Going back to school

Should I go back to school or not?

Going back to school requires a lot of personal commitment, time, and money. And if you’re balancing a family, you need to put your strategic logistics hat on to make it all work. There’s a laundry list of pros and cons when considering a major change in life, but pursuing something you are passionate about to better yourself and career in the long haul is worth it.

I believe in a growth mindset, and I’m always craving to learn and do new tasks. The thought about returning to school crossed my mind when it was for someone else’s satisfaction – a manager, a company, or because  I “should” based on external societal pressure. I’ve also talked myself out of it multiple times, unsure if there would be any return on investment. 

Regardless of what my inner voice was saying, my passion for more was my “hell-yes!”  With that tenacious little hell-yes behind me, I’ve gone back to school three times for three very different reasons; each taught me something important about the purpose that education serves.

The world at your fingertips

Let’s take a stroll back to 1995, when I was a freshman in college at a state school. I was away from home, rooming with my best friend, and having as much fun as any other eighteen-year-old could.

I won’t dwell on it here other than to tell you that for a variety of reasons, I dropped out after my first semester. After moving back home and defiantly rejecting college, I took a job in the city. I was making a whopping $20,000 as a receptionist and gopher at a small investment firm. I bought my first car and spent the rest of my paycheck shopping on State Street. 

“Once the smoke haze of independence wore off, I was dead-ass broke.”

It didn’t take long for the haze of independence to wear off. My wallet was empty, and I was dead-ass broke. Bored out of mind with the mind-numbing tedious work of filling candy dishes and brewing coffee, I knew I needed to finish my degree – and stat! I enrolled that fall at the local community college and returned to my previous school in my junior year. I had an amazing group of friends, some good classes, and way too many good times, but I graduated and had that precious piece of paper to open doors.

Aha moments–recognizing the need for change

My undergrad degree was in psychology. I had aspirations to be a therapist but, instead, I landed a position as a research assistant working alongside Ph.Ds. I was transcribing the doctors’ fascinating interviews and collecting urine samples of addicted HIV patients: it was total grunt work.

I quickly realized that if I wanted more interesting work, there was more learning to be done. I loved the work itself as it was intriguing. But a Ph.D. level education was not in the cards.

Defeated, I turned to a distinct line of work as a Human Resource assistant. I filled my early days with data entry and filing and soon became a rock star wiz at alphabetizing. My swift skills allowed me to get through the grunt work and ask for additional responsibilities. 

“… I loved the work, it intrigued me, but a Ph.D. level education was not in the cards”.

In the first five years of my HR career, I learned how to hire and fire and the nitty-gritty details of benefits and compensation plans. I could help solve complex employee relations. I loved what I was doing and became passionate about my work. Opportunity knocked and eventually, I was on a new project to stand-up 360 feedback processes for the organization’s management. I did not know that this kind of thing existed in HR, and I fell in love with it.

All I wanted was find more work like that and pursue my graduate degree. I worked full time and went to school at night, earning a master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. More focused this time around, the mature and wiser me was ecstatic to be working towards something I enjoyed; and my near-perfect GPA was a breath of fresh air from the staggering hull of undergrad life. Soon after graduating, I left the job that had opened my eyes to do what I love. I was eager to see what lay ahead.

I love what I do, I love what I do, I love what I do…

I spent the next thirteen years at two other jobs, gaining knowledge and expertise in a field that allowed me to grow as a leader. I was at the top of my game, cranking out perfection at stallion speed. The lines eventually blurred; I wasn’t sure if I was used to it or if I liked it anymore at all.

I loathed big business, and my leaders were arrogant and out-of-touch. The work environment grew toxic and took a toll on me. As if things couldn’t get any worse, I lost my father-in-law and sister-in-law within months of each other. I was at a low and searching for a purpose. I pushed through for three more years until I finally broke. I had a viciously, awful leader – the worst in my entire 20-year career.

Something had to change and I had to bail.

I created my exit strategy with the organization and got the hell out of Dodge! It took me some time to recover emotionally, but then the sun rose – as it always does – and I realized that my passion was literally knocking on my front door, waiting to grab me by the shoulders and shake me awake to what I needed to do next.

I always wanted to do more coaching, but the last organization did not support continued education for the expensive schools and programs needed to become certified. I started digging until I found a program that sparked my interest and enrolled, graduating as a Certified Professional Coach 12 months later.

“I have never been so all-in on what I do in my entire life.”

I had never been so all-in in my entire life. It transformed me. The dreams of having my own practice and coaching others was finally coming true. It was there at my fingertips and I had to go back to work. We all have bills to pay. However, I found an influential organization that allowed me to grow my business flexibly and peacefully.

So should YOU go back to school?

Looking back at my winding road, I never once factored age into my decision to go back to school. In fact, the most profound impact was the most recent — I was forty-two years old and a mother. The life and career I had built were giving me less time with my daughter, less satisfaction overall, and more stress than I could stand.

I never gave in to accepting that a job I hated, creating an overstretched life, was my fate. I valued my inner voice and followed my passion for helping people grow and succeed. I knew what I wanted to do and what it would take to get there. So I took the challenges that life threw my way and made the best of it through experience and opportunity. No matter how old we are, opportunities come up for a reason. Grab them, and if school is required to reach your dream, then get after it.

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Julie Brendich
Julie is the owner of Harmony & Success Personal Coaching, LLC. She’s a long-time leadership development expert having spent over 20 years working in multiple industries, helping leaders become more effective and successful. She works with clients on the wisdom of the “Midlife Awakening” and how it can be the catalyst for massive, positive life transformation in not just their careers but also in their most precious relationships, self-care, and spirituality. She holds advanced degrees in psychology and is credentialed as a Master Spirit Life Coach and Certified Professional Coach through the International Coaching Federation. A midwestern native from the suburbs of Chicago, Julie approaches the coaching process with her clients in a down-to-earth way where each client can be their true selves. It is her life’s purpose and biggest joy to help midlife women achieve their goals.
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