It's Never Too Late to Learn a New Skill

In 2015, Betty Jones of Barnsley, England took a turn behind the wheel. She explained that driving “was something [she] had always wanted to do.” Betty was 92 years old. What inspired her to do something completely out of her comfort zone and perhaps, as some might assume, too late? Her desire to learn a new skill and open the doors of possibility outweighed her fears and doubts. Similarly, the college exploration process should be treated the same way.

Throughout my college experience, I’ve felt constant pressure to have it all together. I was supposed to have all of the experiences, all of the skills and all of the plans figured out. If felt like no matter how “beginner” the course I signed up for, there was always people four or five steps ahead of me. I found myself frustrated, slugging through assignments knowing my hours of work would look like slop compared to the more experienced students’ work.

This comparison of ability always left me confidence-drained and feeling hopeless. While comparison is normal and pushes us to improve, the best comparisons we can make are those of ourselves—not others—as we learn new skills.

We are often asked by loved ones what we are majoring in and what we want to do with that degree, when really that’s not what they are asking at all. They are really asking us what we are interested in, what skills we want to learn and how we want to influence the world around us.

When we think of jobs we often associate them with a specific degree, and sometimes that is really relevant, for say a doctor or a lawyer. We assume a very clear path with very clear skills associated. While it’s true that there are very specific requirements for such professions, it’s not as strict as one might think.

Despite popular assumption, a dental student does not have to major in biology for their undergraduate degree. Sure, it might save them some time since their degree aligns well with the program prerequisites, but ultimately that isn’t the only preoperatory degree. A student could major in, say, psychology. Why? Because both paths lead to the same end goal by gaining complimentary skills along the way.

The purpose of a degree is to teach students how to think, problem solve and equip themselves with the needed tools to succeed professionally thereafter. These tools are often referred to as one’s skills or qualifications. In the dental student example, one student might choose to major in psychology to better understand their patient’s behavior and to improve their patient’s office experience. A pre-law student might major in communications or history—depending on the perspective and skills they want to have walking into their field. Many different paths can lead to the same end goals.

By the time many students realize this important life principle, they feel behind, as if realizing they are too late in their college experience to change their plans: “ I was hoping to work in marketing and thought a business degree was the only way to get there.” “ What I really wanted to do was research but thought that meant I’d only be looking at cells.”

So, should a student pursue a degree that doesn’t completely align with their goals if they are two years into the program? The best answer is maybe. It all comes down to the skills you want to walk away with plus personal circumstances. A degree is not the end of an education.  In fact, it is the beginning of one. Learning may come in various forms and at different junctions in your life—maybe during school it’s through an internship. Maybe after graduation on the job. There will be restrictions such as money and time.

The important thing to remember throughout the journey is that it’s never too late. You are never too old. There will always be people in front of you, better than you, more experienced than you, but your job is not to compare yourself to them. Instead you can compare your best “old self” to your best “current self” and continue to challenge your own personal status quo.

Whether you graduate in four years or not, whether your first job is your dream job or not, whether you gained several or just a few of the needed skills in school, you have the power to choose and change your future.

There’s an old saying about life-long learning and education that embodies this idea of it never being too late to try something new, from Choice: Embrace the Possible. In the book, one questions their ability to gain an education, exclaiming that, “By the time I finished school I will be fifty.” Their wise friend adds, “You’ll be fifty anyhow.”

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