In the past 24 hours, the following teachers have been part of my life.
- Started my day under the guidance of kundalini yoga instructor Ingrid.
- Talked to one of my spiritual mentors over tea.
- Checked in with writing buddy Miriam and discussed some techniques.
- Received editorial feedback from colleague Lisa.
- Communicated with two professional mentors, Rebecca and Jan, about next steps in the process of becoming a pastoral candidate through the UCC (demonination which will ordain me after I earn a degree)
- Followed up with another freelancer, Camille, who swaps design tips with me about specific web-building projects.
- Got a ping (quick note) from Jenny, our family friend and my daughters’ dance teacher, from her location in Colorado, where she’s teaching aerial and modern dance to older students.
- Observed that my longtime kickboxing teacher, Tashi Mark, is opening his dojo in downtown Ipswich.
- Remembered in a lively conversation, Jessie’s teachers Mrs. Lampros and Mrs. Falabella, and so many other staff members from Winthrop Elementary.
- Caught an update on Facebook about JT Turner’s latest theatrical production, and reflected on his mentoring role among youth who love the performing arts, including both of my girls. And many other kids in this town.
- Listened to Chris working on his latest piano lesson, as assigned by his teacher Vianna.
- Got some cooking and dessert-making tips from foodie friends Meryl, Dana and Linda.
- Talked to a young man at the Greek consulate about the process of securing Sarah’s student visa to Greece, where she’ll study nursing this fall, as part of an international program through Northeastern University.
- Spoke to a financial aid officer about completing the process of payments for school.
- Read the wise words of an author that I admire.
Yesterday I also poked fun at class titles and descriptions, while registering for graduate courses. Yet I’ll reiterate that I’m extremely privileged to start school in September. While it promises to be a lot of hard work, I’m enrolled for positive reasons. It is my choice; no one is making me go back to school. I want to do it, because it’s exciting and motivating, even though it’s also intimidating and overwhelming.
The response to my grad school decision, among friends and peers, has been varied. A few people … not too many, luckily, or it might be daunting … think I’m crazy. After all, I’ll be 50 years old by the time I earn my degree. (If everything goes smoothly.) Others say I’m brave, to start over now. In either case, that response is triggered by my “advanced years.” From some points of view, I’m o-o-o-o-o-l-l-l-l-l-d-d-d-d-d to go back now.
Let’s put this into perspective. Age and challenge, I mean.
- My mom completed two graduate degrees after the age of 50, both of them in the aftermath of catastrophic injuries, including brain trauma, in the wake of a severe car accident and subsequent complications. She had to audio record lectures, transcribe notes twice for every class hour, then type them, and read materials over and over, in order to complete every course, because of memory impairment and information-processing deficits caused by the coma and brain injury. Yet she persisted, and earned two Masters degrees.
- Meanwhile Dr. William Tan (our friend) earned his doctoral degree, a medical degree and two post-doc degrees from Harvard and Oxford Universities, while challenged by the complexities of life after polio, living as a paraplegic with a wheelchair. He also competed in world-class athletic events while finishing his studies, setting world records all over the globe. He completed marathons on every continent, in a wheelchair, including in arctic conditions. Plus he assisted during heart surgeries and delivered babies.
- When I attended college in Boston, one of my classmates was in her 70s, just getting her first undergrad degree in literature.
We all know people like these. Inspirations. Reminders that we’re never too anything — too young, too old, too impaired, too obligated — to do what we’re inspired and moved to do. Compared to those examples above, returning to school with all of my faculties intact, even at age 47, isn’t such a big deal.
Many other members of my community recognize enrollment in graduate school as a solution to a spiritual or vocational restlessness that they have also experienced. This itchiness … this impetus to go in different directions, to ask difficult questions and find new answers, new situations, new vistas … seems to be common in people between 30-60 years old.
I’ve been asked, often, what sparked this idea to return to school? To shift focus to a whole new path, a spiritual journey, that’s quite different from my background? What inspired me to try school again? How do I know this is what I want to do? What will I do when I get my degree? How do I feel about going back to school? How does my family respond to this decision?
The common theme, behind many of those questions, is that familiar, internal restlessness. The urge to change, to move, to do something different, seems to happen inside the hearts and minds of many friends and peers. I’ve been told several firsthand accounts about men or women who are not satisfied by their own careers or choices anymore. Usually the words that surface are, “I need a do something different with my life.”
In our middle years, now that we have grown up (hah), started or raised our families, accumulated decades of work experience, and checked a few items off our “life lists,” I guess many of us are re-assessing. (Not all of us. But a lot of people.) We realize, maybe because we feel an uncomfortable, this-doesn’t-fit-anymore sensation, that we want something else. More. Different. Meaningful. Fulfilling. Interesting.
The solution may vary for each of us. Sometimes it might need a thoughtful plan of action. Or require an impulsive decision.
Perhaps it leads to a change in jobs. Or a long-term break and retreat. Travel. Sabbatical. Taking up special causes or humanitarian service; joining a club or a church or service project. Adding new layers of extracurricular activity to lives that have been narrowly focused. Learning a new sport, skill or pastime. Exercising. Maybe returning, like me, to post-graduate studies to earn certification or earn another degree. Relocation of home or work.
My husband Chris would tell you, that my decision was a long time coming. That this choice seemed inevitable, from his perspective. Obvious to some who know me well. Yet it caught me by surprise and seemed like a fully-formed idea by the time I realized that I wanted to go back to school and seek a new vocational path. Maybe it’s been growing inside for a long time, but it blossomed into vivid detail by the time I felt and saw it.
Meanwhile, why did I write that list of teachers at the start of this post? Because you don’t have to go to graduate school to find teachers. They’re all around us.
Once you start paying attention, you’ll be amazed by how many mentors, coaches, instructors and guides cross your path on any given day. How many lessons have been offered.
Inevitably, you have also been a mentor and role model for someone else in the past day. We all have the opportunity to be students in this life. And we all have the chance, the privilege, to be teachers, too.