What I Learned From Graduating From College at 42

Some of the things I learned from going back to college and how that's helping me grow my business.

One month ago I graduated from college.  42 years old, 24/7 single mom and running my own business – and I did it!

It took me 5 years, taking the minimum to qualify for full-time except for this last semester – which was BRUTAL – 19 credits, ouch!

I’m so glad that I decided to go back to school, even if the road has not always been easy and there were many – MANY times that I wanted to quit.

When I first separated from my husband, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I had two small kiddos and had been a stay at home mom for 5 years.  I had dabbled here and there with some things and my husband and I created a few different businesses, with varying degrees of success.

For each of them I was the one that created our website and managed all of our marketing.  That’s what led me back to school.  I felt that my design skills were lacking and I wanted to learn more.

And learn more, I did!  For sure a ton about design and visual story telling and how to use photoshop and all the stuff that helps me do my job here.   But, I learned a lot more than all of that.

Things about myself, life, living and what it really takes to succeed on my own.

These are my 4 biggest lessons that I’m taking with me from these past 5 years:

1.  I am an artist.  And so are you.  We all are.

I entered school wanting some help with how to make things look pretty on my computer.  I didn’t enter into it thinking that I would become an actual graphic designer!  And I for sure never, ever thought I could claim the title of ARTIST.

Way back forever, when I first attempted college, I was a math major. Because I’m good at math.  But I hated it and ended up dropping out. I always loved art and was friends with creative people, but never thought **I** was an artist.

One month ago, I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in painting + photography!   I’ve learned and taught myself how to draw and how to SEE and how to bring my ideas into a visual reality.  Along the way I became convinced that anyone – ANYONE can be creative.  It just takes commitment, discipline and practice.  AND a willingness to not know what you’re doing most of the time – but to experiment and try things anyway.

2.  Things don’t have to be perfect.

I was just going through some of my first college art projects and was remembering how much time and effort and agony I would spend on each one of them, wanting so badly for the finished product to be PERFECT!

Now, I just paint – or shoot pictures, or throw pottery – whatever I’m doing.  I just do it.  It’s more about the process and feeling my way and expressing what’s in my heart.  I’m not concerned about perfect, I’m more interested in communicating and sharing my ideas.  I try to bring that into all areas of my life.  It’s not easy to give up perfection, but it does seem to produce better results – results that are more authentic and satisfying.

3.  Keep going, no matter what.

I wanted to quit.  A lot.  Often.  There were times when big stuff was happening with my kids and they really needed me, way more from me than I was able to give while juggling all of it.

There were times when it all seemed so stupid, my business was doing well and I wasn’t sure if I was really learning anything new in school.  I just wanted to get on with it, you know?

And then there was the exhaustion.  Some days I’d be up at 4am to finish an assignment, then get the kids up and off to school, then do my 50 minute drive to campus, where I’d be in the studio all day, then drive home, get the kids, make dinner, and work on client projects until 1am.  EXHAUSTED!

But, I kept going.  I had already invested so much and I knew that finishing would send a message to my kids that I felt was really important.

What surprised me, though, was how important that message ended up being for ME.  The day of my graduation was one of the proudest days of my life.  Who I was for myself changed.  I did it and doing so meant that I could do anything.  A ton of self doubt melted away up there on that stage and I know that I’m not the same person now.  

There are many things that I have given up in my life.  Haven’t we all?  There are things I’ve finished and things that just expired on their own.  For me, the fact that I kept going – through some of the biggest challenges I’ve ever come up against over these past five years proved to ME that pushing through is worth it.

4.  Just put yourself out there!

Sitting through art critiques is one of the most excruciating things ever. There you are – having just poured your heart and soul into an art piece and then you stand before your instructor and your peers and get to hear what works and what doesn’t about what you’ve created.

It’s not easy.  And scary as hell.  And there were many times when I totally failed to create something that I was proud of, but I put it out there anyway.

And I survived.

But, most importantly, I learned something.  Especially the times when the feedback wasn’t positive.  It made me a better artist.  AND it made me a better risk taker.  It made it easier to risk putting my ideas out for the world to see and not have failure crush my spirit.  Which is HUGE!

I now have it firmly in my bones to keep going – no matter what, to keep putting myself out there.  To share what I love, what I dream about and even the fears and boundaries that hold me back.

Sharing all of it makes me a better business woman, artist, designer, consultant and mom.

Worth every penny and all the time and effort.  Going back to college was one of the best things I’ve ever done.