“Are you crazy?” Those were the honest first words of disbelief from my husband and two sons when I first broached my proposal to apply for a mid-career Master’s program in public administration at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Looking back at the rigors of the Kennedy School curriculum and the daily struggles tackling the mountain-loads of preparatory material for and after each class, I must confess, there were a number of occasions where I found myself asking the same exact question. Am I indeed crazy? I’m 55, not 35. Do I really belong here?
However, despite the occasional doubt, I am immensely glad and deeply satisfied that I managed to tough it out and cross the finish line. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and meaningful the entire learning journey had been.
While classes were demanding – they were never dull. I fondly recall we have to fight hard for an opportunity to share our views and contribute to the discussion. Everyone brought something to the table, and the professors made sure of that. There were no wrong answers, though fools are quickly exposed. The approach is simple: Come to class prepared, keep an open mind, and the fun will follow.
So as I pack my belongings for the long voyage back to Singapore and as I gaze nostalgically at my favourite library spot that has almost become my second home over the past 10 months, allow me to share some words of advice to those in my shoes who are similarly contemplating a return to school after decades of hiatus in between.
Do it! Ignore the naysayers and your own mental barriers which attempt to dissuade you by stressing that you are too old, too divorced from the classroom, or that the added certification is not worth the effort.
One is never too old to learn something new. If one is receptive to new views, there remains lots of information, experiences and perspectives out there that we can and should harness as part of our personal development.
It is also less about attaining the qualification than it is about appreciating the journey.
Learning, interacting and networking with my professors and peers has been an absolute joy, honor and privilege. This experience alone would be worth the application, even if there was no golden certificate to be had at the end of the rainbow.
As such, if one is fortunate enough to be offered an opportunity to study, take it without hesitation. There may be things in life that we look back upon with regret. I assure you that a Learning stint will not be one of them. Just stay diligent and keep an open mind.
She is currently the Executive Director, Centre For Seniors, looking primarily at research, advocacy and training, and support the push to raise eldercare and ageing issues more prominently in the national conversation.
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