involve offering to take on some of the person’s work to provide a needed reprieve or even bringing in a home-cooked dish as a way to offer comfort. The show of compassion will not go unnoticed, and your relationship building will have found a foothold.

            3. Communicate Regularly

            Make an effort to share any information with team members that will help them do their jobs more effectively. Keeping people in the loop says a lot about your consideration for what others need to deliver their best results.

            Try to discover the preferred mode of communication for each team member. Some people are fine relying on emails; others like to have a phone conversation. And once we can finally return to working together in offices, you may determine that face-to-face updates may be most advantageous for some members.

            4. Ask for Feedback

            Showing your willingness to reach out for advice and guidance will make a positive impression on your boss. When you make it clear that you welcome and can accept pointers, you display candor and trust in what opinions your superior has to offer. Your proclivity towards considering ways of improving your performance and strengthening any working interactions will signal your strong relationship skills.

            If you are in a work environment where you are asked to give feedback, be generous and compassionate. That does not mean being wishy-washy. Try always to give the type of feedback that you wouldn’t mind receiving.

            5. Give Credit Where It’s Due

            Be the worker who remembers to credit staffers with their contributions. It’s a surprisingly rare talent to credit others, but when you do so, they will remember to credit you, and the collective credit your team will accrue will be well worth the effort.

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            How Does Relationship Building Build Careers?

            Once you have strengthened and deepened your relationships, here are some of the great benefits:

            Work Doesn’t Feel So Much Like Work

            According to a Gallup poll, when you have a best friend at work, you are more likely to feel engaged with your job. Work is more fun when you have positive, productive relationships with your colleagues. Instead of spending time and energy overcoming difficult personalities, you can spend time enjoying the camaraderie with colleagues as you work congenially on projects together. When your coworkers are your friends, time goes by quickly and challenges don’t weigh as heavily.

            You Can Find Good Help

            It’s easier to ask for assistance when you have a good working relationship with a colleague. And with office tasks changing at the speed of technology, chances are that you are going to need some help acclimating—especially now that work has gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

            Much of relationship building rests on your genuine expressions of appreciation toward others. Showing gratitude for another’s help or for their willingness to put in the extra effort will let them know you value them.

            Mentors Come Out of the Woodwork

            Mentors are proven to advance your professional and career development. A mentor can help you navigate how to approach your work and keep you apprised of industry trends. They have a plethora of experience to draw from that can be invaluable when advising you on achieving career success and advancement.

            Mentors flock to those who are skilled at relationship building. So, work on your relationships and keep your eyes peeled for a worthy mentor.

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            You Pull Together as a Team

            Great teamwork starts with having an “abundance mentality” rather than a scarcity mentality. Too often, workers view all projects through a scarcity mentality lens. This leads to office strife as coworkers compete for their piece of the pie. But in an abundance mentality mode, you focus on the strengths that others bring rather than the possibility that they are potential competitors.

            Instead, you can commit relationship building efforts to ensure a positive work environment rather than an adversarial one. When you let others know that you intend to support their efforts and contribute to their success, they will respond in kind. Go, team!

            Your Network Expands and So Does Your Paycheck

            Expand your relationship building scope beyond your coworkers to include customers, suppliers, and other industry stakeholders. Your extra efforts can lead to extra sales, a more rewarding career, and even speedy professional advancement. And don’t overlook the importance of building warm relationships with assistants, receptionists, or even interns.

            Take care to build bridges, not just to your boss and your boss’s boss but with those that work under you as well. You may find that someone who you wouldn’t expect will put in a good word for you with your supervisor.

            Building and maintaining good working relationships with everyone you come in contact with can pay off in unforeseen ways. You never know when that underling will turn out to be the company’s “golden child.” Six years from now you may be turning to them for a job. If you have built up a good, trusting work relationship with others along your way, you will more likely be considered for positions that any of these people may be looking to fill.

            Your Job Won’t Stress You Out

            Study shows that some 83 percent of American workers experience work-related stress.[1] Granted, some of that stress is now likely caused by the new pandemic-triggered workplace adjustments, yet bosses and management, in general, are reportedly the predominant source of stress for more than one-third of workers.

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            Having meaningful connections among coworkers is the best way to make work less stressful. Whether it is having others whom to commiserate with, bounce ideas off, or bring out your best performance, friendships strengthen the group’s esprit de corps and lower the stress level of your job.

            Your Career Shines Bright

            Who would you feel better about approaching to provide a recommendation or ask for promotion: a cold, aloof boss with whom you have only an impersonal relationship or one that knows you as a person and with whom you have built a warm, trusting relationship?

            Your career advancement will always excel when you have a mutual bond of friendship and appreciation with those who can recommend you. Consider the plug you could receive from a supervisor who knows you as a friend versus one who remains detached and only notices you in terms of your ability to meet deadlines or attain goals.

            When people fully know your skills, strengths, personality, and aspirations, you have promoters who will sing your praises with any opportunity for advancement.

            Final Thoughts

            At the end of the day, it is “who you know” not “what you know.” When you build relationships, you build a pipeline of colleagues, work partners, team members, current bosses, and former bosses who want to help you—who want to see you succeed.

            At its core, every business is a people business. Making a point to take the small but meaningful actions that build the foundation of a good relationship can be instrumental in cultivating better relationships at work.

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            Featured photo credit: Adam Winger via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] The American Institute of Stress: 42 Worrying Workplace Stress Statistics

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