The choice to return to school as an adult student is life-affirming and potentially life-changing. It’s a vote for your future, for yourself, and for your power to shape your circumstances. Yet, adversity affects us all sooner or later.
Unfortunately, there is often nothing we can do to prevent challenging circumstances beyond our control. That’s something our entire global community came to grips with during the COVID-19 crisis. Adult students do not have to feel demoralized or knocked down by adversity. Life’s challenges are a chance to revisit your commitment to a better life, sharpen your coping tools, and learn from a challenge.
Here’s how you can stay motivated even when adversity rears its head.
The Inevitability of Adversity
No one wants to believe that tragedy is just around the corner. Perhaps that’s why we so often construct stories about why adversity won’t happen to us. We’re healthy or make good choices or have a supportive family, the thinking goes. The truth is that sooner or later, everyone experiences life’s challenges. And sometimes life’s challenges are much bigger than a single existence—a wildfire ripping through a neighborhood, a flood that destroys your home, a pandemic that locks you in your house for months on end.
Adult students shouldn’t put their heads in the sand and hope they’re not next. The best time to think about how to manage adversity is before it happens. College is hard. It can be even harder when you have to face the many demands of adult life: parenting, a job, juggling tight finances. You owe it to yourself to develop a strategy for staying motivated when life’s difficulties inevitably appear.
Strategies for Staying Motivated
No matter what you’re facing, you can get through it. These strategies can help you keep moving forward when life throws up obstacles.
Identify Your Motivations
Why are you on the path you have chosen? Everyone returns to school for a reason. In the middle of the semester, when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s easy to lose sight of even your most powerful motivators. So assemble a list and make it as detailed as possible. Don’t just assert that you want to have a better life. Envision what that life looks like. Is it a better school for your child? More vacations? More family time? Feeling good about yourself? Highlight everything you gain by staying motivated, and even the darkest times may feel a little less demoralizing.
Practice Diligent Self-Care
It’s easy to sneer at self-care as just another buzzword. Self-care is vital. You can’t do anything if your mind is burned out and your body is exhausted. So develop a plan for taking care of both. Incorporate exercise into your weekly routine. Meditate to manage stress. No matter what it is, just be sure to carve out a little personal time each day—even if it’s late at night after the kids have gone to bed. Self-care is not selfish. It’s not a luxury. It may mean the difference between having the energy to keep moving and gassing out long before you reach the finish line.
Develop a Support System
Everyone deserves a community. Before you attend your first day of class, ask your community how they can help you. Work out a division of chores with your spouse. Ask your folks if they can help watch the kids. Set up a rideshare with your best friend. At SNU, you get a built-in support system in the form of our innovative cohorts. Take classes with peers pursuing similar dreams to your own, and support one another through the process.
Ask for Help
The people who care about you want to help, but they might not know how to do so. So when people reach out, give them a few tasks, whether it’s picking up your kids or making a meal. If you don’t have enough people in your life offering support, turn to your school. Many schools, including SNU, offer a chaplain, referrals to counseling, and additional resources for struggling students.
Use School as a Distraction
People facing life's challenges may feel frustrated by homework and studying. Reframe that thought process. Rather than seeing school as just another annoyance, treat it as a break from the chaos and stress. Commit to fully digging into your course material during each class. Your mind will thank you for the break from stressful ruminations, and your grades might even go up.
Use Technological Solutions
The cognitive load of adversity can be immense. You may be stuck tending to an ailing loved one, planning a funeral, or navigating endless fights with an ex. Preserve as much brain power as you can with the right technological solutions. Time management apps, study apps, and more can save space in your mind for the work that matters most. We’ve compiled a great list for you here.
Remember This Is Temporary
Adversity can be deeply painful. It may be difficult to remember feeling happy and impossible to envision ever feeling good again. But even the pain of permanent losses can change with time. You may feel destroyed by a breakup or death in the family now, and although time won’t magically fix everything, it will ease the ache. No matter what you’re facing, just keep reminding yourself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Shine Your Own Light at the End of the Tunnel
You can make adversity feel a little more bearable by making your own light at the end of the tunnel. Start building in small victories.
Some ideas to try include:
- Looking forward to passing your classes this semester
- A special event with your child or spouse
- A day at home all to yourself
- Your college graduation
Even when you’re not able to end the pain you feel, you can find sources of joy at every step along the way. Pleasures as simple as new school supplies, a day at home watching a movie, or a good book can make the unbearable feel just a bit more tolerable.
How Adult Students Can Learn from Adversity
Adversity now offers important lessons you can carry into the future. So rather than framing the challenges you face as suffering, treat them as a lesson life is offering you. It’s up to you whether you take the lesson or choose to ignore it and learn it again later.
Try asking these questions to learn more from challenging experiences:
- What negative thoughts do I have when I feel overwhelmed? What can I do to combat them?
- Who supports me when I need help? How can I return the favor?
- What self-care strategies work best for me?
- When do I tend to feel the worst? How can I adapt my schedule to this so that adversity feels less difficult next time?
- Is there anything I do that makes adversity harder? Easier?
- Is there anything I regret about how I have handled this? What should I do differently?
- If I could tell myself anything from the other side of this challenge, what would it be?
- Is there anything I can do to better prepare next time? Could getting a college degree be part of my plan for managing difficulties?
The Right School Matters
The right coping skills can help you deal well with adversity. They’re far from the only factor though. Schools that value building a diverse community of people with a vast range of experiences endeavor to help their adult students better weather life’s storms. So when you compare schools, consider the resources each institution offers.
At SNU, we strive to bring a college degree within the grasp of adult students, even those who have previously struggled with school. Our welcoming financial aid office, commitment to disabled students and veterans, and nurturing cohort model can all help you get closer to making your dreams a reality.
To learn more about what we offer, or to master the skills you need to thrive in college and beyond, subscribe to our blog.