Going Back to School to Go Forward

Leaving my former job in the marketing industry in my mid-40s was one of the biggest challenges I had ever faced. The rest of my peers were closer to thinking about retirement and had already accomplished plenty in their respective fields. I felt that no matter how terrifying or difficult it was, the move was necessary if I wanted to grow both personally and professionally. I felt I had reached a plateau in my line of work and that the only way I could move forward was to leave my job and search for a new venture where I could grow.

I had heard of many entry-level employees jumping from one job to the next. In fact, recent stats from The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that employees hold one job for an average of 4.2 years. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as I, too, changed jobs multiple times when I was still in my 20s. It is more unusual for mid- to late-level professionals to suddenly want to transition or press pause on their careers. Still, my reasons for doing so were valid and definitely worthwhile. I wanted to become a family counselor and I figured the best way to jump-start this career path was to go back to school.

I had heard many executives, managers, and team leaders talk about how fulfilling it was to go back to school. That’s what made me decide to go back. I wanted to try it for myself. Though many of them were already experts in their field, they still had a great deal to gain from becoming a student once again. I felt the same way.

Some people use their additional degrees as a leverage for a job promotion. As a woman, I often felt that I was at a disadvantage and needed to work twice or three times as hard. It wasn’t an isolated experience as women in mid-level positions who aim for promotions are often passed over for their male co-workers, according to Money CCN journalist Julia Carpenter. Instead, companies tend to place women in mentorship programs that don’t necessarily mean they will be able to climb up the executive ladder. I knew it wasn’t a guarantee but I figured a professional-level education or a supplementary degree couldn’t hurt my chances.

For other adults, the choice to go back to school is not about a promotion but rather about adding more knowledge to their arsenal. ‘The Time is Now: Going Back to School at 50’ article by Maryville University explains that some non-traditional students simply want to expand their knowledge. From experience, I agree with that as industry trends always change. Executives who can’t keep up will get left behind, dragging the entire organization down with them. Adults bring experience to the table that younger professionals have yet to accumulate. We focus on key concepts and practical knowledge that can be immediately applied to our work and will help us stay relevant.

Though the gains of going back to school are great, a shiny new degree is not easy to attain. All of us have bills to pay, most of us have families, and some of us are not entirely ready to give up our full time jobs. NPR noted that older students still have to face several practical challenges when going back to school. I was one of those who thought I could juggle my career and my education. In the beginning, I was not totally sure that I wanted to leave my corporate job. I had an above average salary, good benefits, and above all, security. I found it hard consulting with some of my professors as most classes are held in the evenings. Sometimes the office hours were already over or I was simply too tired to inquire. Add to the fact that the classroom can be very intimidating, especially for a person who has not been in a class for a long time.

But in the end, I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I was still in the corporate world, one of my superiors always said that to stop learning is to stop living. He made sure that we were always stimulated, curious, and committed to enriching our lives with constant learning. I always took that saying to heart and believe that it is really what pushed me to change my career path. There are many things to consider… especially for the 50-something student. It did take away time with my family, energy, and money, but you must also ask yourself if another degree can help you achieve your goals at this point in life.

I’m fortunate enough to say, “Yes it did.”

Jenna Buckley is a former manager at a mid-level firm who trained in family therapy when she was 46. She has since left her corporate job to pursue counseling full time and has helped over a 100 families since then.