Returning to school full-time in your forties ain’t for the faint of heart. Suddenly, after decades of routine 9-to-5ing cushioned by the comforts of a steady income, you find yourself beat, busy and broke. It’s akin to the culture shock of waking up in a foreign country without any local currency in your pockets, barely a cursory ear for the dialect, and a poor understanding of the public transportation system. And just like in that scenario, the locals are friendly, if cautious.
Relating to my younger classmates–or rather, having them relate to me–is tricky business. For the most part, they treat me like a strange, unapproachable creature, one they have to approach carefully and with deferential respect. And maybe I am an odd duck in this particular pond. But this time around, I know why I’m here, and it’s not to meet cute boys or friends-for-life. I’m here because graphic design is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, and coming back to school is how I can get busy getting there. I want to be here. I want to do the work, I enjoy going to class and learning everything there is to learn. My years of toiling in overly-lit cubicles for demanding supervisors have endowed me with an enviable work ethic. It makes what I’ve called “the 24/7 guilt” of always having homework you should be doing bearable. Although all-nighters are completely off the table, so managing my time is a critical skill.
Managing my finances is even more critical, given the financial risk involved in leaping into this new endeavour while standing so close to the precipice of retirement. It has been quite an adjustment to have to carefully consider each and every purchase–including the oh-so-precious caffeine. Let’s be honest, though, thrift is just good practice, no matter your circumstances. And let’s not forget that one of the benefits of those decades of work is having a small nest-egg to fall back on if I need to.
In fact, it’s hard to remember why taking this step felt like such a leap. Why was I so afraid to let go of the daily grind and start fresh? Maybe the first step is the only scary one, and beyond that, it’s just a gentle stroll into a new life.