Life is a cycle of constant change. Sometimes, in order to get the wheel to spin where you want, you have to get a new degree… not from the school of hard knocks but from a legitimate educational facility (which makes me incredibly bitter considering I have a doctorate in hard knocks).
Returning to school after an absence is always difficult. You have created a routine for your life. Adding school back in, now that throws a heck of a wrench in the spokes of your wheel of opportunity.
Going back to school is a cross country trek, not a drag race. There are 6 distinct stages to this particular journey.
1. Excitement stage
Making a decision to take action in your own life feels amazing. For the first time, in what feels like forever, you have made a decision for you. You fantasize about graduation and all the amazing places your career will take you. You tell anyone that will listen about your new adventure, including the poor deli lady that just wants to know how much ham you want. It’s an unbelievable self-esteem boost.
You buy all new school supplies and get really excited over your new highlighters. You feel organized and ready to take on the world. You have thought of everything and you are determined to not allow anything to stand in your way.
2. What the heck was I thinking stage
You throw on that new backpack and take a look in the mirror. You catch a glimpse of that tired woman staring back at you. That woman is far past her naive freshman days.
Then reality sets in. The weight of your decision is sitting directly on your chest. You have racing thoughts about what a huge mistake you have made. Your internal voice begins screaming doubt. You find the receipt for those darn highlighters.
As your level of “freaking the heck out” begins to escalate, hopefully, you have a pause button. Whether you push pause or someone pushes it for you, you’ll step back. You begin to collect yourself and try to regain some of that excitement you felt way back in stage 1.
3. Financial stress stage
The WTH stage diminishes into a more specific stage. The first bill comes in and it feels like a direct shot to the gut. You are officially paying thousands of dollars to be formally stressed the heck out.
Regardless of financial aid or scholarships, the monetary toll is real. Increased childcare and decreased work hours add up. If anything was going to stop you at this point, it would be your bank account.
Compromises have to happen. You put on your biggest salesperson smile and try to convince your family that the bargain-brand cereal tastes better than the name-brand with the fun cartoon characters on the box.
4. Time-crunch stage
Your first class starts and you get the dreaded syllabus. There in black and white are all the tasks you have to complete in a very short amount of time. Your head begins to spin. You overhear some little twerp start to talk to his “bro” about how this class is going to significantly cut into his partying schedule. You take a moment to internally scream and fantasize about dumping your cold coffee over his head. You collect yourself and immediately start calculating how poorly you can score on each assignment and test while still passing the class.
5. Unhealthy coping skills stage
At this point, you are grateful for your advanced age and your ability to purchase alcohol legally. It would not be surprising, if not expected, to find yourself with a stiff drink and an open package of Oreos while analyzing the psychological implications of Greek mythology. There is no shame in turning in a paper with just the slightest smudge of cookies and cream.
6. Acceptance stage
Once you officially have the proverbial wheel rolling, you can begin to settle into your new normal. You are able to organize the stress into seemingly manageable sections. As you watch degree requirements slowly get chipped away, a sense of accomplishment, pride, and hope take over the once overwhelming feeling of anxiety.
You finally accept all of the aspects involved with furthering your education. You go ahead and stock up on Oreos and highlighters. You’ve got this.