Whether you have an unexplored passion, or want to upskill in order to cultivate new career options, learning can be a lifelong pursuit, and one that opens doors to endless possibilities…
Whether it’s signing up for a short adult education course, or enrolling for a degree, many of us return to education after taking some time away. It can be a hugely positive experience – a chance to learn new skills, develop our career, form new friendships, and immerse ourselves in an interest. But as exciting as it can be, it also brings anxieties around how to adjust, and whether it’s the right move for us.
For me, returning to university after time away was a big change. It took a while to see myself as a student, and get used to new routines. I’m so glad that I made the move though – it’s given me a chance to dedicate time to my passion, meet like-minded people, and to grow in new ways.
The benefits of lifelong learning
To find out more about returning to education, I spoke to life coach Chantal Dempsey. There are, she says, a myriad of benefits to lifelong learning.
“One of the greatest benefits of lifelong education is empowerment,” says Chantal. “Returning to learning not only offers the tools to change career paths, facilitate a promotion, or start a side hustle, it boosts your mindset to unlock ability and confidence. It validates a ‘can do’ attitude that empowers you to believe that anything is possible.” It can also widen your perspectives and understanding of the world, which can be great assets.
You’re likely to have things in common with people on your course. I’ve valued the connections I’ve made with others who share my interest – creative writing – as an adult. It’s lovely to meet like-minded people, as well as the added joy that can come with making new friends.
Our mental health and wellbeing can benefit, too. “As the confidence bucket gets filled by your successes, and your upgrade in skills and knowledge, your subconscious mind takes in the message that you can achieve and you are good enough,” says Chantal. “Confidence and self-esteem are the building blocks of mental health. Increasing them will achieve wonders for your wellbeing.”
Lifelong learning is also good for our overall health. “Research shows a link between learning and the reduction of some illnesses, such as dementia and coronary heart disease,” Chantal explains. “Neuroplasticity, which is basically the functional and structural reshaping of the brain, can happen throughout life to adapt to new information, experiences, and environments. Sustained adult learning simulates the creation and development of new neural pathways, boosting your brain health and power remarkably.”
Finding the right path for you
There are clearly lots of reasons to return to education. But how can we find the path that works for us?
Chantal recommends working out what your ‘zone of genius’ is. This, she tells me, is the common denominator between what you are an expert at, and what you love doing. “Finding this zone will make it easier to identify your purpose, and establish whether taking a particular path is right for you,” she says.
To do this, Chantal suggests splitting a page into two columns. In the first column, make a list of what you love doing. In the other, list what you are (or can become) an expert at, and what you would love learning about. Once you’ve done your two lists, read through and ask yourself, ‘Where does it match?’ This can help you identify the area – or areas – that make sense for you to explore further.
There are other ways of approaching this. Chantal says that asking yourself the following questions can help you decide if an educational opportunity is the one for you:
• Does it feel right?
• Do you feel excited about it?
• Is it fuelled by desire?
She also suggests using visualisation: “Think of the end result, and visualise everything about it – your day-to-day, what it will mean for you, how you will feel, how you will look, what you will talk about, where you will work, what you will do, who you might work with, how you will feel when you get up every morning and at the end of each day. Do this every day for a couple of weeks, and check your gut feeling.”
It can help to think of it pragmatically. Will this course give you the qualification you need to pursue your new career? Or the opportunity to explore an interest you’ve been curious about? Take time to research your options to make sure it’s the right fit for what you want.
There are practical considerations, too. Returning to education can bring costs, so it’s good to look into your eligibility for things like student loans, or other funding. But is it a long-term investment that will pay off further down the line if you can afford it?
Identifying what I wanted to get from a university course helped me decide to apply. I also thought carefully about how it would impact other areas of my life, from finances to socialising, to figure out if it would really work for me.
Returning to education can be exciting, but it’s normal to feel nervous, especially if it’s a while since you’ve studied.
There are things we can do to help with these worries. Chantal recommends making a list of all your life achievements, big or small, to build a picture that evidences your capabilities.
“Worries and anxiety are purely caused by thoughts,” says Chantal. “We worry about not being good enough, not smart enough, too old, and so on. We play scenarios of what bad might happen. But these are only thoughts. They are not real. They have not happened. Our inner talk is what causes the issue. So, change your inner talk and focus on the present, because right now, you are OK.”
She also recommends visualising a successful future, and using affirmations such as ‘I can do this,’ ‘I am smart,’ and ‘I am capable.’ Keeping your goal in mind – the reason you returned to education – can also help keep you motivated.
It’s worth looking at what support is available, too. Many universities will have groups for ‘mature students’ (usually defined as anyone over the age of 21) where you can connect with other learners for support and socialising. If you have childcare commitments, research whether the place you’re studying has a nursery, or if there is flexibility to fit your studies around being with your children. Universities and colleges have mental health support available to their students, so if you’re struggling with the adjustment, there are people who can help, too.
Returning to education can be a wonderful experience. I can personally say that my possibilities have widened, and I get so much joy from doing something that challenges me, opens me to new ideas, and gives a sense of purpose. Could a return to learning be calling you too?
To find out more, visit the Life Coach Directory or speak to a qualified life coach.