Returning to Education
In 2008 I made, what turned out to be, a life changing decision to return to education as a mature student. For the previous ten year’s I’d been a stay at home mum of three and was project managing our ongoing house renovation on top of a Carlow hill.
This week, aged 53 (I’ve finally said that out loud), as well as working with Carlow and Kilkenny community gardens, over the next two years I’ll be continuing with my own education as I head to Kildalton College in Pilltown, Co Kilkenny two days a week to study the Advanced Certificate in Horticulture.
I’m embarking upon this new journey with an open mind. I had no idea when I returned to education in my forties that it would lead to me starting Greenside Up a month after finishing, or that I’d go on to become one of the founders of Community Gardens Ireland. Who knows where this new adventure will lead.
A Stay at Home Mum
I was blessed to be able to spend ten years at home with our children before I returned to education, watching them develop and grow. Giving up a wage meant our lifestyle was very basic but it was a decision we’ve never regretted.
If Ian and I had stayed in the UK things would have been very different. There’s no doubt I would have continued to work full-time so we could pay the mortgage on our semi-detached town house. We’d have spent all the extra money on childminders, watching someone else bring up our kids and sharing their special moments instead of us.
If I’d been following my dream career, I might have justified it, but I wasn’t. My job was simply a way of earning money to pay bills. There was no satisfaction and the desire to rear our family outside of a polluted town environment was partly what influenced our decision to move to Ireland almost 19 years ago.
An early school leaver
Like many of my generation, I left school at 16 with a handful of basic qualifications, to join the female equivalent of an apprenticeship. In a school of 1,300 around 30 stayed on for sixth form before moving on to study for their degrees. I wasn’t one of them. I hated the authority of school and couldn’t wait to leave and join the workforce. In the beginning, I worked in a large international business as a secretarial trainee, learning from the other departmental secretaries four days a week, then heading off to college one day a week to develop my shorthand, office practice and typewriting skills, qualifying at 18.
After several years, I left that job to join the throng of ‘commuters’ who travelled by train to London, first finding employment in a glamorous design company a few doors away from Oxford Street, before moving to a large accountancy firm close to St Paul’s Cathedral. My last City job, now in the fast-moving financial district, held the most responsibility as I supported the Marketing Director of an international financial news agency, helping him set up offices around the world. My twenty something lifestyle was a busy one – working hard and playing harder. However looking back, other than my friendships and the motorbiking lifestyle the money I earned supported, I felt very unfulfilled. I was an ‘earth girl’, never a city one.
Falling in love
And then I met Ian. We fell in love and within a couple of years I found myself in a new country where I barely knew anybody. We shared the rental of an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with another couple and their child, living miles from the local village with only one van between us and no phone. I used to write to family and friends to begin with; they’d reply with stories of their new online world of email, Facebook, summer holidays and winter parties and I felt homesick and left behind. We didn’t own a computer for several years, weren’t connected to the internet for many more, and despite joining a couple of toddler groups, I’d only made once close friend.
As a stay at home mum, the one thing I hadn’t anticipated about being out of the workforce was how it would diminish my confidence. We’d left the UK, a large circle of close friends and extended family to relocate to a new country and as my social circle closed, so too did my ability to fit in. I joined the primary school parent teacher group and became involved with our local scout group, attending leadership courses, but I was still searching for my elusive ‘tribe’.
Horticulture – it’s not just about digging
And then my life changed. It’s another story how I ended up choosing a full-time Horticulture course. I knew I never wanted to work as an executive secretary again; as a full-time mum I was used to being my own boss and the opportunity of returning to adult education helped me look for alternatives.
From day one as I headed out every day on my own without little ones in tow, I studied and learnt, handed in assignments, quizzed tutors, and attended work experience. I felt empowered. Adult education was more than learning about flowers and shrubs, soil and plant science. It was a transformative experience.
Horticulture enabled me to design our own garden and other people’s. Armed with my new knowledge I could grow heaps of organic vegetables which enabled us to feed our family healthier meals and then teach others how to do the same.
I developed a love of writing and began to blog. I set up a small business, taught myself about business plans and how to use social media, to create and update websites, design logos and lesson plans. After the sheer horrors of public speaking I began to feel more comfortable with it which led to gardening talks and demonstrations and coordinating pop up gardens at Electric Picnic. I spoke to journalists on radio and print and regularly met others in the realms of business and social enterprise.
Horticulture developed my forever love of our planet as I stepped out of the indoor office and home environments and outside into the garden, learning to fully appreciate the magic, healing and wonder of the natural world around us.
This week I’ll starting again, continuing my education as I learn more about entrepreneurship, ecology and the environment, trees, and shrubs. Next year I’m hoping to add commercial market gardening and other modules that will make up the Advanced Certificate. Perhaps in my sixties I’ll find enough time and money to finally study for my degree.
Or maybe I won’t.
I really have no idea where this new adventure will take me but I’m willing to be open to changes, opportunities, and new ideas.
I have half a lifetime of experience behind me and now I’m adding structured education to the mix and all because nine years ago, I took the plunge and followed my curiosity. I’d love to hear if you’ve followed yours.
“If you can let go of your passion and follow your curiosity,
your curiosity just might lead you to your passion”