How Going Back to School is Like Jumping Out of an Airplane


When you get to midlife, you start to realize a few things. Big things. For instance, how you’ve managed to bury insecurities so deep down, you didn’t even know you had them.

Like my doubts about doing well in school.

Maybe it’s due to the recurring nightmares I’ve had all my life, usually depicting some sort of general school-based anxiety like: not knowing there was an exam, not knowing any of the answers, not showing up to class wearing a stitch of clothing.

They say life is like a big school. We’re here to learn, make mistakes, then learn some more.

I guess. Whatevs. I wasn’t really paying attention and they said it wasn’t gonna be on the exam, sooooo….[shrugs]

I know I’ve got the making mistakes thing down pat. When I was first in college, over 20 years ago, I made the mistakes only a 18 year old girl could make: I blew off class. Specifically, chorus. Yeah, I was a rebel back then. I loved to sing, I loved to be in a choir. I didn’t love to drag my butt across a frozen campus to the late night rehearsals. My choral director informed me I would be getting an F because I missed three rehearsals.

No biggie. No big thing. Only that F would be forevermore the first grade at the tippy top of my transcripts. And it brought my GPA down more than a few pegs. Not than anyone ever cares about your GPA anyway, right? (I do)

So now that I’m back in college at the ripe old age of 42, pursuing another degree full-time, I was nervous. Petrified. We’re talking panic attacks on the drive to my first class. Would I be able to study? Would I remember how to take notes? How does a pen work? Will I ever get those old brain cells of mine to wake up again after being pummeled into submission by an endless loop of the themes to Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob?

I knew my anatomy class would be hard as soon as my lab partner leaned in to tell me this was her second time taking it. My professor started the very first lecture discussing the complicated idea of how our cells process energy and used terms like mitochondria and receptive mediated endocytosis. Halfway through the semester, nearly one-third of the class dropped the course because they were failing.  These were students half my age and with twice my brain cells.

Fine, three times my brain cells.

I thought, I can’t learn this! What the hell is she talking about? I can’t figure this stuff out! I’m no good at science! I will get an F! I’m gonna fail, I just know it!

Then something shifted. I thought, aw, hell, what do I have to lose? One thing at a time. Just learn one tiny thing at a time, then the rest will snowball and I’ll finally ‘get’ it. I will. I can do this.

My first exam I got a C. Not great, but still I wanted to do much better. I had to do better, our degree requires we maintain a B average. So I studied hard. Harder than I ever did twenty years ago. I made sure I understood everything backwards, forwards, upside down and sideways. My next big exam, I got a 95. My professor even put a little red smiley face next to my grade. No gold star, but I was happy. My lab partner got a D.

She asked me what I got, then smirked at my reply and said,

“You suck.”

“Yeah, I suppose I do,” I said, failing to hide my grin. And my fist pumps. And my sporadic cries of “YES!!” during lecture. And my gangnam style dance I performed out in the hallway later on during break.

Eventually, I mastered that material in anatomy. Me, a middle aged stay-at-home mother who thought she wouldn’t learn much of anything new ever again.

After finals week, I cringed as I opened up my final course grades on my computer. At the top of the list was my final anatomy grade. I got a D.

Just messin’ with ya. Making sure you’re still reading. But yeah, I got an A. I did it. I took that gnawing fear that I could never learn science and I kicked its sorry cytoplasm ass.

What did I learn last semester?  I can start something and finish it. I can succeed even if I fail. I can dive headfirst into my fears and survive.

And the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Boo-ya!

Next up, jumping out of an airplane.



I doubt it’ll be nearly as scary as going back to school.



Note to my readers: I will be taking a bit of a blogging break over the next few weeks. Once I get back into the swing of studying again and can spare a few brain cells, I’ll start writing once a week again.  I did ask my advisor if the college would consider offering the How To Effectively Blog Your Brains Out In 100 Easy Steps course but she said no dice. Happy Winter! I’ll miss you!

103 thoughts on “How Going Back to School is Like Jumping Out of an Airplane

  1. Congratulations! You rock, even at your “advanced” age (which is way way younger than mine….).
    We will miss you out here, but we’ll be wishing you the best of luck with all that (shudder) science.

  2. When I saw that D I told myself you were LYING. You will make science tremble…cytoplasm will be only the first of many asses you will kick. Here’s to a great semester.

    1. I know, Carly! Back in high school, I remember being VERY afraid of Biology. and dissecting those worms, frogs and pigs. Blech. I’m still a bit unnerved by it. I never got an A in Biology before.

  3. Deborah the Closet Monster

    Aaaaaaaaw. There is nothing wrong with this post and everything right. A+. Happy, successful studying in the weeks ahead!

  4. Super! We knew you had it in you. Congrats on that well-earned A. As for jumping out of an airplane, it ain’t so bad.

    Dar, if I could do it, you can do it. When I re-entered the college campus in my mid-thirties for electrical engineering after not doing a lick of math in 15 years (do smart people choose to DO this stunt?), I really struggled at first. I begged the dean to give me another chance when I had one horrible, differential-equations-and-electromagnetism-challenging semester (he put me on probation), then retook the classes, rocked the next semester with all A’s, got accepted into the college, AND got voted the regional IEEE Student of the Year as a bonus (Whoo hooo!!!). Most of my fellow students (all male, in their 20’s, way better at math) didn’t have faith in me for anything but making a great pot of coffee in study hall. BUT I DID. Because We. Chicks. ROCK.

    Then I got pregnant. And that’s a whole ‘nuther story. LOL

    See you when you get back (or you know how to reach me if you need a pick-me-up!) 🙂

    1. You’ve jumped out of an airplane? Did I know this already? is there a post?? I bow down to you, woman! I REALLY need to call you up next week. Mornings good?

      And, kudos to you for all your success with electrical engineering. Something that I feel is above and beyond any science class. The only thing that gives me more heart palpatations is math and this is why I could never be an engineer.

      1. No, you’re remember the sailplane flying (did that too). I used to skydive with my brother in my crazy 20’s. Fun stuff. As for landing in a pile of fire ants and having the parachute draaaaag you through them (so as scoop many into the neck of the jumpsuit), notsomuch.

        Yes, girl. You and I are kindred spirits. Old-ladies-trying-to-be–young-ones gotta stick together. Oh, and call me. Anytime. Even now. I’m just sittin’ here tweaking my brand spankin’ new blog format (tomorrow’s the one-year-bloggy-versary!)

    1. yes! You know what I’m talking about! Just remember to breathe, breathe, breathe. You’ll do great. My last lab practical exam was on the muscle system and I was convinced I would panic and fail it (who knew there were about a billion different muscles in the human body??) and I squeaked by with a B. I studied so hard. I was dreaming about muscles. Good luck to you and your studies!

    1. Thanks so much, Renee. Anatomy was a killer. I have to take part 2 this semester and then I’ll be so relieved to move on to the more medical classes like Disease Pathology and Diagnostic Procedures.

  5. Running from Hell with El

    You totally got me with “I got a D.” LOL. I was about to weep.
    Man, I’ve been having those grade anxiety dreams for decades. Maybe I need to go back and get my Ph.D? In all seriousness, good on you!!!!

    1. Ha! I know, that line about the D was something I couldn’t resist doing to you guys. Just to make sure you didn’t fall asleep halfway through my post.

      Aren’t those school dreams the worst? it’s the main theme of most of my nightmares. Not knowing the answers to a test. Pretty obvious what those dreams mean, huh?

  6. You are my Dean’s List hero. I never had any doubt, but you are seriously a rock star. (When I read that “D” my stomach dropped for a sec, and I was so confused. “B-but she said…huh??”) And I cannot possibly emphasize the importance of ‘baby steps’ enough. We so often do nothing because we make the somethings too big.

    And take all the bloggy breaks you want, because you know we’ll still be here, eagerly awaiting your return. Also you know I’ll still be bugging the shiz out of you all the time anyway. Ha.

    You are an inspiration!

    1. Tee hee. Yeah, you knew I was kidding. That would’ve been one downer of a post, huh?

      “And I got a D and had to drop out of college. The End.”

      Please do bug the shiz outta me. It’s what I look forward to most, you know that.

  7. Hooray! Um, by the way: those first-time college kids don’t have more brain cells. They’re rapidly killing them off with alcohol. You’ve got the advantage there. Yours are just… slower. That’s all. But you win!

  8. As my recent “8th Deadly Sin” post might suggest, I’m pretty mired in a “regrets” phase right now, so the first part derailed me from the appropriate focus on the latter half. But congratulations! That’s always a nice feeling, isn’t it? Earlier screw-ups really were screw-ups, not “you just don’t have it in you”.

    1. Exactly. I do have it in me. That is such a revelation at my age. All those trite things you read are true: mind over matter, you can do anything. Well, me getting an A in Anatomy proves that yes, anything’s possible.

  9. Great blog! I can so relate, I went back to school to be a nurse in my late forties. My hardest subject was Anatomy. All through school I studied my brains out, & received A’s, & B’s. it was a challenge I could never have been ready for without all the life experience. Even at that time in my life, my eyes were opened by the diversity around me! Have a great time in school, it will be a life changer, & self esteem booster to say the least!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments. I love to hear that someone else did it and survived! Good for you. I truly didn’t think I had it in me. You forget that your brain is capable of learning again. And it feels so good, you’re right. Talk about a confidence boost. I’m doing better in college now than I ever did when I was 20.

  10. I cannot tell you how happy I am for you–an A in anatomy–what are you, some kind of genius? And quit calling yourself middle-aged – we have the ability to live to 120 so you are barely past the teenage stage–sorry we will not hear from you for a while because you are as entertaining as hedouble hockeysticks–but rock on my girl!

    1. Ha! Well I studied so hard I think I almost drove my husband and kids nuts. I just don’t want to waste this opportunity at my age. And yes, you are so right. I’m not middle-aged. I will live to 100. So I’ve got at least 8 more years before I’m middle-aged, dammit.

  11. You ah so smaht! That’s why you get A’s!

    My mother, who is in her sixties, just went back to school for her psychology degree. She felt exactly the same way you did! She’s also learned some interesting lessons from the “kids” in her classes. She always has stories!

    Good luck this semester, Darla! You got this.

    1. I knew your mom was special. Those photos of her showed it. Good for her for going back to school! I bet she has some stories to tell. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I could be my lab partner’s mom!

  12. WTG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I discovered there is something about going back to school, studying something because you really want it. I went back to school fairly young: 26. But 99% of my classmates were right out of high school, and my nickname was Grandma. I spent three years being a full time sudent, and one of my last semesters there, I achieved what had escaped me my entire life, a 4.0. Graduated with something around a 3.8 and all it got me was a job working for the federal government, right alongside the kids who barely made it through.

    So, although getting awesome grades is more than commendable, and you totally rock for doing so well, I leave you with one riddle. What do you call the person who graduates last in their medical school class? Doctor.

    1. Okay, first off–your nickname was Grandma and you were only 26?? I have to wonder now what my lab partner was calling me behind my back. 😉

      And you are right about the GPA being worthless in the grand scheme of things. Sigh. Still. I never got a 4.0 before and last semester I did. Straight As, baby. Bam! However, I doubt I’ll be able to hold onto that 4.0 and I’m not too hung up on it. I just need to maintain a B average and I’m good!

  13. You were worried, but we weren’t Darla. We knew you’d ace it.

    And you actually posted my secret for success in science — don’t be afraid of it. That’s how I parlayed my D in 9th grade biology into a career as a medical professional.

    1. It’s so true. I was never confident in my science class in high school. I was always so petrified of the sheer volume of information. But I found that if you break things down and try to understand one piece at a time, you can do it. If I can do it, anyone can.

  14. Hi,
    Wow congrats, an A, I am really happy for you, and the old saying “You are never too old to learn” is not just an old saying but very true. 🙂
    Will be looking forward to your return to the blogosphere.

    1. True. Those old sayings are there for a reason, Mags. It’s never too late to learn anything in this life. When I come back, I hope you’re still around, it’s so good to see you around WP again.

  15. What a great piece of writing. I think you deserve to be FP on this post. 95% after an initial C! Congrats! I laughed out loud when I read “My lab partner got a D…”

  16. One of my friends just earned his AA on his way to getting a BA. He always thought he was not college material. He is 40. What an awesome thing-to learn that you are not only college material, but that you ROCK it. Congratulations. Can’t wait to hear about your grades next semester. Hang in there.

  17. Way to go! I couldn’t be prouder of you 🙂

    I sucked at Math in high school and had a teacher who told me I’d never master it.

    Turns out he sucked ’cause I got an A in college Algebra and have spent a lot of my career mastering formulas. Yeah, he sucked in a big way.

    You go get it done and I can assure you that you will be just fine and we will be right here cheering you on!


    1. MJ, there is something about math and science…I grew up fearing both subjects. i don’t know if it was because girls weren’t ‘supposed’ to do well or weren’t encouraged to do well. I did actually very well with Chemistry in high school. But it still scared me. Math was always challenging. It was the only class I’d consistently get a C in all during high school. Then when I took statistics in college 20 years ago, I got an A. I suppose some things I just have to work harder at getting.

  18. I am glad you will continue to write, even if you are cutting back. The mistake I made when I went back to school was I tried to juggle too much. Yeah, I got an A. I also held down a job (my family was already grown). But I was stressed to the max.
    Breathe. Take time to smell the roses … and, keep studying your brains out. Congratulations on your accomplishment, Darla.

    1. Yes, that is SO true, Judy. I am totally stretching myself way too thin. I’ve got two little kids, my elderly mother, I’m taking on a part time job soon AND I’ve got a full course load of classes. So I dropped one class last week. Something had to give. I am already missing writing so much. It’s the main thing in life I truly enjoy. It’s like a drug, I just have to keep doing it! too bad I can’t make tons of money with writing.

  19. Nice one! Always thought I’d find it impossible to learn anything new anymore, you give me hope! Been mulling over learning guitar, you may have spurred me on to do it then I can change my About page. Or maybe another crack at Spanish. Is it more rewarding succeeding now what with juggling everything else?

    1. Ooh, guitar would be fantastic! Too funny because my older brother plays guitar and he’s teaching me basic chords right now. I did know how to play guitar back in high school but most of it’s left me. I can still play a mean “Smoke on the Water” though. I think you should go for it and learn. You’re only, what, around 30?? 😉

      1. I’m imagining Beavis and Butthead or Wayne’s World air guitaring now, Der Der Der, Der Der Da Der!

        37 now, not too late, my friends are in bands, I may cook for them in exchange for lessons, I just wonder if my strangely stumpy fingers will hinder being able to play chords.

        1. With all your rock band connections you should be well on your way, stumpy fingers be damned. I have really thin, long piano fingers and I think it gets in the way. Mainly because playing guitar hurts like hell! My fingers were bleeding last week. Piano is much easier!

  20. Congrats! I knew you could do it (although I admit you had me for a minute at the “D in anatomy”).

    I’ve had those school-related nightmares all my life. Usually I can’t find the room where the big exam is being held. My most memorable one, though, was that I was about to take the bar exam (in real life, my job has nothing to do with law) and I suddenly realized that I’d completely forgotten to go to law school.

    1. Ha! Yes, that is the kind of dream I always have. That crushing anxiety that I didn’t study or have no clue what any of the answers are…it’s been a major recurring nightmare for me my entire life.

  21. Congratulations. That’s quire an intimidating fear to overcome. Several years ago I took a college class and was sweating bullets, asking my college age son stupid things like, where should I sit? What if I can’t keep up? Should I take notes on a laptop or on paper. He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Funny how we revert to gradeschool again. Keep kickin’ butt, Darla.

    1. So true, all those fears I’ve had since I was little just creep back into my mind. That first day of class was awful, Barb. I was so nervous. It doesn’t help that I’m an old lady on top of it. All that pressure to do well. Something I didn’t really have when I was around 20 years old.

  22. I said at the very beginning when you were whining you couldn’t do it, you could. I told you so, I knew you could. Congratulations on your A. You kick all the Azz of those 20 year olds. You are awesome.

  23. I studied biology in college, got my degree in it. So all those words you are using sorta sound vaguely familiar. Sadly I remember very little of it and at this stage would probably rather jump out of an airplane than take a biology exam. Anyhow, glad school is going well. Amazing what happens when you actually study hard, huh? Wish I had figured that out 25 years ago!

    1. Whoa, you got your degree in it? You rule, Steve. All those terms like mitrochondria still scare the crap outta me. Right now we’re studying the brain. Sigh. Who knew it would be so complicated??

  24. Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Go Darla, go Darla, you the Brainiac…you the Brainiac, it’s not your birthday, birthday. Etc.

    I’m so very proud of you. But I had absolutely no doubt you could whup this school thang. Gonna miss you, though (sniff, sniff). Now hit this semester hard, woman!

    1. Ooh, you’re singing! From my infamous Weebles video! That song does get stuck in your head, doesn’t it? not one of my favorites but it was all I had on our iTunes that had the word ‘birthday’ in it….

      Thanks, Peg. I will be back. Mid-Feb!

  25. Bummer – no Darla doses? Gee, that’ll only leave me …. let’s see, carry the one…. yeah, WAY too many to follow! 😀 But what the hey, I’ve always had a masochistic streak in me!
    Good luck with the classes. And remember – any idiot can jump out of a perfectly working airplane. Landing the thing with an engine out and a wing on fire – now THAT’S talent! 😉

  26. I know you’ve been looking forward to the break, so enjoy! But I’ll miss you. Congratulations on your awesome scores. You may think the kids in your classes have more brain cells but I doubt that’s true; theirs have been turned into sawdust by all the technology they use. Your brain, on the other hand, has actually been USED. You have thinking/learning muscles they’ve never flexed. So strut your stuff, sister.

    1. Aw, thanks, Weebles! I really, really needed this break. Hope you are doing well and I’ll be sure to check in with you. By the way, I forgot to tell you about your bday video…I wanted so badly to use a Rush song but we didn’t have anything on our computer. The only thing that applied was 50 Cent (my husband likes him, not me!) so for that, I apologize. haha!

  27. How did I miss this post? I missed it, and now I’ve gone and missed YOU. Bummer.

    But yay for you and your A!! I was wondering when you were gonna let us in on how you did your first semester. I am so very proud of you. Just shows you what you can do when you really WANT something, as opposed to those kids who are just expected to go to school because mommy and daddy are paying for it . . . and they just drink themselves into an oblivion every night instead of studying. Ahhh, college. I remember it fondly. 😉

    I’m toying with the thought of going back to school, but there are so many obstacles (both mentally and financially) that I’m just not there yet. But I so admire the fact that you took that hugely scary jump. You’re my hero, Darla!! (Too much?). 🙂

    1. Oh, no you’ll never miss me. I can’t stay away. I’ll still be reading and visiting everyone here and there. It’s my fave part of blogging. If I could just figure out a way to have a robot write my posts, I’d be golden.

      If you’re thinking of going back to school, I understand your doubts and fears. Starting your career over like I am is very scary, but exciting to try something new. I just hope I can do it and get my degree before I’m 50. If I can do it, you certainly can, Misty.

  28. I’m happy for you, Darla, but not surprised in the least. And I can’t wait to read about how you’re tutoring those other students — you know, the ones with all the extra brain cells and who are still getting a D.

  29. I can’t even begin to describe how awesome I think it is that you’re going to college now. I find myself shrinking away from starting over at 27! With an attitude like yours, you’ll excel in college for sure.

  30. Congratulations! I couldn’t be prouder of you. 🙂 I totally get “getting the rhythm of the term” thing down. Take your time…you’ll find your rhythm. I just got around to catching up on my reading and it looks like we’re both easing into it at the start of the term and taking a little blogging break. Only yesterday and today, could I finally “catch up” around here.

  31. As a former college professor, I can tell you that I used to love, love, love my “non-traditional” (politically correct lingo for “older”) students returning to college. You know what you want and you take every moment of your education seriously. I wanted whole classes of students like you–you were the ones who challenged me, kept me on my toes and reminded me that I was making a real contribution to the lives of people. Thank you for being brave enough to take the leap!

    1. Oh, thanks so much for saying so, Lorna. It’s so good to hear the perspective from the teacher’s side of things. I have to admit, I really got along well with my professor. I suppose it helped she was around my age and we both had little kids at home!

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