“I’m too old to go to University,” I said. “I’m 48 years of age for crying out loud. I’d never cope with the workload anyway and everyone would think I was a big joke.”
They were my exclamations and excuses as the thought of a career change at my time of life, sunk into my numb brain.
I say numb because the shock of it all had forced me to open a rather old bottle of Chardonnay that I had been keeping for that special occasion.
“Well,” I thought, “It’s pretty special now – a special crisis,” and I plunged in and allowed my mind to wander back to where it had all began.
I had been working as a Pastor of a church and all of a sudden, I had reached burnout. All the comments such as, “You should have done this’,” and the, “I don’t agree with what he has done now,” together with the long working days and endless telephone calls and visits, had finally taken their toll and caught up with me. I felt like a squeezed out sponge that had been put through a mangle. I was dry, 48 years old and on the scrap heap with no potential for the future.
It was a time of great anguish for my wife and I. Especially my wife, who because of her love and concern for me, attempted to shelter me from all of the shellfire that threatened to bombard me wherever I went.
However, where does one go when you are in your late forties, especially when you have had a near breakdown? Answer, “Why not consider going to University to train as a social worker?”
That answer came to me as I was talking on the telephone one day to a manager from Social Services. I had met this chap on a number of occasions over the years and he had been a great support to the work of the church in offering financial support for our work with the homeless.
Here he was, challenging me to take a step that I did not think was possible, let alone feasible. I knew nothing about social work.
“Yes you do,” the reply came, “you’ve been doing it for years. You just need to get the professional qualification now.”
I was told that if there was a place on the next course that started in September –(two months away…AARGH), he would arrange for me to be sponsored, as he had been impressed by the work he had seen me carrying out. This would be in the form of a bursary, which would help boost the little that I would be offered on a LEA grant.
A few telephone calls later and I had been accepted for an interview with Social Services plus I had to submit a 2000 word essay on,”Why I want to be a social worker,”
I submitted the essay, attended the interview, which was quite gruelling and took two parts; one in the form of a group work discussion, which was observed and secondly, being grilled by 5 Social Services staff.
Eventually, I was informed that I had been accepted for training and I attended University. To say I was frightened on that first day would be an understatement; I was absolutely petrified. I had visions of walking into the classroom to be greeted by a load of 20 year olds, fresh out of college, brimming with high scoring A’ level results. I could not have been more wrong. Three people were actually older than I was. One woman was 56 years old. The other two were in their early fifties. The rest of the students average ages were between 30 – 45.
I was elated. There I had been worrying that I would be like an old man compared with the rest. I had fretted for nothing. This boosted my confidence greatly and I settled into the introduction period of the Diploma in Social Work and Diploma/Degree in Higher Education courses, with more determination to be successful than I had initially been.
The course length was 2 years in duration with the degree in the third year. This was part attend University and part work in a Social Service Department. This gave excellent hands on experience and helped provide valuable data for the endless essays that I had to write in order to gain each qualification.
Yes, I was very daunted at first when I saw the amount of work that I had to do in order to claim my prize. However, when I actually picked myself up off the floor, where I had collapsed in shock, I was able to rationalise it all and set my self a pace in which I would be able to work to.
Within a very short time, I was writing to the standard required by the University and gaining good marks towards the final year. The time went so fast and before I knew it, I had passed the course and was attending my Graduation day ceremony, complete with mortarboard and gown.
I was fifty years old and I had not only been to University but had gained a very good mark too. I was elated and felt justified in being so. It made me look back and be thankful for all those people who had supported me and had the faith that I could do it. For those who had waited for me to fail, I considered having a “Who said I couldn’t do it?” party but decided that I had nothing to prove. I had all I needed, a recognised qualification and a position as a qualified social worker at Social Services, which was not far from my home.
Since then, I often look back to those dismal days where I felt that I was on the scrap heap of life. It has helped me to see that, where I felt being nearly fifty was far too old to better myself or take a career change, I was very wrong. Being in your fifties is not a negative time. Far from it, it is a time when each individual has reached a level of maturity, yet still has many years of valuable experience to offer, if the openings are there. Sadly, this is not always the case, but the individual should never consider throwing in the towel. Get up and create a way forward for yourself. Do not let anyone stop you through well meaning, “I think you have bit off more than you can chew” comments. Since I qualified, I have worked in Mental Health, Childcare and Bereavement work.
You may be reading this article at this moment and be in a similar predicament that I was in. Be encouraged! Yes it will take hard work but one never gets anywhere without it, do they? The rewards though far outweigh the commitment that you have to invest. Being in your fifties is only the beginning of another decade. Why not make it the decade that will count for you. Go on, go and do it!
Copyright 2009 Grahame Howard