Dear Kelly,

This fall I will be returning to college after 17 years. It’s something I’ve always hoped to do, but as the semester is approaching, I find myself realizing how hard this is going to be. Do you have any advice to help me as I begin this journey?

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! You have made a phenomenal choice and are on the way to changing the trajectory of your future! To be honest, the hardest part of your journey has already been completed. You made a goal, and you set the path in motion to accomplish it. For so many people, just taking that first step is difficult enough. They’re too worried about taking the leap, so their goal becomes a dream rather than an actual goal.

What do I mean when I say that? Well, in my opinion, goals and dreams are very different. A goal is defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort, an aim or desired result,” while a dream, as we’ve learned in Disney movies, is “a wish your heart makes.” You set forth a goal, and now you have taken the first steps into seeing your goal become a reality.

My advice is to change your verbiage. In the question you sent me, you said, “I find myself realizing how hard this is going to be.” Your journey isn’t going to be hard; it’s going to be challenging. Why does changing your phrasing make a difference? I believe, based on our life experiences, we sometimes mentally set ourselves up for failure. When we call something “hard,” we predispose ourselves into believing that if we fail, we only did so because something was really too difficult to even attempt in the first place. In those instances, we almost feel relief when we finally decide to quit because the chance of us succeeding was a long shot to begin with. In contrast, however, when you tell yourself that something is a “challenge,” you create the image of an obstacle that can be overcome and conquered.

You see, there are indeed challenges to going back to school. It requires determination, tenacity, perseverance and commitment. There will be days you will wonder why you chose this path. Which leads me to my next huge piece of advice: Write down your goals and post them where you can see them daily.

Right now, you may only have a single goal, which is to graduate from college. But what do you want that to look like? By earning your degree, where do you hope to be in five years? How about 10 years? How else do you plan to get to where you want to be?

I know these questions might seem overwhelming, but again, don’t think of them like that. Think of these questions as building blocks or stepping stones. While you are a student at Mercer University, there are a number of things you can do to help you reach all of the goals you have written down. You could begin by building a network of classmates, or support team, who are striving to reach the same goals as you. You could also focus on building connections with your professors and administrators, which would provide you with advice, support and guidance as you go through your journey. By reaching out to the Center for Career and Professional Development, you can receive advice about career planning and building your resume, as well as guidance about the best ways to job search and then what to do when you go to interviews.

Writing down all of your goals and reviewing them daily will encourage you to seek out ways to accomplish them. As you accomplish your goals, you will develop the desire to create even bigger goals. This brings me to my last piece of advice: Allow yourself to believe there is no limit to your potential.

When I finally got the courage to go back to school after 22 years, I enrolled at Southern Crescent Technical College with only the desire to earn a basic childcare certification, which would take me just one semester. I had NO desire to go any further than that because I had, mentally, placed boundaries on my potential. Luckily, I had professors who knew those boundaries needed to be chipped away, and they were dedicated to doing so. Before I knew it, my goal of simply earning a certification in childcare grew exponentially. Allowing myself to set my goals higher and not limiting myself by only envisioning what I felt I could accomplish at the time, took me from just wanting to work in childcare, to earning my associate’s degree and wanting to become an elementary teacher. When I transferred to Mercer, that goal of just becoming an elementary teacher grew again, and now I plan to earn my master’s degree and, some day, become a professor.

I’ve come to believe that my journey will mold my future into something I never could have imagined it would be. Three years ago when this adventure began, I never would have even envisioned the possibility of becoming a professor. Since then, I have adjusted my way of thinking about challenges, written down my goals and continue to reflect on them, and allowed myself to see that my potential is limitless and that it’s OK for those goals to transform. This has elevated my passion about not only finishing school but also about seeing where my future will lead me.

My Don’t wake the BEAR sign.

A year ago I bought a sign that says, “Don’t wake the BEAR.” I bought it for a couple of reasons. First off, at Mercer, we are all Bears. Secondly, I believe that finally going back to school woke the sleeping Bear inside of me, resulting in a whirlwind of transformation and opportunities. But simply having this sign as something on my wall didn’t seem enough.

I wrote goals on the back of the sign.

So I picked up a silver pen and wrote my accomplished and future goals on the back of it. Writing down my goals in permanent ink and reflecting on them often encourages me to see them come to fruition. I’m eager to see what happens next and excited about the future that is being created through the commitment.

You can do this. There is no doubt there is greatness in you, and you are on the path to a remarkable journey. Dedicate yourself to overcoming challenges and believing in your abilities. Stand proud that you are taking the first of many steps to realizing the potential that lives inside of you, one that will propel your future and give you the confidence of knowing that you can accomplish incredible things.

Good luck to you. Be the Bear, and as always, I wish you health, happiness and success throughout your journey!

Do you have a question about distance learning or coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at kelly.l.browning@live.mercer.edu or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.

 

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