Why being 30 at university is complicated

Brandon Flanery

bflanery@uccs.edu 

  I’m 30 … and I’m working on my bachelor’s degree. 

     Often, when bumping into new people or old acquaintances, I’m asked the usual, “So what are you doing these days?” And I hate it. Why? Because here’s how the conversation goes:  

     “I’m a student,” I say sheepishly. 

     “Oh! That’s awesome! Working on your master’s?” 

     “Um… nope. Still working on my bachelor’s (insert self-deprecating humor to take control of the situation). It took me a while to get my life together, (insert awkward laugh) but I wouldn’t change a thing.” 

     And then, while drinking a cocktail to deal with the social anxiety of meeting new people/bumping into old acquaintances, I think: Would I really not change a thing? (One thing I would definitely change is having this existential thought while sober.) 

     The answer to this question is mixed. 

     I have had some crazy, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that most people haven’t and probably won’t. I was in a cult school in east Texas for a year. I was a youth pastor. I was a missionary. I hitchhiked through Europe. I came out late and had to suddenly move out of my parents’ house without a career or a home to call my own. I had to rebuild my life from scratch. 

     My story isn’t exactly a Hallmark classic. 

     But when I look back over the 12 years since graduating high school, even though a lot of my experiences weren’t pleasant, I wouldn’t change a thing because they’ve made me who I am — a person who I don’t necessarily like on my worst days, but who I genuinely enjoy on my best days. 

     I like Brandon Flanery and the cynical, determined, joyful, chaotic energy he brings to those around him and the classroom. 

     I genuinely care about my education.  

     I want to get good grades and not just pass; I want to actually learn.  

     I argue with professors and peers because I’ve seen some principles taught that don’t work in the “real world.”  

     I know what I want and where I want to go in life; I’m not doing a communication degree (yes, I’m throwing shade).  

     I’m taking advantage of resources like journals and professors, and I know I wouldn’t have done this if I pursued my bachelor’s as a youngling. 

     So, then where’s the mixed verdict? Maybe everyone should get their bachelor’s as an old fart. 

     Not so fast, my imaginary audience whose head I’m putting leading questions into. 

     Although I love who I am and what I bring to my college experience as a 30-year-old, doing your bachelor’s at this age is rough most days. 

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

     Most of my peers are around 22, and while I truly enjoy their company, there is always this nagging feeling that I can’t relate, that I’m not cool enough, that I don’t know enough hip lingo. 

     I never lived on campus and made age-appropriate friends while getting blitzed at a frat party (as if a fraternity would let me in or as if I would want to join). 

     I don’t have the energy. Like period. Not for life in general, but especially when it comes to pulling all-nighters, studying for exams, writing papers and juggling a social life. 

     I have bills to pay! This guy has a mortgage and is trying to student teach! Balancing college with owning a house and working a job and being around adults who are not in the same world as you is hard! 

     I feel behind. 

     This is probably the worst one. Like I said: on my best days, I’m proud of the choices I’ve made, though they may be very atypical. But on my not-best days, it’s easy to compare what my life should look like in contrast to my friends who have degrees, spouses and children, when I have none of those things. 

     Life is this weird game that doesn’t have an instruction manual. So we make up rules as we go, and we hand those rules down to our babies and pressure our peers into playing by them, and next thing you know, we’re all that seven-year-old bossing around her siblings, except that they aren’t just her siblings; they’re literally everyone around us, and we’re breaking under arbitrary expectations that we’ve made up for ourselves. 

     Spouse. Kids. Golden retriever. Career. House. 401(k). Grandbabies. Some random cheap-ass cruise for old people. Death. Life insurance to make sure those you left behind don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to throw you into the dirt. Repeat. 

     This formula sounds nauseating, yet I’m judging myself by it. It’s probably the hardest thing about being 30 while working on my bachelor’s — our perceived idea of how people perceive us. (That and the absolute lack of energy, like what the hell?) 

     And yet it’s all arbitrary. 

     Here’s what’s not arbitrary: the short time we all have on this planet. So, make decisions you can live with, make decisions you can die with.  

     Your journey is your journey. Screw the formula; the people we’re all impressed with did. And if you’re like me, and you need time to figure out what you want from college, take your time. It’ll be here when you’re ready. 

     (But seriously, don’t wait too long because truly that energy of being a 20-something is a game changer for studying and juggling all the BS of being a student, so hurry up and get your life figured out.) 

     With love, your friendly not-22-year-old.