Re-Imagining Your Education


in Creativity,Happiness,Personal Growth

You need to get an education and find a good job.

I’m sure you’ve heard these words or maybe even said them.

I know I have because I believe in education.

I have worked in higher education and been fortunate enough to have administered continuing education and international education programs along with a host of other education-related experiences.

Yet, somehow, the words exhorting us to get an education seem dry as toast – even though education is the most amazing way to change our lives.

Most of us have some kind of formal education to our credit – whether that is a course, a training certification, or a college degree.

But how did you decide what kind of education you needed?

If you are like me, your choices were probably based on doing some kind of job. Because we all need to earn a living, right?

My educational trajectory started something like this:

Dad:  I think you should go to law school. Once you have a law degree, you can do anything.

Me:  OK.

Inside my head:  I think that will work. I really don’t know what I want to do. I’d like to give business administration a try but there’s also French, Art History, International Relations, and…. OK. I think I’ll get a law degree.

Does any part of this conversation resonate with your own experience?

I wonder what would have happened is someone had said, “Get an education, explore your world and learn about yourself. It’s the single most important thing you can do in your life. If you keep learning, you will always be fresh, creative, and inspired.”

Some days, I indulge in a little fantasy where I re-imagine my education. Where I get to pick what sounds interesting, just because I want to. Just because I like it.

You see, I believe in education, not just for the specific skills that can be learned but for a far more important reason: to discover who you are through the lens of learning.

Any educational experience creates this precious middle space of becoming. Once you start, you are no longer the same person you were. You have knowledge you didn’t have before. About the subject matter. About your reactions to it. Your questions. Your likes and dislikes. As each small bit of information is added, you “become” a bit more.

Did you have the educational experience you wanted? Or did you end up choosing something just because you thought it was the right thing to do? Or because there were so many things you wanted to do but couldn’t choose so you just picked something?

If so, then it is time to re-imagine your education.

Start by browsing through the online schedules of colleges or other education providers in your area. Make a note of any program or course that captures your attention. Be sure to put the items in a list because you are going to want to review what shows up there. The important thing is to be playful and curious. Don’t think too much. What shows up on your list are clues as to where your interests and possibilities currently reside.

After fifteen minutes of doing this exercise, my “course schedule” looked like this:

Obviously, I couldn’t take all of these courses at once nor would I want to.  Rather, this exercise demonstrates how you might chart the course of your own education – on an ongoing basis – without the need to get a student loan.

You can explore your discoveries just as much as you want to by engaging in conversations, reading books, attending workshops, or enrolling in classes.

The choice is yours.

I think I’m ready to go back to school. Are you?

What’s showing up on your course schedule?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Ronna September 4, 2011 at

I love this. And it makes me smile.

When I decided to get my Master’s Degree I made the oh-so-balanced decision based on the course catalogue. Later I found myself saying, “What in the world will I do with this? It’s hardly going to pay the bills?” But a deeper voice said, “Keep going. This is what you love. It will all make sense later.” And it does.

I loved the entire course of study (appreciated even more because I was in my 40s and had enough perspective to do so…) and have never regretted it. Even as I pay back school loans month after month.

Education is, indeed, a place in which we (re)discover ourselves, (re)invent ourselves, and absolutely revivify. I’m so grateful for all three of these things and for a stroke of wisdom that somehow told me it was OK to NOT do what was expected. (And I think, upon even a moment’s reflection, that it was this NOT that started me down a long road paved with more of the same. An education, to be sure!)
Ronna recently posted..Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.


Andrea Olson September 4, 2011 at

Keep going … this is what you love … it will all make sense later. Trusting yourself is key. Thank you so much, my friend.


Jackie Walker September 4, 2011 at

Ah yes, I didn’t have much guidance from my parents, and although always gainfully employed, I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I hit 43! But with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d been able to know when leaving school what I know now about choices. I’ve sent my 16 year old daughter your post, I hope she reads it!


Andrea Olson September 4, 2011 at

Oh Jackie! Thank you for passing on the post to your daughter. I hope it captures her imagination and fuels a love of life-long learning!!


Greg September 4, 2011 at

As the father of 2 college students, this topic resonates with me. I have ried to pass on the advice my father, an engineer with multiple graduate degrees from MIT, gave to me regarding education:
- When you get to college, take as many different classes as you can. When you find programs/topics that interest you or professors who inspire you, take more of those courses. At some point it will add up to a bachelor’s degree.
- After you graduate, travel the world to celebrate. Have fun.
- Once you return and get your feet back on the ground, consider going to graduate school to study those things that are of greater interest to you.
- Repeat as necessary. (He didn’t say this part, but he lived it.)
Keep up the good work Andrea.


Andrea Olson September 10, 2011 at

Love this, Greg!!! Thank you for sharing these beautiful reflections.


Vanessa@Luxuria September 5, 2011 at

Great post. How did I end up as a Criminal Psychologist? God knows. I do think I was influenced heavily by my parents. I didn’t realise at the time, but when I decided to leave the profession, and experienced their dismay and aghast reactions, I realised I might have been living their fantasy.


Andrea Olson September 10, 2011 at

Parental influence certainly plays a huge role, doesn’t it? Glad you have found your way!


Rita September 6, 2011 at

I enrolled in the UW as an English major and I never changed it. I knew it wasn’t terribly practical, but I loved those courses. (Approaching my last term, I was in danger of not graduating because I didn’t have enough credits outside my major.) At the beginning of my senior year, I was planning to take pre-reqs for the education program (because what else would an English major do but teach, right?), but after completing an observational practicum, I didn’t want to. I wasn’t ready to be a teacher. Wasn’t sure I wanted to ever be one. I felt such relief and release when I made the decision not to take those classes. It meant I could take more of what I loved.

Two years later, after working for an educational publishing company, I went back to become a teacher. I was on fire for teaching then. The classes that I dreaded before were classes that I ate up with as much relish as I’d consumed the English classes.

It’s all about timing, and fit–for who you are right now, not who you think you should be someday.
Rita recently posted..Getting over the back to school blues


Andrea Olson September 10, 2011 at

Yes, it is truly a process of reevaluating and checking in with yourself … life long learning. Thanks, Rita!


Tess Giles Marshall September 7, 2011 at

This is such an important topic. Education now is far too often a factory churning out compliant people who will work themselves to death without complaint.
I love your approach to discovering your own course schedule, going to try it!
Tess Giles Marshall recently posted..The curse of comparison


Andrea Olson September 10, 2011 at

I hope you find it a stimulating exercise … you just never know what interesting things might pop up to turn your world around. Have fun, Tess!


Garrett September 13, 2011 at

Andrea, hope you are having a great journey, and thank you for this thoughtful writing. I work at a college where many students declare their major before they even get to campus, it is career oriented. My daughter is a high school senior this year and is showing lots of imagination, what she wants to do regarding course of study and future career seem to change from week to week. The best advice I’ve heard anyone give her was similar to yours and Greg’s and others who’ve commented on this site. It was from my aunt and she told my daughter to explore different areas of learning, read deeply and widely, ask questions, and more would be revealed.

Then my wife and I were entertaining friends for dinner and the question came up, what would you have done differently in college? My answer was that I would have taken advantage of the career help and advice available to me and learned about as many choices as possible, instead of what I did which was hide from the future, graduate and have to take the first job that became available. One of our companions said the same thing happened to him. And why didn’t I warn myself?
Garrett recently posted..Ten years after


Andrea Olson September 19, 2011 at

I think your aunt’s advice is spot on! Reading is a beautiful thing and can enrich your life in so many ways. Your daughter is lucky to have your experiences and insights to draw on as she continues on her educational path. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Garrett.


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