I Was a Middle-Aged College Student…

I is a College Student (image via zazzle.com)

…except by “was,” I mean “am.” Starting next week, I will become something I once was, for a brief time, and never thought I would be again.

A college student.

Sometimes our journey through life is a placid river voyage, with serene waters to guide us, and gentle changes in direction that are visible long before we approach.

Other times it is a blind rush through tangled undergrowth, thorns tearing at our flesh, while scavengers stalk us from the shadows, lured by the scent of blood dripping from wounded dreams.

It is ever a procession of opportunities and choices. We might not always act upon them or make the wisest decision, but what can we do but the best we can, and allow ourselves to learn from our experiences?

After graduating high school, I stumbled through some classes at my local community college, shifting directions like an exhausted octopus flailing against conflicting currents:

“I’m going to be an English major.  No!  A marine biologist.  No!  A Computer Science major.  No!  Oh, I don’t know…maybe I’ll just be a musician…”

…so I wound up in the video game industry instead.

For many years I had the same job and a comfortable niche, with work I loved and people I loved to work with.  The possibility of doing something else never occurred to me until I rediscovered fiction writing, something that seemed more a wild dream than a practical career shift.

When an involuntary sabbatical caused me to consider the future, I realized that as much as I loved working in the game industry, my skills and experience had little application outside of it.  Would it not be better to give myself more options, should the time come when I might need them?

So I decided to go back to school.

In the tradition of those full-circle ironies that Life (the universal experience, not the breakfast cereal) hands us on occasion, I’m attending classes in the same community college system where I was an English major (No!) a Biology major (No!) a Computer Science major a student years ago.

Whether out of choice or necessity, eventually we all must chart bold new directions, if not reinvent ourselves, to face new challenges and even greater opportunities for the future.  Often the way ahead lies through uncertainty and self-doubt, though sometimes it takes us through places both haunting and familiar.

But always we have our experiences to guide us.

*     *     *

Have you changed the direction of your life by going back to school, switching careers, and/or creating new life?  How have your experiences guided you in these new endeavors?

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69 thoughts on “I Was a Middle-Aged College Student…

  1. nicolepyles

    That is so cool!!! I love when people step out of the norm like you are doing! Way to go!!! More people should do things like that!

    Reply
  2. Brinda Berry (@Brinda_Berry)

    Congrats on a new beginning! With age comes wisdom (most of the time), so it’s easier to: a. focus on studying instead of the 100 other distractions, b. know which career will make you happy c. feel superior to the young ones who are changing their majors every third day because they have no clue.

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Brinda. Yeah, I definitely have more direction this time around, so I intend to get more out of school than I did when I was younger and more whimsical. It turns out I can use some of the credits I earned back then, so it’s more like I’m picking up where I left off 🙂

      Reply
  3. Daniel

    I don’t think it’s ever too late to start something new. I’ve had several changes in my path – different careers, moves to distant places, medically necessitated changes. Consider it an adventure. Who knows where this path will take you?

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Yeah, after having a familiar routine going for a number of years, I think I lost sight of the fact that change is a part of life, and can bring a lot of good and interesting new things. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  4. Jennifer Lewis Oliver

    When I got married and moved to Florida, I left a 10 year job/career with the newspaper industry. During that time, the newspapers were doing a lot of cut backs and I couldn’t find a place here in the sunshine state. I started fresh with a new job, in a new industry. I hated it. LOL! But only because it wasn’t the right place for me. I took it to have a job, not because it was a passion or even an interest. I learned a little bit from being there and met some really great people, so it wasn’t a complete bust. However, after a year and a half, I took the leap and decided to invest in myself. I’m focusing on my writing full-time now. Yes, it decreased the income a bit having only one of us working but once I get my books finished and published, hopefully that will change a little. But I have to say, I haven’t been more happy and more excited about my opportunities. I’m following a dream and even though there are days that are really tough, its an adventure I wouldn’t trade.
    Good luck with your new directions, Mike. I’m sure you’ll find the path rewarding and well worth the challenges!

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      That’s awesome…I’m glad you made the leap and are pursuing your writing dream full-time. I’ll definitely be buying your books when they’re ready 🙂

      Thanks!

      Reply
  5. Tami Clayton

    It’s totally impressive that you’re going back to school and setting yourself up for more opportunities down the road. Way to be, Mike!

    “Other times it is a blind rush through tangled undergrowth, thorns tearing at our flesh, while scavengers stalk us from the shadows, lured by the scent of blood dripping from wounded dreams.” – You captured my existence right now with those mighty words. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Tami 🙂 I know it’s rough during those times we have to rush through the tangled undergrowth. I hope you find your serene river voyage resumes soon.

      Reply
  6. sheilapierson

    This post is so well written. I love your description of the journey through life, and the reference to the exhausted octopus is brilliant. It’s pretty obvious what your fated for – writing a bestselling novel 🙂

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Sheila…you’re too kind 🙂

      I’m glad the description of the journey through life worked out. I was almost going to go with a comparison to a greasy bag of crumpled potato chips, but this probably worked out better 😉

      Reply
  7. Lara Schiffbauer

    Ah, yes. I was a non-trad student, a couple of times 🙂 I didn’t go back to school until I was 28. I wouldn’t have thought I’d end up a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, but it was a choice that I happen to be good at, and gives me a ton of career options, which are not so plentiful in Wyoming. College the non-trad round actually was so much better, for me at least. I would be a professional student, if I didn’t have to have an income and support my family!! I’m so excited for you!

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      I would bet that clinical social work is very rewarding, and it sounds like something you enjoy. Sometimes it’s amazing how life can surprise us 🙂

      I’m a little nervous about going back to school because I haven’t been in a classroom in about 17 years, but it’s also kinda exciting.

      Thanks, Lara 🙂

      Reply
  8. Catherine Johnson

    That’s awesome, Mike. Only good things can happen when you add new skills and experience.

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Catherine. Although I suppose it’s always a good time to make oneself more versatile, now happens to be a particularly good time for me, so I’m jumping on it 🙂

      Reply
  9. Helen McMullin

    Good luck, Mike. Changes and new challenges are always good for us, whether we think so or not at the time. You’re already a good writer, now all you have to do is remember how to take those blasted exams.

    Reply
  10. Sharon Clare

    Best of luck, Mike! I went back to school in my thirties to do a science degree because I wanted to be a chiropractor. I had to do 6 high school science and math prerequisites first. I still remember the shock of that first biology class, but I ended up loving it. University pace was crazy fast.

    I took a professional writing class as a bird course and ended up falling in love with writing. I got my science degree, but never made it to chiropractic college.

    I just sold my first novel to Crimson Romance and couldn’t be happier!

    Just don’t kill yourself over-studying!

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Sharon! I have a number of math prerequisites I need to get through myself. I’m looking into either computer science or an engineering discipline, which requires a lot of math, and mine was always pretty shaky. I think I have the brain for it–I just never liked when compared to reading and writing, so I never applied myself. I think this time will be different 🙂

      Congrats on selling your first novel! I’ll definitely try not to over-study…I have to leave some time for my fiction 🙂

      Reply
  11. Elaine Smothers

    Good luck in your new venture, Mike! I waited until my 50’s to make a much needed career change, because I refused to listen to my ‘inner voice’. I stuck with the wrong path until it made me physically ill, before I’d admit to taking the wrong road. You can never have too many options or too much education and it’ll always be there to fall back on until you write your first NYTBS novel! Best to you!

    Reply
  12. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.

    Mike – Life choices take us in many different directions. I applaud you for the courage to step forward into another challenge. I too went back after being away from the university setting many years and I was far more eager to learn (maybe because I was paying my way this time). I learned much but of even greater importance for me was the doors that piece of sheepskin opened (although it’s not supposed to be that way – it is in many industries). Wishing you the best – but between studies and classes – hope to see you here occassionally.

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      It’s been encouraging to hear from people who’ve either changed careers or gone back to school after many years, and their success helps me visualize achieving that success for myself.

      I’ll still be around as much as I can. I like hanging out with my tribe, and writing fiction is still the dream 🙂

      Thanks, Sheri!

      Reply
  13. Julie Farrar

    Congratulations on your knew direction, Mike. When I was teaching in the university the non-traditional students were my favorites because they had so much more enthusiasm and purpose. And they had so much more to add to the discussions. Go get ’em.

    Reply
  14. Karen McFarland

    “Sometimes our journey through life is a placid river voyage, with serene waters to guide us, and gentle changes in direction…” Really? Can I sign up for this placid river voyage because I’m ready for serene waters! This sounds like fiction to me! You are a good writer! 🙂

    I wish you the best of success Mike! Sounds like you made a smart move. You are not the only one making a fresh start these days. We’ll be here to support you! May the force be with you my WANA friend!

    Reply
  15. Kirsten

    You’re going to do great at this! Congrats on making such a tough decision. It’s never easy to change course, but almost always brings great things.
    In my thirties, I ended up taking a few more college courses in pursuit of a master’s degree–which ended up not materializing for other reasons. However, it amazed me that, even though as an undergrad I skated by with mostly B grades, as a ‘mature’ student I was suddenly not satisfied with anything less than a perfect grade! I think you’ll find the same, as you now have a much better understanding of the value your college degree will have.
    I do hope you manage to keep up with the fiction writing though. You definitely have a knack for it, and I would hate to miss out on reading your books someday. 😀

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      I intend to do my best in keeping up with the fiction writing while I go to school, although I’m sure it means I won’t be able to finish my novel revision as soon as I’d like. Some of the classes might even help my writing, since I do speculative fiction where I draw inspiration from history, philosophy, and science.

      Thanks for the support, Kirsten 🙂

      Reply
  16. Elizabeth Fais

    Your courage is inspiring Mike. Starting over and doing something “new” is never easy, but it’s often the most rewarding path. Life’s had to kick me in the butt to make changes like you’re making now, but looking back I hat to think what things would have been like had I not made those changes. I hope it’s the same for you down the road. The most interesting and talented people I’ve met have all had several careers under their belts. Look at this change as stepping up into their ranks. You’re a talented writer and we’re here for you (across most time zones too!)

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      There certainly seem to be plenty of people who have many careers over the years. I’m reminded of Conan the Barbarian, who has had a number of careers–thief, pirate, mercenary, king–except mine would be more like: musician, pizza guy, video game developer, and now college student 😉

      But seriously, thanks for encouragement and support. It’s much appreciated 🙂

      Reply
  17. livrancourt

    Hey, it took me 5 years to get an associates degree (focus much?), then I was 11 years out of high school when I finished my bachelors & 16 years out when I finished my MN. Being a grown-up in a youth-oriented environment has the tremendous advantage of keeping you young, and I with you all the best on this new adventure.
    😉

    Reply
  18. Ellen Gregory

    Good luck with the studies, Mike. I’m sure your ‘middle-aged’ perspective on life as a college student will provide you with endless fodder for blogging 🙂

    I took last year off work and told myself I was going for a career change… but it was more sliding out of media communications into a company marketing communications role. It actually isn’t that different. I think your decision to study something entirely different is great – and very brave to go back to all that homework!

    Reply
  19. Laird Sapir

    Mike, good luck today!

    Here’s an algebra problem to get you started:

    If one Mad Whack dancer (dancer “a”) is heading North towards the FP at 50mph, and his Beat-Beat rival (dancer “b”) is heading South towards the FP at 75mph, but forgot his boots, will dancer A have time to stop by his dentist for another gold tooth before the beat off?

    Reply
  20. Kim Griffin

    When I was 17, I decided to go to college. I decided on a major based on what others told me I excelled in all of my life. 4 years later, I graduated with my BS degree. Fabulous…trouble is that I have absolutely zero interest (and question that I ever did) in my decided career. After all, how many 17/18 year olds have enough self knowledge to decide what they are going to do for a career for the rest of their lives? Not many, I bet.

    For the next 10 years I dutifully worked in my chosen field until I had my first baby ~ that’s when I decided to become a stay at home mom. Major career change. Now, with this writing thing, well..it looks like I’m onto another change in careers ~ or at least an additional one.

    Beginning a college career after maturing a bit gives the opportunity to choose a major that better suits who you are and where you want to go. I think it’s brave and exciting what you’re doing ~ you’re certainly not lacking in talent!

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Kim. That must’ve been tough to work in a career that didn’t interest you for so long, but I’m glad you’ve been able to move on to occupations you like better. I’m looking forward to following your writing career 🙂

      Reply
  21. Anne Chaconas

    You’re a badass, Mike. I’m considering going down the same path, and reading about your ballsiness strengthened my resolve. Kick some tail, dude! What are you thinking about majoring in? Other than Awesomess Studies, obvs.

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Anne! If you’re thinking about doing something similar, I say you should totally go for it. If we’re lucky, life is a pretty long time, so it’s never too late to increase your personal power 🙂

      I’m thinking about software engineering or a more traditional engineering discipline. Much math will be in my future.

      Reply
      1. Anne Chaconas

        ACK. Then you’re even more of a badass that I previously thought. I am strictly a literature/history of art/non-math/all humanities kinda gal. How very clichéd. You, on the other hand, are a double-threat!

        Reply
        1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

          Well, we’ll see about that. Traditionally math was always my weakest subject. I do have an affinity for computers, so I’m hoping if I make more of an effort than I have in the past, I can develop good math skills.

          Reply
  22. Sara Walpert foster

    In case you aren’t aware, you are a beautiful writer. When you find your way in computers or engineering or whatever, I hope you won’t leave your writing behind. Writing talent combined with a quirky sense of humor is a rare gift, which I hope you’ll continue to share with the world.

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thank you for the wonderful compliment 🙂 I fully intend to keep up with the writing, since it’s my big dream. But I do need to take some practical steps to keep building a future, and school seems like a pretty good choice right now.

      Reply
  23. corajramos

    I went back to school to become a teacher in my late 40’s–while at the same time I wanted to become a writer. I had no choice but to be practical–and so I took writing classes at night. Now I’ve had a whole career in teaching and am retired and can give myself over to writing full time. You can do anything you want to do if you set your mind to it. I know you have the talent for doing both. So keep on moving forward, and go for it.

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks, Cora, I appreciate the compliment. It’s been encouraging to hear from people who have changed careers farther down the road. Knowing that others have done it makes the goal seem more attainable 🙂

      Reply
  24. Liz Jasper

    I’m just stopping by to say that I am two weeks done with going back to school. And that I am enjoying being done SO much more knowing that you have finals ahead of you. My evil grin got wider. Heh heh heh.

    Reply
      1. lizjasper

        No doubt! I find that teaching the material to someone ( or something – I find talking walls works fine) is a great way to nail the material. Go find thee a receptive wall!

        Reply
        1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

          That’s an interesting idea. I might have to try that when studying for a test or something. I have a 12″ porcelain wizard sitting on my desk that looks like he’s just dying to learn some algebra.

          Reply
  25. Prue

    After taking voluntary redundancy after a career in horticultural research, I retrained but not by going back to school full-time. I only went part-time. I enjoyed the change but a few years later decided if I was going to write a novel I’d better get on and do it 🙂

    It’s great to try something new and I think it’s great to keep learning. I hope you enjoy your new challenge and all the experiences you’ll meet along the way. Whatever else you do or don’t do, have yourself plenty of fun 🙂

    Reply
      1. Prue

        I’m surviving. Pretty miserable but trying to keep my head above water.

        Glad to hear you’re busy and doing well! That’s very good news.

        Reply
        1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

          Yeah, it turns out a single summer math class keeps me busier than I thought it would when I first signed up for school, but I’m getting good grades on tests and stuff. I’ve discovered that I actually like math if I give it a chance…it’s like sitting down and doing puzzles or something.

          It’s nice to hear from you. There’s a link to my email address on the front page of my blog, if you ever feel like you need to talk.

          Reply
          1. Prue

            Great about the math – I’m impressed! And thanks for the link to your email address. Cheers.

  26. Chris Edgar

    I can definitely relate to this — I’m in the process of producing and writing my own musical, which is a complete departure from anything I’ve ever done before, and it could only have come about due to all the experimentation I’ve done in my life with career possibilities. If I had demanded that I have something tangible to “show for” everything I did, I’d probably still be doing nothing but being a lawyer.

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Thanks for dropping by. It’s always great to hear from people who have charted bold new directions for themselves later in life.

      Writing and producing a musical sounds like a complex, yet rewarding, endeavor. I hope it’s going well 🙂

      Reply
  27. Lynn Rush

    Oh my goodness. I couldn’t imagine going back to school. I got my masters of arts and said, “I’m never going to study again.” LOL. I am wishing you the best in this adventure. You’ll do GREAT. As for directions? Becoming a writer was a VERY surprising direction I never thought my life would take. But I love it. Each turn/bump makes us even more interesting people!

    Reply
    1. Mike Schulenberg Post author

      Nice to meet you, Lynn. Thanks for stopping by and providing some encouragement 🙂

      It’s interesting how many people I’ve run into that have discovered writing in a way that surprised them. For me, writing is more of a surprising re-discovery–it’s something I did a lot of when I was young, but only picked back up about three years ago.

      Good luck with your writing journey. Do you have anything out there yet for people to check out?

      Reply
  28. Pingback: The Algebra of the Damned | Mike Schulenberg

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