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20 May A RETURN TO STUDY PART 2

The challenges

People are mostly aware of the challenges, just as I was at the beginning. These challenges include naysayers, time, lack of energy, self-doubt and finances.

That did not stop my friends and colleagues giving me some handy tips on what I would need to do to face these challenges. The fact that I had these friends around me meant I had ‘cheerleaders’, people who were positive, encouraging and would spur me on, more so as I was to discover that there would be people or circumstances that would try to drag me down. I distinctly remember one particular individual, who upon hearing what I was studying retorted ‘A post-grad is just a piece of paper, what do you need it for anyway?’. My MBA friend had a similar experience, but said the important thing was to understand that a lot of the comments were either well-meaning or were a projection of that person’s own fears, reluctance to step out of their comfort zones or insecurities. My TESOL friend had someone asking him what’s the point of having a further qualification when the likes of Bill Gates, Anita Roddick, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg had become billionaires without degrees. He countered that for every success without a higher education success, there were several more with; for example J.K. Rowling, Eric Schmidt, Eva Longoria, Jerry Yang, Oprah Winfrey to name but a few.

I personally had the good days when I was on top of everything, the work, the world, you name it. Yet some days I felt as if I would buckle under the weight of the same world. It helped to know that I was in the same boat as some of my classmates, one who told me of a day she just burst out crying into a bowl of just-made spaghetti Bolognese. I remember at one point staring blankly at the computer screen not knowing what I was doing, what I had done, what I meant to do or what I was meant to be doing. All this, in spite of my intricate plans, spreadsheets and tick lists. I tried to read an academic book but found myself stuck on the same page, reading it over and over again, willing myself to concentrate, focus and actually understand something, anything. I gave up and with a throbbing headache, gave a classmate a call, who was coincidentally feeling the same way. ‘Why don’t you take a walk or a drive, put some music or talk radio on, then we’ll meet up later for a coffee?’ she recommended. I did just that, but carried a notepad and a pen and ended up jotting down loads of ideas and points. When I got back home after the coffee, I was ready to carry on with newly found enthusiasm and clarity. One point that is easy to forget is eating healthy, making sure when you do sleep, you sleep well and make up for the late nights and early mornings. Being healthy is of particular relevance after one cheesecake too many.

As I pointed out above, some courses like MOOCs are free, while others are affordable or require a considerable financial investment. If you are funding it yourself, the stakes tend to be higher. Nevertheless, researching payment plans, discounts and sponsorship might be worthwhile, but don’t let it stop you from making the jump. You may get returns on this investment almost immediately or after some time, so it is probably wise to be patient. Research, anecdotal evidence and my friends’ and colleagues’ experiences show that earning, employability, promotion and other opportunities are greater on average with further education.

So there’s no doubt there are going to be challenges. You will need to put in a lot of hard work and many a sleepless night, with your mind charged with caffeine or apple juice and your eyelids held open by toothpicks. Sometimes you will have moments of self-doubt, when you question your decision. You might feel like you are all alone in the world, but if you ensure you have your support system around, those times will be few and far between. More importantly, be someone else’s support system whether you are up or down, it might actually make the difference between someone giving up or continuing, as I found out. While you might make time for your loved ones, you might find that there might be some guilt on your part or resentment on theirs, again communication is key, making sure they have more involvement and reminding them of their stake in the process and the results. Knowing there’s that light at the end of a long tunnel, despite the freight trains coming down the tracks occasionally, keeps many people going. It leads to a greater understanding of self as I pointed out earlier. In addition once you complete it, whether it be a short two or five week course or a year and a half one like mine, the sense of achievement is priceless.

The Reasons and Results

I briefly touched on how you get to know your limitations and I mentioned how you get to understand yourself better. I also talked about how rewarding yourself after small victories is just as important as the reward at the end. Part of that reward, is knowing that your abilities probably far outweigh what limits you. These are a limited number of examples of how we develop personally. I think personal development is something that people normally overlook and only reflect on once they have completed their chosen course. The other reasons to actually start a course go without saying or too much explaining. These reasons are probably the individual ones that have made you consider further courses in any case. That said, personally and in the case of my friends and former classmates, there are a plethora of other reasons, including professional development, networks, achievement, fulfilment, inspiration to others, ‘the journey’ and ‘the unknown’. I will expand on these reasons but my favourites are the last two.

Professional development occurs as far as the course subject matter is concerned, in terms of an increase in knowledge, the connection of theory and practice and the application of the acquired theory. In both my experience and that of my peers, studying with people from different cultures, backgrounds, sectors and professional capabilities helped us develop in terms of awareness, expertise and proficiency. Furthermore, it also validated and consolidated the professional skills and all of the above we already had. I cannot stress that point enough, confirmation of competency and areas of potential are important for professional development. In other words, confirmation and enhancement of your strengths and guidance with and growth from weaknesses equals development. I think it’s safe to say no one goes on a course just to confirm their excellence. Neither do they go on a course to be exposed to their utter inability.

By studying you are by default expanding your networks, not only finding like-minded people, but access to information, opportunities and ideas. When you finish studying, alumni provide further ways to expand those opportunities. Social media is perfectly suited to facilitating these connections, but keeping these channels open by keeping in contact is the biggest challenge.

When you complete the course, you succeed on more fronts than one. You see the culmination of all the effort, time, monetary investments and sacrifices. In both the short and long term you reap the benefits of your investments, both tangible and intangible.

By simply embarking on a course, you amazingly inspire others to do the same. By completing and achieving, you make the statement ‘if I can do it, so can you’. The fact that I was inspired, encouraged and motivated, interestingly led me to doing the same for others. If that isn’t positive, I don’t know what is. I am a firm believer in what one of my mentors said some time ago quoting someone else, ‘There is no greater waste, than wasted talent or potential’.

In conclusion I will talk about ‘the journey’. You see, when you conclude your course or studies, it does not mean the end. Quite the contrary, before you make a decision based on your motivations, you start a journey that will take you through some or all of the experiences mentioned above. Before I begin to sound overly philosophical, I will borrow a few of the words my creative writing friend wrote in my graduation card.

“I’m sure at times you felt that the journey would never end. I’m equally sure that this detour off the well-beaten path has led you to places you’d never thought you’d be both metaphorically and literally. What I’m definitely sure of, is that your safe knowledge of the known and healthy fear of ‘the unknown’ at the beginning have changed. They have changed to a healthy knowledge of your ability now, which was ‘the unknown’ to you then. Indeed, a worthy journey to continue”

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