Adventures in Mid-Life Studies

It has been my long-desired goal to obtain a university degree and, as Thoreau eloquently recommends, “move confidently in the direction of my dreams.” After thirty years spent raising a family and building a career, I decided to take several years off to focus on my education. Post-secondary education wasn’t essential thirty years ago. I had made a career out of the work I could find with a high-school education, which I supplemented with continuing education courses at a local college. However, it was not what I would have preferred to do.

Trading a stable career for an unknown future, however, means taking risks. My long-term career in accounting required regular skills upgrading. Putting my career on hold for several years will mean a lot of catch-up should I return. A leap into university studies also means accepting financial consequences and the challenge of re-learning how to learn.

While younger students are making an investment in their education, which they will recoup over their working life, middle-aged students like me have much less time in which to recoup an educational investment. I’m taking time off work to pursue a university education; consequently, the financial risk is more acute. I’ve discontinued building my retirement savings at a critical time?retirement looms on the horizon.

But returning to school after more than a quarter century away is like starting on the ground floor. High school is too distant to be remembered, and academic expectations have evolved over the past decades. The part-time college courses I took in the intervening years were primarily accounting-related and are not germane to my current field of study at AU.

The learning process requires a greater effort in middle-age. A fifty-year-old brain is not as agile as a twenty-year-old brain. I need to apply myself more diligently now than I did decades ago. Learning new study methods was necessary to counteract an aging brain’s memory and attention deficits. My concept of learning has matured too. I’m not in it for the marks so much as for the knowledge and experience. That’s why I chose to study part-time—so I can devote my attention wholly to each course.

Being an older student means bringing a wealth of experience to my studies. Having lived and worked in the real world for decades gives me a solid foundation of experience on which to build my studies. Although I am acquiring new knowledge, I now have a wealth and foundation of life-long learning to connect that new information to.

There are periods of doubt, of course. Is the time and effort required really worth it? Will I ever recoup the investment?not to mention recover from the loss of income? I read about other students’ struggles with interest. I’m comforted that I’m not on this road alone.

Despite the challenges of obtaining a university degree later in life, I consider my studies to be a pleasure rather than a burden. I am learning for the delight of it. Learning from a pleasure perspective gives a vibrancy to my studies. School is not something to be got through but a fascinating journey of discovery. How I will utilize my education?the destination?is less important than the journey. I am savouring every minute of this adventure.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.