Life will throw rocks at you : a mature student’s experience

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At the age 5 I wanted to be a nurse, when asked why… “because I want to help people”. At the age of 11 I wanted to study psychology – again so I could help people. By the time I was 14 this had progressed to studying child psychology and law because I wanted to help abused and vulnerable children with their journey to court.

Unfortunately life got in the way. My father had a mental illness that resulted in a non-traditional childhood and by the time I was 15 I had taken on the role of my father’s carer as I was the only one who could cope with his illness, or perhaps because of the part inside me that always wants to help. I continued to study and did well in my O’Grades but by the time my Highers came round my father’s illness had further developed into a physical one and I sacrificed a lot to help him, and also help my mother keep the house running.

Unfortunately this meant I sacrificed my dreams and did not accept the place at university I was offered (I chose to stay local to help at home)

I then took a summer job which I ended up staying in for 7 years and my career twisted and turned around my abilities but never arrived at the ultimate destination of properly ‘helping people’.

20 years, several career changes, difficult relationships, loss of my father, marriage and 2 children later I finally decided to assess my position and find a way to rekindle the dream and put what I wanted first. I spoke to my mother who realised that I was serious about a change and offered to do whatever she could to help me. Having that practical support on hand helped me take the leap.

So with a 5 year old and a 1 year old I returned to work part time to an altered job (again not quite fitting my plans). Having reduced my hours my income was now inside the parameters  for funded part time study through the SAAS, I was able to sign up for a BA hons Degree in Childhood and Youth studies through the Open University.

The first year was tough. Trying to balance study, work and family life was a challenge, and with other personal issues arising I ended up signed off work with depression. Struggling to get out of bed some days I still somehow managed to keep my children happy and healthy and submit all my continual assignments – and pass them all. I returned to work and I also submitted my final assignment, successfully scoring 83%.

That result gave me the confidence to believe in myself, that I could actually turn this around and focus on my dream. I have signed up for the next course starting in October, and decided to volunteer for a charity that offers befriending support to families with young children. Although my time is limited there is always a way to make it work; work supported me a lot and I was able move my work days around so I could attend the 4 day training course for volunteering.

Many obstacles have tried to stop me on this path but I keep telling myself nothing is impossible, and I have to keep trying. I also think some of the positivity has come from the information I have learned along the way not just through life experience or my studies but also through my young daughter and her experiencing the curriculum for excellence. I have learned about growth mind set and how to encourage it and this has reaffirmed that I can do this.

So from being buried by life I am now jumping on its head. I want to follow my dreams, although older, I am – as corny as it sounds -wiser and ready to really appreciate study. I have found a subject I am passionate about so I don’t feel like it’s a chore – it’s a pleasure to learn (yes it’s tough at times but tough is good).

I have developed some key coping strategies and motivational ideals

  1. Live life – don’t just exist
  2. Everything happens for a reason – accept it and wait to see what that reason was. It may take a while but everything can be justified – would I have been so passionate and dedicated if I’d been able to go to university straight from school?
  3. Take charge – make it happen, ask for help, and put yourself first. In particular I learned I now cope so much better with negative situations now that I have something positive for me.
  4. Life will throw rocks at you – smash them, dodge them, climb over, round or under them, find a different route – nothing is impossible.
  5. Smile – it really does help you stay positive. (The old glass half full half empty question is really a question of relativity, whichever way you look at it – it depends what’s in the glass…..)

Some people may think “I’m too old to be ‘starting again’ “ but at 40 something I still have at least 20 years of career left – that’s a long time to be miserable or unfulfilled.

Some people may think “I don’t have the time to commit to study” – I worked out how long I was spending stuck in the house in the evenings unable to go out anywhere as I had 2 sleeping children upstairs and a husband at work, and I was watching irrelevant TV, I realised I had time to study.

Some people may think it’s a big time commitment – at the start I thought six years to get my degree seems a lifetime but then I looked at how long I’d wasted thinking that, and how far I could’ve been. I have completed 1/6th of my honours degree, that’s definitely closer than I was last year. And next year I’ll be 1/3rd completed…. And when you think how fast time actually passes… it’s not long in the scheme of things.

Katrina Fitzpatrick


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