My friend Suzanne encourages anyone in their mid-30s to consider going back to school: “It remaps your brain and reenergizes your thinking process.” I did exactly what Suzanne is prescribing, returning to school in 2007 after an extended leave of absence from anything that could be referred to as a productive lifestyle. Productive or not, I “studied” during those less-than-ambitious years prior to returning to school; I’ve always been inclined toward acquiring knowledge in one form or another and spent a considerable measure of time during those idle years researching and even attaining what some would call expertise in certain subject areas. My education was informal and undisciplined, however, and after having been chronically unemployed for a number of years I finally found the impetus to enroll in a class at a community college near my apartment in California with the intention of learning how to use a computer software application I had the desire to understand but hadn’t mustered the drive to master on my own.
Within a year of enrolling in the class I found myself transitioning from scarcely challenging computer application studies into more strenuous computer programming coursework, and a year after that I realized I had gathered enough academic units to consider working toward achieving a Certificate of Achievement in Computer Programming through the college’s Computer Science Department. This was an outcome I’d hardly expected when I’d initially enrolled in that one computer class in 2007.
Fast-forward to 2011. I’ve yet to obtain that certificate — life’s winds have carried me far from California and I’ve distracted myself with other objectives — but I continue to formally education myself through both local community college coursework in my new hometown and through distance education programs. Having recently turned 40, I’m increasingly worrying about where all this formal education is leading. When I first moved to Alabama I seriously considered graduate school, applying to a college determined to transition my computer programming skills into the ever-evolving field of library and information science. I’m not entirely certain what stopped me from enrolling in the program: concerns about entering the field at this late age, concerns about how to finance my education, concerns about whether or not I was entirely interested in the field…all of these concerns (along with others) in one way or another convinced me to put the brakes on grad school. Had I found the will to enroll in the program, I’d be nearing completion soon.
Though education is still vitally important to me — and I feel that I’ll continue enrolling in courses from time to time throughout the rest of my life, even if completely unrelated to whatever career I eventually choose to pursue — I sometimes feel I’ve wasted the past four years acquiring knowledge and skills I’m not entirely certain I wish to exercise daily in order to pay the bills. It’s true that I’ve long been interested in technology and while working toward my bachelor’s degree during my 20s I discovered that I had more than a passing interest in computers. In fact, I was obsessed with my Macintosh — so much so that I often found it difficult to pull myself away from my computer long enough to engage in the literary studies I needed to complete in order to obtain my degree in English. Had I then taken more seriously my interest in computers it probably would have been wise for me to prepare for a future computer science graduate school application by enrolling in mathematics courses rather than the overwhelmingly humanities-related courses I opted for as electives. Yet I don’t regret my undergraduate path for it’s provided me with not only an appreciation for literature but a rediscovery of a craft I’d much enjoyed as a child but had forgotten my enjoyment of until college: writing. And I’m not sure I still have as much passion for computers as I once did.
All of this leads me to wonder: had I followed my passion for computers while in my 20s and pursued a degree in some aspect of the computer sciences would I today be more consistently employed and happy? I’m not so certain…for I no longer even know if I want to live my life attached to computers (except for when I’m writing or editing, of course). Yet all is not lost. As I continue my studies in the computer sciences, I retain hope that I will one day find a way to combine all of my educational history into a career path I will be equipped for and, most importantly, be happy in pursuing. Perhaps I will be able to combine my enjoyment of writing with the skills I’ve picked up in my studies of the computer sciences. I’m still interested in computers, no doubt. I just don’t know if I’m dedicated to the study of computers enough to continue investing my life into researching their utilization beyond their general application to the craft of writing and other uses outside the field of computer science.
While I’m deciding I’ll keep studying, re-mapping my brain and hopefully re-energizing my thinking toward achieving a career, and a life, fulfilled.