How to survive a midlife master’s

A pile of assorted books of different sizes, top one opened in the middle

Get your learnin’ without killing yourself.

In Summing it Up, I wrote about my three-year journey toward the master of library and information studies degree. At that point, my Capstone was done, and just about everything was over but the shout.

Well, the shout (graduation) took place Friday, December 13. It’s official: my degree has been awarded! After three and a half years of juggling classes, jobs, family matters, crises, and plain ole life, I have finally been granted the Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) credential.

I have never been one to let age put limits on my ambition, but getting a master’s in my forties put my constitution to the test. To others at the same or later stage in life who are embarking on a similar journey, I humbly offer this advice:

Let something go. Trying to do it all will kill you – literally. Once you start school, your plate will likely be full to overflowing with schoolwork, job work, obligations to the people you love, and a load of other “grown folk” matters. You may have to put a pastime, volunteer activity, or TV show aside while you take care of your school business. That is OK. Rest assured, it will be there when you’re done with your degree (or during your end-of-semester breaks).

Ask for help. One thing I seriously considered doing as a full-time worker and part-time student was hiring a cleaning service to help me maintain my living space. I eventually talked myself out of it due to the expense. Looking back, I should have followed through and hired someone, if only for a few hours per month. It would have saved me some much-needed time that I could have devoted to schoolwork or self care. If you can, bite the bullet and pay for some help where you need it.

Eat vegetables. Vegetables kept my energy flowing and my immune system strong when things got rocky, especially during that final year. Try to resist the sugary “pick-me-ups” – the boost they provide is fleeting and comes with lots of mood-lowering strings attached (speaking from experience).

Photo of multiple rows of fruits and vegetables, including bananas, cherries, vegetables, eggplants, carrots, green peppers, oranges, and tomatoes
Mind, body, and spirit boosters (Ain’t they gorgeous?)

Stay active. Daily walks and twice-a-week gym sessions kept me sane during some crazy times. Not only did exercise clear my mind and keep my body healthy, it also gave me a short-term sense of accomplishment during the course of what at times seemed like a never-ending mental marathon. No matter how busy things get, make time for physical activities that rejuvenate you and keep you centered.

Make time for your people. In my quest to stay focused, I cut back drastically on fun activities with family and friends. I was fairly deep into the master’s journey when I realized how big of a mistake that was. While some cutting back will be necessary, don’t deprive yourself of all the fun. Doing so could leave you feeling depressed and sad. (It did me.) Once I started allowing myself more time with the people who mattered most to me, my mood improved substantially. One caveat: Be selective about who you socialize with. Your time is going to be more precious than ever. The last thing you need to do is spend it with people who bring you down and stress you out.

Get into it. I have heard people say things like “I just need to get through this and get this degree, so that I can move on.” I completely understand this perspective from the standpoint of jobs and earnings. I felt the same way myself at times. But no matter how busy and rushed things get, keep reminding yourself that you deserve a master’s experience that is more than just a stress fest of homework and deadlines. You deserve one that deepens your thinking, expands your universe, fosters relationships, and helps you realize your dreams. Immerse yourself in the intellectual exchanges and the assignments that mean the most to you. Really, give them all you got. You never know what might come of it. I did so many things as a master’s student that continue to give me satisfaction. This blog, for example, started as part of a course project I did three years ago.

Thank you, faithful readers, for staying with me on my MLIS journey. It has meant so much to me. I look forward to walking down many more roads with you in the months ahead. See you in January!


2 thoughts on “How to survive a midlife master’s”

  1. I really loved this! Congratulations and as someone who has obtained a masters degree with many competing priorities including being pregnant and then a new mom I can relate! Keep blogging, I truly enjoy your work.~NYI~


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