Doubt creeps in

So many times over the past six years of my college education, I’ve had periods of great doubt. What am I doing? How can I justify the time I’m investing in this? How can I rationalize the cost? What is my goal? Am I doing the right thing?

Six years is a long time, so waves of this kind of uncertainty would come and lay me low. Sometimes it would be when I had to do a challenging project for an assignment (like a presentation-not fond of standing in front of people trying to both sound knowledgeable and look at ease). Or it might be during one of those times when big papers for three different classes were all due the same week. Or maybe when the week was so jam-packed with other stuff – work, garden, mainland appointments, family outing – that I couldn’t shoehorn in a single additional obligation.

Sometimes I’d feel done in with self-doubt when people would ask me about my classes and about what I planned to do when I graduated. It’s a reasonable question, after all.

Except I really don’t have a specific goal. And having to stand there and admit that made me feel like my decision to go to college was positively indulgent. Not a good feeling.

I know two people who wanted to be nurses. Instead, both got married, had children, and pursued other things. In their 30s and 40s, they went (or returned) to nursing school. They had a calling and they made it happen. That’s not my story.

I know people in their 50s who have gone back to school for their master’s degree in order to excel in the career they’d been working at for years. That’s not my story, either.

What I wanted was an education. What I was most interested in was literature and writing, so I quickly decided on a degree in English. Not the most marketable choice, I’ll admit. Many English majors go on to teach. Let me tell you, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if that was my plan, I’d have half my college education paid for. And if I had a dollar for every time someone smilingly told me about the Professional Organization of English Majors, that would pay for the other half.

But I don’t think that teaching is my path. I just don’t know what is.

My current version of self-doubt is of the graduation-is-in-less-than-four-months variety. I will have a bachelor’s degree in English. I’ll be 48 years old. My résumé is “eclectic,” filled with things like herb nursery owner and bookkeeper and wine shop clerk and gardener.

Oh, and I live on an island. You can see my predicament.

But what I have besides doubt is great faith. I’ve wanted this degree for a very long time, and I’ve always trusted that if I did my part – kept taking classes, kept giving each class my best effort, kept challenging myself to do the things I least like to do (like those presentations I mentioned), pursued an internship to gain some marketable skills – then opportunities would be there for me on the other side of graduation.

So that’s been my pattern: let those scary thoughts come in and take over, talk myself back down off the ledge, and then dig in and keep to the task at hand. Go to class. Read the book. Write the paper. And trust that it’s all worth it.

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17 Responses to Doubt creeps in

  1. Pingback: Missing blogger finally turns up… | Going the Distance…Three Credits at a Time

  2. Pingback: UMA-All day and into the night | Going the Distance…Three Credits at a Time

  3. Sarah Chauncey says:

    So glad to find your blog through the USA Today article. Just wanted to share that I started by doctoral work at 53. Three years later, I have those doubts and moments — especially at midnight when I still have more work and a full day of “real” work ahead the next (same) morning. I finish my coursework in May of this year. Remember six years will pass whether you do this work or not — but one choice delivers an amazing return at the end of those six years. Congratulations on your decision and I’m sending you motivating thoughts now — and each time I wonder what I’m doing at midnight. (My sister returned to school at 36 and earned her MD — she is a physician who does research for a state health agency — maybe it’s genetic.)
    Warmly (and from the snow in your pics, you need that!) Sarah

    • leenthebean says:

      Sarah, I’m so glad you found me and clicked over to the blog. I love hearing your own nontrad story…I’m so impressed! I have just copied down your quote: “Remember six years will pass whether you do this work or not – but one choice delivers an amazing return at the end of those six years.” I could have used that pep talk many times and I’m glad to hear it now. Thanks so much for the reminder, and for your inspiring comment.

  4. Pingback: Floating toward opportunity | Going the Distance…Three Credits at a Time

  5. Sue L says:

    I enjoyed discovering and reading your blog. I am an older non-traditional UMA student that may never get to make a career change to use my degree but I feel “right” about my decision to pursue my first college degree in 2008 at 53. It was just one of those incomplete sentences in my life. Some of those sentence fragments I’ve decided aren’t important enough for me to finish and others persistantly stay in my head. Maybe that’s what a “bucket list” is all about and maybe people should start that bucket list earlier in life. If you enjoy learning, then it becomes as much about the journey as the destination.
    ~Sue
    Non-traditional CIS student

    • leenthebean says:

      Hi Sue, and greetings to my fellow UMA nontrad! I love what you have to say about pursuing your education, not knowing if it will even lead to a change in your career. It reminds me of a story a good friend told me when she was in art school for her MFA. She was about 50 at the time, and surrounded by students in their 20s. A conversation came up about what comes after art school, and my friend said she didn’t want to teach and didn’t know what she’d be doing. Her classmate said, “you can’t just do this just for the sake of doing it” and my gutsy friend said, “Why the **** not?” No education is wasted, right?

  6. Pingback: More on Pursuing an English Degree | Going the Distance…Three Credits at a Time

  7. Caz says:

    This post struck a chord with me! I’m only two years into my degree and I know the feeling of not really knowing why I’m doing it – other than wanting to have an education. I too am majoring in writing and literary studies and people are always make me feel more than dubious about my reasons for undertaking such a degree. But the more I get on with it and plough my way through it, the more I don’t care what people think. In four and a half months you’ll have achieved something you’ve always wanted; take a break and sit on it a while when it’s finished. Your next challenge will be waiting!

    • leenthebean says:

      Hey Caz, I can’t tell you how many times I second-guessed myself during this journey. I have a friend who is a retired professor and she said the main thing about an education is that it proves you can stick to it to the end. I want to point you in the direction of an excellent post about the undervaluing of a liberal arts or humanities degree, at least in this country: http://barnettwriter.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/adrift-without-a-paddle/ All the more reason for people like us to pursue degrees that focus on literature and writing – we’re a dying breed! Thanks for checking in!

  8. I recall sitting through one commencement after another and thinking, while everyone cheered for graduates who garnered various awards and honors, “What about all those who persevered, overcoming financial and domestic challenges, just to get their degree? Why not cheer for them?” And I did, turning a few heads in my direction. You are the sort of person for whom I would cheer today. Congratulations!

    For many years, I’ve also avoided asking any student what they plan to do upon graduation. It is an insensitive, intrusive question, regardless of whether it is well-meant. Given your curiosity, your life experience to this point, and your obvious ability to write well and with candor, you will come out just fine. I don’t worry about you! Forward!

    • leenthebean says:

      Many, many thanks for saying this, Bill. This means a lot, especially coming from someone on the other side of the education equation. You’re right, that question is usually well-meant, and yet still feels a little intrusive on the receiving end if one doesn’t have a ready answer. It happened again yesterday. I try to sound more confident than I actually feel! Thanks for your confidence in my future…from your lips to God’s ears!

  9. Ryan Mahoney says:

    What a nice read. I think you have helped to make all of us non-traditional students feel better and perhaps not so alone. Your honesty and thoughtful words flow so nicely here; thank you for sharing this with us.

  10. Sometimes people decide what they want to do later. That is my two cents worth. There is always a graduate degree if you decide you want to study something else. Don’t let other people tell you what to take. I had an English degree, studied teaching, then tried it.

    Now I am writing, making pottery, and doing blogs and websites. But I learned SO much. I’m glad I went back. Trust your instincts, I say. The experience of learning helps people grow. I wish more people would go back to school and take whatever they feel like taking. :-)

    Also I think a degree (in whatever field) helps people realize that there are SO many opportunities out there.

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