I had been enjoying life for seven years after retiring from a thirty-seven-year banking career, when I attended the inaugural meeting of a new writers group held in my neck of the woods. There I met Olga, a platinum blond seventy-five-year-old author and former journalist. We were the first to arrive, and while waiting for others, we chatted and exchanged copies of our books. I became a published author in 2000 while working full-time and had three non-fiction books to my credit.
Two months later, I attended the second meeting of the writers’ group. Olga pulled me aside when it ended.
“Yvonne, I finished your book and I enjoyed the story very much,” she said, her voice dripping with syrup. “I like your writing style. You know what I would do if I were you?”
“What?” I asked abruptly. My antenna flew up like radar. I detest people who offer unsolicited advice, especially when I don’t know them well.
“I think you should do an English degree at the university. Your English is excellent, but I have that degree, and I find it helps me to add texture to my writing. I know it will do the same for your writing.”
My eyes stopped throwing darts.
I slowly calmed down.
Okay, I could accept texture.
I’ve always felt that my writing needed more depth and more layers. I tried to remedy it, but despite taking several writing courses and reading many books about writing, I had not mastered the art of texture. I thanked Olga for her suggestion and promised to think about it. Later, I learned that she has five degrees, including two PhDs. I deduced that if anyone knew about texture, she did. Perhaps earning the degree would help.
I pondered Olga’s suggestion over several months, and the more I thought about it, the more the potential benefits of attending university appealed to me. In addition to improving the texture of my writing, other strong reasons came into focus. Dementia was ravishing more and more senior citizens daily. Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote in his book Chasing Life, “When you’re sixty-five, there’s a one in ten chance you are affected by Alzheimer’s. By the time you’re over eighty-five, there’s almost a one in two chance you have the disease.” It was a quote from the Alzheimer’s Association. Research showed that exercising the mind could ward off the terrible disease called dementia. I figured that pursuing studies at the university could help avert it.
Plus, humans are social beings. Attending university would give me a reason to get dressed and leave the house a few days each week to be with other people. It would provide a consistent structure for several years.
The fourth reason was to inspire my two young grandsons: to show them that you can learn at any age, and to encourage them to aim to attend university after high school.
I would have loved to devote most of my time to pursuing the degree, but I didn’t want to neglect the other duties I had committed to. I was sitting on a government board and three committees, I was the head teller at my church, and I occasionally babysat my grandsons. I wished to avoid stress but keep my life balanced, so I gave myself six years to earn the degree. My flaw, and the flaw of many baby boomers, was my discipline, conscientiousness, persistence, and the habit of intense hard work. Those foundations of resilience helped me maintain the quality of life essential for survival.
During my studies, I forged through the fog, trying to find a way, and stumbled upon hurdles, including two strikes; the COVID-19 pandemic; hard-to-connect-with millennials; and the highest one—a diagnosis of sarcoma cancer in my right thigh. I stayed the course because of my faith in God and strong support from family members, my church family, and my fabulous friends.
My book, College Life of a Retired Senior: A Memoir of Perseverance, Faith, and Finding the Way, will be available in April. I hope it inspires and motivates others, especially retired folks like me, to return to school and pursue courses, even a degree, or undertake goals you once dreamed of but have put aside. Do not be deterred by retirement. I could have dressed up this story and made it look easy, but I wanted to be honest. Many millennials earned their degree easier and faster than I did. Of course, there were times when I wished my brain were sharper, my memory quicker, and my joints stronger—no arthritis. But as my darling grandmother used to say, “If you want good, your nose must run.”
I am thrilled that I went for it, that I took on the challenge, that I tried the way (Tentanda via), that I climbed the mountain, and that I graduated magna cum laude from York University. I say: Nothing is easy, perseverance and determination are excellent qualities, and success is sweeter than the honeycomb. Pursue your ambition with gusto. Go for it!
My author website: http://www.yvonneblackwood.com/
My Amazon author website: http://amazon.com/author/write1