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I’m a Single Mom, Almost 40, and I’m Going Back to School

College Student Studying
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Just over two months ago the startup I worked for had to let go of all of its part-time employees. I wasn’t exactly blindsided, but it still knocked the wind out of me. Working for the startup was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have known. It was because of their comeback mom program that I was able to slowly get back into the workforce at a pace that allowed me to afford childcare, and then get off public assistance.

The technical wins of working for a startup are mind-blowing. I was hired in one capacity, but during the four years I was there, I had the opportunity to learn and try many things. My skills grew, my interests blossomed, and my faith in my own capability felt solid.

I didn’t expect I would have a problem finding another job. Friends helped me craft a resume to highlight my abilities and talents and I applied to jobs daily. I met with a career counselor who declared my resume fantastic and we tried to figure out just why it was that I wasn’t getting any calls. I started to doubt myself and wonder if I was doing everything wrong. Obviously I must be if nothing was happening.

Moping about being unemployed was not tolerated at home. My mom, who lives with me, was of course sympathetic. Losing a job sucks. What she kept stressing to me was not to take job-searching personally. Yet every rejection felt like a punch in the gut, a sign I was some kind of idiot. More than once my mother had to remind me, “They didn’t reject YOU. They didn’t even meet you.”

I felt stuck.

I felt old.

At the end of the year I will be 40. The idea of reaching that age without a career felt like a Failure. Yes, with a capital F.

Last week I attended Mom 2.0, a conference for moms who write online. I worked as part of the social media team, and I also co-led a workshop on writing about taboo topics. Having written about infertility and food stamps, topics not easy to open up and put on the table, I was able to share how pushing through the fear wall had led to some wonderful moments and opportunities in my life. The women who attended the session shared their own taboo issues and why they were struggling with writing about them.

I found myself thinking about the Wall of Fear for the rest of the day. Somehow I had built a wall around myself and finding a job.

Of course it was terrifying, but I hadn’t been writing about it. Fear of being shamed, being judged, of being thought less than had built the wall brick by brick by brick. The first step in getting over the wall was to start talking about being unemployed. While at the conference, I slowly felt more and more comfortable mentioning it if it made sense within a conversation. I waited for the looks of pity and expected to have conversations completely derail. Instead, some of the most lovely and helpful sharing happened. Advice was given, suggestions and meaningful questions were made.

When someone asked me about some of my skills, I waved my hands and replied what I always reply, “Yes, I can do that, but I am self-taught.”

It was around the third time this happened that I stopped and it hit me. Wait a minute. WAIT A MINUTE. Why am I so dismissive of myself? Why do I wave away what I know? I realized then it was because I didn’t have faith in my abilities. Not having faith was something that had been holding me back from applying or even considering applying to some pretty dreamy jobs.

I knew immediately what my next move should be. The moment I realized it I felt a pop of bubbles lift from within, the champagne of happiness from truly listening to your heart.

I decided to go back to school.

Yes, I’m almost 40 and going back to school.

If you saw my resume, you would see someone who is scrappy and tenacious. You would see someone with gumption and an eagerness to learn. You would only see the skills I feel sort of solid with, and even then I would feel compelled to tell you how I was self-taught. You may hear this as pride, but if I am being honest, it is always a confession. Telling someone I taught myself how to use certain programs gives me a kind of “out” clause if I am not quite perfect.

I want to be better. The ONLY way I can be better, the only way I can have confidence, is to be taught properly.

Going back to school is something my mother has been quietly suggesting to me for a while. This is a subject she is well-versed in as she did it twice when I was a child. She went to paralegal school when I was in preschool. While she was a paralegal, she realized she wanted to do more. When I was in the second grade, my mother enrolled in law school. She was 32 and made it seem effortless. My mom worked multiple jobs, went to school full-time, and continued to make movie marathons and pizza parties happen. Because of this, I don’t have any doubt in my mind asking myself, “Can I do this?” I know I can.

I hope my 6-year-old son W will understand why I am doing this. We will need to adjust our schedule, but I am hoping I can start classes this summer, a time when schedules are already fluid. I’d love for him to recognize that just because you love doing something, we aren’t always automatic experts. Going to school and being taught can make us better, can make us shine. I hope he also learns the value of saying, “I don’t know.” It was in admitting I didn’t know something that I was able to be open to going back to school.

By the way, if going back to school is my midlife crisis, I am doing just fine!

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