This week I attended the Orientation Day for my MSc in coaching and behavioural change at the Henley Business School. It was almost 30 years since I had last left university and whilst I have attended many professional courses throughout my career, going back to university (HBS is part of the University of Reading) caused me some anxiety.
Obvious concerns popped up, such as, will I be the oldest on the course and after all this time am I able to return to academic study? I recalled all those hours pouring over books in the library, writing long essays and of course the unmentionable ‘e’ word (exams). But, in addition, with three children, other family responsibilities and work, would I have the time to dedicate to my studies or would I have to sacrifice time spent elsewhere to accommodate it? This was certainly not an issue when I was last at university aged 18!
On entering the room of around 40 students the first thing I noticed, to my relief, was that I was fairly average in terms of age, in fact the youngest person in the room was probably one of the lecturers! The other observation on spending the day getting to know my fellow students was that many of us had shared experiences that had bought us there. We had got to a stage in life where our values around what we wanted from our work, and from our life more generally, had started to change. Some of us wanted the freedom to become our own boss and were using the course as a means to set up on their own, others were looking for a move toward an area of work where they could use their experience to help others, and some simply felt that they didn’t want to spend the remainder of their working lives doing what they were currently doing and were looking for change, a way out.
In the past, some people might have called this a midlife crisis, however, none of us felt in crisis, it’s just that something within us had changed. In my enthusiasm, I rushed back to research this but unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a lot of scientific evidence on changing values over a lifetime. However, some research does suggest that values do change as we get older (Gouvela et al, 2015) and anecdotally, I believe there seems to be something in it, not just from my cohort of students but also from my colleagues and clients.
What I was left with, though, is that whether it's changing values or another reason that draws you to back to education later in life, don’t let age or fear deter you. There are now more than ever opportunities for lifelong learning and from my personal perspective I have no regrets and am excited to be back at school in 2020 (I may even have a research topic to work on!).
Gouvela, V, Milfont, T, Vione, K & Fisher, R. (2015) Patterns of value change over the lifespan,Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41(9) · July 2015.
I would also welcome any comments on this as this is purely my own view point.