In my last blog post, I described my 11-year graduate school odyssey from my bachelor’s degree to my doctorate. One of my friends who read the post asked me what motivated me to undertake such a huge goal – why, in my 40s, I decided that a doctorate was something so important to me. This is what I told her:
I wanted to earn a doctorate for as long as I can remember. My childhood hero was Dr. Joyce Brothers, a popular TV personality back in the 60s. Seeing Dr. Brothers on the game and talk shows that aired in my childhood provided me with a different model of a woman than I had ever seen on TV or even, in my life: one who was beautiful but known for being smart. Dr. Brothers was treated with great respect and was called doctor, always, no matter where she was or who was speaking to her. I decided before the age of 10 that when I grew up, I wanted to be just like Dr. Joyce Brothers — beautiful, well-spoken, classy, smart, respected — and doctor.
My decision to return to graduate school in midlife was motivated by a significant life event: my first marriage was unraveling. My former husband is a professor and I spent all of my adult life living in the shadow of one university or another. We married young – two months after I graduated from college – and from the beginning of our marriage I made the decision to work while he completed his doctoral degree and post-doctoral work. I kept working and enjoyed success first as a teacher, then as a writer, consultant, and speaker. However, I always wanted to go on with my studies and I had shown great promise as a scholar in my undergraduate work. As an academic wife, I always felt that I had my nose pressed against the glass of higher education, looking in from the outside but not being part of it myself.
When the marriage began to falter, I realized how much I regretted not having had the chance to go to graduate school. The old childhood dream of being like Dr. Brothers was still there and I felt I’d missed a wonderful experience by not going to grad school. I knew, however, that starting in my 40s that I could not go to grad school the way I would have when I was younger. At that life point, I could afford to go only to the local state university, a fine school but not necessarily the one I would have chosen if any choice was possible. And, I could take only one course at a time. That’s all I could handle on top of my many other responsibilities – parenting, writing, homemaking, etc. (Even that pace proved to be pretty challenging at times.) My studies would have to fit into my existing life and somehow, I was going to have to find a way to keep all the balls in the air. But, I decided I was going to embark on this long path and make it work.
That’s my story. And since I posted my last blog post about my graduate studies, I have heard from several readers who have told me that they, too, would like to return to school – or, that they are already underway in their studies . Have you ever thought of going back to school or of pursuing another ambitious lifelong dream? I’ve shared my story. Please tell us — what’s yours? – Dr. Laura Hills, President, Blue Pencil Institute, www.bluepencilinstitute.com