Midlife women are challenged, even driven, to make improvements to their lives in many ways. We are often in the process of implementing self-improvement projects. Changing careers, revising our relationships with spouses, parents, children or friends; adjusting diets; initiating or accelerating exercise plans; monitoring health issues; reducing stress; trying to do more self-care.
But in this back-to-school season, I would like to encourage ALL midlife women to think about improving their brains – about the importance of learning, studying, and being a student once again. There are so many different options for engaging in lifelong learning these days: degree programs, continuing education courses, certificate programs, workshops. Online courses are certainly an option, some led by library and information technology masters. But there is a unique alchemy that takes place in a physical classroom. And in programs designed for midlife learners, fellow students often contribute as much to what is being taught as the instructor does.
I know the value of being a midlife student from personal experience. When I turned 40, I felt the urge to take stock of where I was. I looked around, assessed, and then gave myself a State of My Life Address. I declared that the current state of my life was pretty good. I was a married mother of two wonderful children, and a full-time associate art director at a national magazine.
But then I admitted to the less than good news: having been laid off twice before, I had acquired a pretty good sense of impending employment doom and I sensed the publishing company I worked for was on shaky economic ground. I was worried.
The other less than good news I had to confront was that after two decades working as a graphic designer, I was no longer satisfied with my career path. I longed to do more than just make things look nice. I yearned to learn and to expand my intellectual capabilities.
So my State of My Life speech ended with realization and hope: I realized I wanted to go to back to school, and I hoped it could also help me rearrange my professional life.
As soon as I was aware of and committed to this dream, a whole string of “coincidences” occurred. A colleague told me that the local public research university offered a full scholarship to full-time employees who took that university’s classes. After a few months of searching, I landed a full time job in the communications department at the business school at that university.
Finding a graduate program to enroll in was more challenging. Most programs demanded that students attend full time. Not only would it be impossible for me to work full time and attend classes full time, the university’s scholarship program only paid tuition for one course per semester and only for employees who worked full time. So the phone calls I made to inquire about degree programs I already knew about and was interested in ended quickly, to my frustration.
But I was stymied for only a short time. During one of our meetings, only a couple weeks after I started my new job, my boss – a woman about my age – mentioned she was leaving her job, having taken a better position in a different department. She said it was a direct result of having just received her master’s degree in a part time program at the university. She said enrolling in that degree program was the best thing she had ever done. I eagerly asked her about it, confessing my desire to go back to school and describing the obstacles I had encountered.
She told me all about it, and it was obvious that it fit my needs perfectly. Her enthusiasm was so energizing, I made an appointment with the program’s administrator for the following day and began the application process that week. I was accepted and enrolled in my first class within three months.
Next to having my children, it was, indeed, the best thing I ever did.
So, if this story resonates with you, then add one more category to your midlife improvement list, right next to the kettle ball and burpee exercise program. Think about what you want to do about your intellect, your talents, your curiosity. Think about finding a place in your schedule for robust discussion in a classroom full of other inquisitive people.
I’ll be exploring the many kinds of learning opportunities that fit the lives and needs of midlife women in upcoming BA50 articles. The next one will be about that masters degree program my former boss and I loved so much. Join me… and start dreaming.