The 6 stages of returning to school as an adult.

Returning to school after an absence is always difficult. You have created a routine to your life. Adding school back in, now that throws a hell of a kink in the works.

Trying to pull off anything new is a challenge. There are 6 distinct stages to this particular adjustment.

1. Excitement stage

Making a decision to take action in your own life feels amazing. For the first time, in what feels like forever, you have made a decision for you. You fantasize about graduation and all the amazing places your career will take you. You tell anyone that will listen about your new adventure, including the poor deli lady that just wants to know how much ham you want. It’s an unbelievable self-esteem boost.

You buy all new school supplies and get really excited over your new highlighters. You feel organized and ready to take on the world. You have thought of everything.

2. WTF stage

You throw on that new backpack and take a look in the mirror. You catch a glimpse at that tired woman staring back at you. That woman is far past her naive freshman days. Then reality sets in. The weight of your decision is sitting directly on your chest. You have racing thoughts about what a huge mistake you have made. Your internal voice begins screaming doubt. You find the receipt for those damn highlighters.

As your level of “freaking the hell out” begins to escalate hopefully you have a pause button. Whether you push pause or someone pushes it for you, you’ll step back. You begin to collect yourself.

3. Financial stress stage

The WTF stage diminishes into a more specific stage. The first bill comes in and it feels like a direct shot to the gut. You are officially paying thousands of dollars to be formally stressed the hell out.

Regardless of financial aid or scholarships the financial toll is real. Increased childcare and decreased work hours add up. If anything was going to stop you at this point, it would be your bank account.

4. Time-crunch stage

Your first class starts and you get the dreaded syllabus. There in black and white are all the tasks you have to complete in a very short amount of time. Your head begins to spin. You overhear some little twerp start to talk to his “Bro” about how this class is going to significantly cut into his partying schedule. You take a moment to internally scream and fantasize about dumping your cold coffee over his head. You collect yourself and immediately start calculating how poorly you can score on each assignment and test while still passing the class.

5. Unhealthy coping skills

At this point you are grateful for your advanced age and your ability to purchase alcohol legally. It would not be surprising, if not expected, to find yourself with a stiff drink and an open package of Oreos at any given time. There is no shame in turning in a paper with just the slightest smudge of cookies and cream.

6. Acceptance

Once you officially have the proverbial ball rolling, you can begin to settle into your new normal. You are able to organize the stress into seemingly manageable sections. As you watch degree requirements slowly get chipped away a sense of accomplishment, pride, and hope take over the once overwhelming feeling of anxiety.

You finally accept all of the aspects involved with furthering your education. You go ahead and stock up on liquor, Oreos, and highlighters.

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