Have any examples of people turning their life around late in life?
November 6, 2011 9:36 PM   Subscribe

I've heard of people saying "It's never too late to turn your life around." But I was wondering if anyone here has personal life experiences to share of them or people they know turning their life around late in life.

I'm asking because I'm 23 years old, a university dropout and I'm hoping to attend a college next year to give myself another shot at life. Some motivation would be splendid.
posted by TrumanBurbank to Education (40 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
i would hardly call 23 years old "late in life."
posted by violetk at 9:40 PM on November 6, 2011 [51 favorites]

Seconding violetk. The beauty of youth is that you can squander some time without much opportunity cost. At your age you have plenty of room for error. Don't sweat it. Just focus on becoming more mindful about what direction you want to head in. Look for mentors. Be open to possibilities. The rest of your life awaits!
posted by quadog at 9:46 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

HOLY CRAP. Dude -- 23?!? You might not realize it -- I probably didn't at that age -- but you have no idea how young you are, and how many more opportunities you have to screw up, recover, screw up, recover, screw up... well, you get the picture.

Seriously -- I"m not saying this to make you feel better; I'm telling you this because it's the truth. You are still at the beginning. Now go out there and screw up. Take risks! Fail! Get back up again! All that stuff.

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 9:54 PM on November 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

Man, 23 is still super young. You have't wasted your shot at life. You haven't even taken it yet.

Also, dropping out of university doesn't mean you've ruined your life. You acquired experiences. You've learned things. Every experience is a learning experience. Every mistake is a lesson.

If you want to go back to school, do it! Learn things that interest you. Meet people. Have fun.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:54 PM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

My father-in-law was a professional dancer in the 1930s, got drafted into the army to fight the Nazis, got dumped by his first wife, came back to the states, got remarried, opened a dance studio and became a teacher, fathered two sons in his 50s, then in his 60s (or 70s, I can't quite figure out the timeline) discovered that he had a long-lost other son from a romantic interlude with a Berlin chorus girl back in the day (who then moved to the states and essentially joined the family -- the son, not the Berlin chorus girl), retired in his 70s, kept dancing into his 80s, and just this past summer celebrated his 100th birthday.

Point being: he had an awful lot of living yet to do after he was 23. So do you.
posted by scody at 9:56 PM on November 6, 2011 [37 favorites]

I was figuring I'd click through and find that you were like 60 or something and then I was going to tell you the story of my dad who did turn his life around at about 71 by going to rehab and a bunch of other stuff but cripes, you're just starting out. There's nothing late in life about 23. You are merely on the cusp of your life and have so much to live and explore. You'll still make mistakes but you can learn and change.That's what life is.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:00 PM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

@otherwordlyglow: I would still love to hear about your dad turning his life around at 71.
posted by samizdat at 10:10 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

In Silicon Valley, the saying is "fail early, fail often". The trick is use your experience to learn - what works, what doesn't, what you want to do differently next time. In my art class, we are encouraged to do the same. If you are afraid to make a mistake, you will be too careful and miss the opportunity to take risks and be creative. So go for it. And if going back to school doesn't work for you this time, try something else next. As long as you are paying attention and learning, it will all work out in the long run.
posted by metahawk at 10:14 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

i would hardly call 23 years old "late in life."

hmmm? By the time I was 23, I'd wasted my life completely at least three times, and I'd do it at least once more before I was 27. Or as a smart ass once said, "The youth that isn't at least partly wasted is wasted." Or as a wiser man once said, "The young that isn't confused isn't on the path."

But you're looking for motivation. Here's the best I can offer. You say you're going back to college. Good. I hope you're doing it in order to study something that makes sense to you. That is, your motivation isn't to satisfy needs/concerns of others (your parents, your peers etc) but to satisfy some need/desire/curiosity of your own.

Because at 23 the one thing you should be getting past is living in accord with anyone's directives but your own. Good luck with that.
posted by philip-random at 10:36 PM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have a lot of stories of turnaround, because I teach at a community college and there are many folks returning after decades away from school to complete (or start) degrees or diplomas. I currently teach people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are finishing their high school diplomas, some of whom dropped out of elementary school.

One memorable story of turnaround: I volunteered in a Humanities 101-type program in which we taught street-involved women various non-credit courses. (I taught women's studies.) All the students were living in a women's shelter, many were managing addictions (they had to be clean when they were in class though), many were still working the streets. But they all wanted to come back to school. One woman (somewhere in her 40s) was so, so obviously bright and talented but had had a shitty childhood full of abuse and mental illness and poverty and now was juuuuuuust starting to turn her life around. She was, uh, very challenging to have in class because she just literally had no idea how to be in school and sit still for 50 minute periods and not get in arguments with the teachers all the time. But she persisted with the help of the program, her teachers, and the social worker.

She loved our classes so much that after our program was over, she got clean, got financial aid to come back and finish her high school diploma, then was admitted into a university transfer program, finished a certificate, then was admitted to the local university and completed a social work degree. She's still in the community, working with the population she used to be part of herself, and she is doing awesome. I just saw her at a political rally a couple of weeks ago looking happy and healthy.

I always think about her when someone asks about second chances and education.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:37 PM on November 6, 2011 [24 favorites]

Not in the spirit of Askme, but a 23 year old asking this makes this 40 year old want to hang himself in the garage.

That said, let me just chip and say you have a long time to go. If I was still in my early 20s, I'd go have some fun instead of working my ass off to earn and pay for my ridiculous degree like I did the first time around.

Explore some stuff and come up with a real plan. Network a little and try and talk to some people in the fields you want to enter. Don't stress and work hard just to stress and work hard. Oh, and free unasked-for advice - if and when you have a specific field in mind, start networking early and often. That's where jobs come from.
posted by codswallop at 11:12 PM on November 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

Yes, I have an example. At around the age of 40 my grandfather was a punch press operator in a factory and quite a drinker. He decided he was smarter than the Forman and wanted a Forman job. The next time the position opened he went to apply. They pulled out his file, and said "you can't be a Forman, you never even attended High School and look at all the days you called in sick". He quit drinking and actually started attending classes to get a High Scool diploma. By time he got his diploma he had gone years without calling in sick because of hangovers. Next time a position opened up he got the job.

This inspired my grandmother, she went to community college then nursing school. By time she was in her 60s she was an RN and a MSW.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:28 PM on November 6, 2011 [13 favorites]

A friend I knew in college was a total party ass screw up. He was bright, funny, but drunk or stoned 98% of the time. In his 2nd year after he graduated (with a 2.21), he was driving home from a party or concert or some other place where he was drunk. He hit and killed another driver. My friend ended up accepting a deal for 2 years in prison. (The other driver was also over the legal limit and proving responsibility for the crash between the two was next to impossible.) While in prison, he got clean and sober. He has not had a drink or smoke or put any drugs including aspirin into his system for 20+ years. He started his own company because he could not get hired as a former convict. He is now worth over $40 million (his number). He has given and continues to give significant (7 figures) amounts of money to programs for troubled youth, for anti-drunk driving campaigns (like MADD) and a whole host of other charities. He got married in his late 30's to a nurse he met while volunteering in the pediatric ward of the local catholic hospital. They have 2 kids and another on the way.

He is not perfect. He is still bright and funny, but can be quite the asshole sometimes. He has no patience for ineptness or for wasting time. He is annoying in that he won't sit still and relax, ever. He says he has no time to waste. Too much to do. He pisses off some in his community because whenever he gets involved in a cause or project whether it is with a donation of money or time or effort, he insists on doing things his way or he quits his participation. He is a great dad, but hard on his kids. He has huge expectations for them and they are kids less than 10 years old. His expectations are not achievement, but effort. He coached one AYSO team and was not asked back. The parents thought he worked the kids too hard in practice. Fundamentals over and over.

If you ask him what turned his life around, he has a pat answer. It is the same reason he tells you he went astray. Opportunity. It is always knocking. Sometimes it is the opportunity to screw-up and sometimes to succeed. When he was younger, he fell victim to his own weakness and lack of ability to say no to opportunities to screw up. In prison he realized that he just needed to seize the positive opportunities and not waste time on distractions.

He lives many states away and he does not keep in touch with many from his college and earlier days. We talk about once every 6 weeks. When I asked him why he still talked to me, he answered that because I never judged him, that I always offered him a hand up when he fell. (I think he means that literally as he was a falling down drunk. I am too scared to ask if it is literal or figurative.)

I am not sure this is the type of answer for which you were looking, but know that even at 23, you can make of your life what you want. And I don't mean the filthy rich part. I mean the hard working, charitable part. Success to me is not how many goals you reach, but what the goals are that you set and how hard you try to reach them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:35 PM on November 6, 2011 [15 favorites]

My mother never went to university when she was young, although she's very smart, because women in her family were expected to leave high school, get married, and have children. She finally did an education degree when she was in her fifties, one paper each semester, over a period of about eight or nine years.

She then did an extra qualification in teaching children with learning disabilities, started a business tutoring these kids in reading, and joined a local committee of a national organisation for this sort of teaching.

Now she is the national president of that organisation and frequently invited to speak on tv and radio about it, and occasionally gets called in to provide policy advice to the prime minister or education minister.

All this has really just taken off in the last two or three years (she is now 65), while she also dealt with breast cancer, her parents' deaths, my father having an affair that ended with their divorce, and her house being destroyed in an earthquake.

She's not been the world's best mother, but an inspiring example of someone turning their life around, all the same.
posted by lollusc at 11:42 PM on November 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

People are right to be a little snippy about the 23 year old asking about how to turn his life around, but I do sympathize. When you're talking about going back to college, 23 can seem old, since most of your peers have already finished. However, I can offer my experience:

I dropped out of college after one semi-disastrous semester at 18. I spent the next few years in crappy jobs, hating life, no money to do anything but play video games and watch tv for fun. I wanted to change, but felt like I couldn't hack it at school. I felt like the great "potential" that everyone had told me I had growing up was slipping away, and that I'd be stuck in menial jobs forever, living in a crappy apartment in a crappy town but stuck forever. So, really, just out of desperation, I kicked myself into action, went back to school. I was a mediocre student at first, then a little bit better, and eventually graduated as a pretty good student with great friends and a great college experience, even a real job lined up overseas after graduation.

You're probably too old to have a completely "normal" college experience. You'll be a bit older than most of the other students, but it won't be that big of a deal. I had a blast and learned tons when I went back my second time. That was just impossible for me at 18, I wasn't ready for it and didn't get much out of it. And as far as post-college, you really haven't closed any doors yet, you're young enough still to go into whatever career you're interested in, even if it requires years of postgrad work. The only thing that could really close those doors is to refuse to try. Good luck, I was so much happier after I got back into normal life and stopped watching everyone else pass me by.
posted by skewed at 11:45 PM on November 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

You are very young. Here's a hint - you will have many lives throughout the course of your life. You just have to make them happen.
posted by mleigh at 12:48 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

By the time I was your age, I had:

Gotten pregnant, married and dropped out of high school at 16
Divorced at 19, got my GED
Remarried at 21
Gotten pregnant with my daughter, quit drinking

I spent my twenties working really crappy jobs: fast food, cleaning office buildings, telemarketing. We were pretty poor for a long time. When I turned thirty-one I enrolled in a vocational program to learn how to be an administrative assistant. Went to classes for a year while working part-time in a restaurant. Got my first office job right out of school making twice as much as I ever made before. Have worked pretty decent receptionist/admin positions ever since.

Met Mr. Right when I was thirty-four and married him a couple years later. We’re going on 12 mostly-happy years now. Spent the last 10 years working on an associate degree (took lots of semesters off when I was too stressed out or didn’t have the money for classes.) I expect to graduate in December, and I’ve already interviewed for one job making significantly more money than I do now. If that doesn’t pan out, I will continue to look for something more interesting and lucrative than my current job.

So yeah, my story isn’t the success story of the 40 million guy above, but over a number of years I’ve certainly done a complete turn around from where I was headed as a pregnant 16 year old with a drinking problem in an abusive relationship.

I can remember being 23 and feeling so washed up, like I’d missed the boat entirely and would never do anything my whole life except work the drive-thru at Burger King. But every bolded item above was a step away from that and towards a more positive direction. And at 46 I still have plans and dreams, so I am hoping I am not done with my turnaround just yet.

I can also tell you the story about how my husband failed out of good colleges twice, moved back in with his parents, worked through a major depression, worked and took classes at community college, eventually went back to full-time college and at age 25 finally graduated from one of the best engineering schools in the country with a degree in computer science. He was always rather embarrassed about having gotten such a “late start” in life, but 13 years later he is very successful in his chosen career, and what felt like a major setback at the time has turned out to be pretty much just a little hiccup in the grand scheme of things.

At 23 you really are just starting out, and have lots of time to make mistakes, recover, and succeed. Maybe you’ll even go through that process multiple times. Don’t sweat it, just keep moving in a better direction and you will make it to where you want to be.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:52 AM on November 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

I'm 58 and taking beginning algebra for the 7th time since graduating from high school. I think I'm going to pass this time and get into the math class that actually counts towards a degree. It's my last academic hurdle to conquer.

I am a Studio Art major. Three years ago I came through a rough patch in my life and decided to return to school . I started with one art class. I never viewed myself as being particularly creative but I was wrong about that. I don't know if its because I am so much older and I don't really give a shit what others think about what I create or what the difference or change in me is, but I am having a great time, even in my algebra class.

I believe that it is never too late for a person to try new things or change old ones.
posted by cairnoflore at 1:10 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Let's see. When I was 23 I was deeply depressed due to the combination of my father's death on my twelfth birthday and my deeply-buried gender issues. I was in a grey pit of despair. I'd been in it for most of a decade, really; I went to college but it was just going through the motions.

When I was 25 I moved to California to attend animation school. I ended up hanging around LA for most of a decade. About half of it was spent hanging around Spümcø, where I went from 'freelancer hired to write a crappy Flash game' to 'optimizing scans of inks' to 'directing Flash animation' over the course of about four months, then drifted back down.

Near the end of that decade I finally came out to myself about the gender stuff and started taking grey-market hormones. That helped some. I was still pretty mopey though.

Burnt out on animation, moved back home to New Orleans. Three days before Hurricane Katrina tore through the city. My stuff was sitting in a warehouse in the flooded area. What little I had left - my suitcase, my hard drive, and the stuff my mom had never sent out to California - went up to Boston to stay with some friends.

Said friends ended up being my boyfriends for five freezing years, during which I drew a tarot deck and a dirty comic (NSFW). My grandmother died and left me enough money to move us to Seattle because I am very much a west coast girl.

In Seattle, I found a publisher for my deck (in Italy! I love the Internet). I broke up with my boyfriends, moved from the group house in the burbs we were living in to a sunny apartment down in the city, finally went legit about my transition, and started doing some new comics that I can actually show to people without having them say "this is gorgeous but it's, um, not really our kind of thing". I also started taking burlesque dance lessons; this was a total whim near the beginning of the year, that has made me lose weight, get fit, and seen me go onstage and actually be paid money to take my clothes off to music. I have a stunning and powerful lack of shame about my body now that has really transformed a lot of my attitude towards everything. (Having higher levels of estrogen and spending some time having my facial hair nuked helps a hell of a lot too, of course.)

I am forty years old and life is totally fucking awesome.

Twenty-fnord-three? Late in life? What, are you planning on killing yourself at the age of thirty? This ain't Logan's Run, dude.
posted by egypturnash at 2:12 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Ok, look. At 29, I'm not much older than you, but I want to tell you how much can change in a short time because I didn't realize it at 23. I was about where you are now at 21-22: while my friends were all busy graduating and getting impressive jobs, I was dropping or failing most of my classes and eventually flunked out of a good college with serious depression and anxiety problems. I was convinced I wouldn't make it to 25, so yes, silly as it seems now, at the time it felt "late in life" to me. 

I moved back in with my parents for 8 months while I took community college classes and got treatment for the depression. I changed my major and transferred to another school, not as good as the first but decent enough. As it turned out, it had a kickass department for my new major; I wasn't the only 24-year-old undergrad; and I met my now-husband there. :)

And then the depression and anxiety returned, and I had a few rough years during which I put graduation on hold while working a mediocre job. Kind of a blow, having redeemed myself by getting into the honors program, then failing to complete my senior thesis and graduate. But I finally did that two years later, at 26.  

Also, my awesome husband (then-boyfriend) stuck around, even through some serious craziness from me (once again, sought treatment for that) and we got married shortly after I finished my B.A.

During three years of working in a state government law office, I figured out what I'd rather be doing, and I'm in my first semester of a seriously awesome interaction design master's program. I did agonize a little about starting a career at 30 when most of my high school peers started theirs at 21. There's no point in comparing myself to them, though. It's counterproductive. (Still working on not being embarrassed about graduating 5 years later than everyone else...)

So good luck, and know that even if you fail again, it's not the end of the world. You still have a lot of time left, as everyone here is telling you.            
posted by kiripin at 3:14 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's never too late to turn your life around... until it is.

Let's postulate that what matters in your life is perhaps not absolute position but directional velocity and momentum. It matters less where you are than where you are going, within reason.

I disagree with the whole "you're 23, you have plenty of time to blah blah". The same people who said that to me when I was 23 are now 43 and still saying it. Yet, I will tell you that in the 30s, the options become more... limited.

There are biological realities that you cannot avoid. Your body will age. You will slow down. Your friends will start to marry and have children, vastly reshaping your social circle. The next young generation will come right behind you and start eating your cake soon.

I have "started over" 4 times. I switched colleges at 19 and graduated at 23. I did not take advantage of any of the career development opportunities because I simply didn't know how to at that point. Thus, I found a job outside of my degree and started over.

At 26, I had payed off my loans, quit that job, and off I went, traveling the world, before arriving in San Francisco... and started over at less than 1/10th my previous salary -- from an executive to a contractor in a completely different field.

At 29, I had regained my position and salary, quit, moved to Europe, and did an MBA. Graduated into the great crisis, thus even though I knew how to parlay my momentum via career services, there was nothing to be done.

At 30, I again started over. Now a few years later, I have regained my position and salary... and I find myself wanting to go in a new direction...

except for the fact that I cannot stomach starting over again. It's difficult. It is really hard to get that momentum back and pointed in the right direction. At this point, I would rather not start over. Rather not reinvent myself. Because -- as you're finding out -- it's hard.

The key to starting over is to learn the lessons of starting over, which is the value of the momentum that perhaps you didn't see before. In your case, is it too late to turn around your life? Not at this point...


I endeavour you to learn the lessons that brought you to the point of starting over. The stories of people who fell off and climbed back on are the exception and not the rule. They're the stories told at dinner parties and internet forums, the celebration of the human spirit.

In my experience, for every ten people that fall off, nine don't get back on. Cycle that through a few decades and you're left with quite a lot of people that fell off and didn't get back on and a minor handful that made it.

If you want to maximum chances of success in life, do not fall off again. If I had it to do over again, I would find a way to link my turns in life rather than thinking each had to be an abrupt shift, completely squandering momentum.

There's a great book called What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson. It's probably a bit dated at this point but his thesis is that it's not the decision to change your life that is important but what happens after that... far from being a happy huggy book of human triumph, he illustrates the costs and benefits very clearly. The benefits are tremendous. So are the costs. We tend to focus on the former, when we must absolutely take into account the latter, as that will make up an equal volume of our experience through this process.

So is it too late to start over? No. Just try not to have to do it again. Because it will be harder next time. I'm not saying it's not worth it, but get real clear on what you want from your life and begin acting accordingly.
posted by nickrussell at 3:23 AM on November 7, 2011 [21 favorites]

I know someone who flunked out of a prestigious college and then for a few years had some low level jobs in his field. Got his personal life way off track, then slowly back on. Then went back to school at a community college, transferred to a good school, and graduated years later than his friends.

He took the MCAT, did awesome, finished med school and has served as chief of medicine at his hospital. He rocks.

As for me, I went to grad school at 30, got divorced a bit later, floundered a bit and found my focus by 35 and now enjoying the path I am on immensely. My 25 year old self might night recognize me :)
posted by pointystick at 5:23 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

It is never too late. But it is never going to the the same, either. Humans are great with entropy. If you are moving, it is easier to stay moving. Whether that's literally physically moving, or progressing in work/school/life. And once you stop moving, it is easier to stay stopped.

So yes, you are never going to be 18 and moving to college with all your high school friends again. That's done. But, you can be a 23 year old going back to college. There will be fewer students like you, but your extra 4 years of maturity will probably make it easier to succeed. I thought college was the hardest / dumbest thing ever. "What? Nobody is making me do my homework? Then why in the world would I do it?!!" and "Jeez, I already learned this in High School. Lame." After I gave up (flunked out) and joined the workforce, I quickly realized that college was way easier than working for a living.

Now I am starting to try to do some learning to improve my career. It isn't something that I do every day and can practice for, so it is much more academic-style. I'm finding that doing the work is way easier than it would have been 10 years ago, but getting it to stick in my head is harder. So while it is easier to accomplish the job than it would have been when I was 18, it isn't sunshine and rainbows. It is a different challenge now.
posted by gjc at 5:51 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hopefully someone else hasn't added this because I just skimmed the answers...
They have entire programs at colleges devoted to "non-traditional" students.

My story:
I went to a good private college for a semester and dropped out. Worked for my Church for a few years, then got a few serving jobs. I could not stand the thought of working at a job where I felt demeaned for the rest of my life (Im not saying waitressing is demeaning, but rather mine were because of the management mainly).
I applied to a local state school to acquire a recent academic record. I have a 3.9 GPA, which covers 7 classes in the spring and summer. I'm on track for the same this semester. I just got accepted to UPenn's non-traditional student program - LPS. So next semester, this 26 yr old ex-college dropout will be at a top 10 university.

Since I have some experience in the going back to college thing, feel free to MeMail me with any specific questions or whatnot.

Oh, and going back to school now, when I'm doing it because I want to, I am getting SO MUCH MORE out of my classes and that fact makes me ridiculously happy.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:57 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I myself left home, went to college, got bad grades, and figured I was too dumb to do this and stopped. Worked at an auto-parts store until I was laid off and moved to Denver where my grandmother lived. It took me a long time to figure out that the reason I failed so badly was that I was homesick and couldn't concentrate. At 26, I decided to take three classes again and came out with a B average. I figured that was good enough and kept going. Whenever I'd think about being too old for school, I'd ask myself how old am I going to be without school.

Now it took me 7 years to get a bachelor's, partly because I changed majors but ended up with a degree in computer science.
posted by CodeMonkey at 6:13 AM on November 7, 2011

Someone I know became pregnant and dropped out of education at 16. She spent her twenties producing and looking after five kids. Aged about 30, she started making her way through all the education she missed, got a first class degree in computer science and finally aged 36 (I think) she got her first job is a software engineer.
posted by emilyw at 6:18 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mother graduated high school in the late 60s and got a secretarial job, because in her neighborhood, women didn't go to college. It bummed her out, because she wanted to be a teacher. Then she got married in the early 1970s and my early memories include Mom and I playing school all the time. (Except Mom always got to be the teacher.) When my younger brother started first grade, Mom went back to work as a teacher's aide, then a school secretary. Not her dream job, but closer.

When I was in middle school, Mom decided to take a night class at the community college. The next semester she took another one. The next semester she took another one. Then she started taking two classes per semester. She got an associates degree. She opened up a credit card account in her own name, grabbed some "non-traditional student" grants, some loans and the semester after I started college, she transferred to that college and continued. We even got to take a class together! (She got an A. I got an A-. I know you were curious.)

Mom & Dad divorced in the early 90s. I think her schooling had a bit to do with it. In 1994 Mom opened up another credit card, got her district to give her a 1-year unpaid leave of absence and did her practicum and student teaching. That was a tight year for us.

I graduated in January, 1995. Mom graduated in May, 1995 and went back to her school secretary job a week later. But that September, she got a job as a teacher! Finally!

But she kept taking classes. And then she got her Masters. And then she got a Principal's Certificate. But she probably won't use it, because she likes teaching too much.

I know she wants to get a Doctorate. If she doesn't, I'll be surprised. She's hooked.

The credit cards and loans are paid off now. Wherever we go, she gets hugs from tweens, teens and adults whose lives she touched. And she is unfailingly nice to teacher's aides and school secretaries.
posted by ladygypsy at 7:16 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

I had dropped out of a couple three colleges by the time I was your age. Later, I went back, did very well, and got a degree and a job in a line totally unrelated to what I had started out supposedly chasing.

When you go back, you'll be the best student in your classes because all the rest of the students will be undisciplined kids who just assume they're entitled to good grades without having to work for them, while you'll be an adult with no such sense of entitlement, an adult who cares very much about doing well and who knows you have to do all the required and recommended work and more to get to the top. Your extra care and work will put you at or near the top of your class and make you look very good to prospective employers.
posted by pracowity at 7:19 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most of my friends are in their early 30s and just started going to college in the last 1-3 years.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:26 AM on November 7, 2011

One of my friends called me to see if I could help her family out. Her elderly aunt was dying, and they knew that she'd been taking classes at my university, and they wondered how close she was to getting a bachelor's degree.

I made an inquiry to the right person, and that person got back to the family. Turned out that she had taken enough classes for one and a half BAs but was having so much fun that she didn't want to stop to graduate.

So the university got her a convocation parchment to her deathbed. The family was incredibly grateful.

It's never too late for school. That's what lifelong learning is all about. Frankly, when I was an undergrad, my favourite fellow-students were the adult learners, because they brought so much more life experience to the class discussion.
posted by wenat at 7:41 AM on November 7, 2011

I went back to finish college when I was 27. The school had special housing and resources for non-traditionally aged students...that you had to be over 25 to qualify for.

With the number of vets going to college now, not to mention all the people hoping that a degree will help them get work, 23 isn't very old to be a college student. Especially at a community college or a state school.
posted by camyram at 8:09 AM on November 7, 2011

I had experienced a personal crisis between my last year of high school and first year of university. I had a difficult time coping because I felt so incredibly isolated, so I used alcohol and food as my vices. I drank alone on several occasions and ate enough to gain 50 pounds (freshman fifteen ain't got nothin' on me). I was almost forced to withdraw from my university until I contacted an academic advisor and he got me into Sociology. I changed my major four times and went from Psychology to Sociology to English to Communications. In between I thought about four other majors, but I finally settled on Communications. I am three credits away from completing a General degree and although it isn't an Honours degree, I am trying to give myself some credit. I stopped using alcohol and food as my vices although I struggle with the temptation of these addictions on a daily basis. I increased my overall average by 8% and am currently sitting at 68% and my Communications average is 73%. My undergraduate experience was far from what I expected, but it has truly made me stronger. I have had disassociation for more than a few years and didn't know what it was at the time. I decided to seek help both physically and psychologically. Today, I have a personal trainer that I have been working with for a few months and will have my first meeting with my nutritionist tomorrow. I also have a therapist, a strategist to help me find ways to handle my condition (i.e. disassociation) and my academia, and a meeting with a psychiatrist later on this month.

I guess, what I'm trying to say is that it's never too late or too early to turn your life around. I remember crying when I spoke to the strategist because getting help has been the most difficult thing, but I refused to settle for anything less. She told me that I was brave and that she had a lot of admiration for me. She called me a scrapper because I was fighting for what I deserved. I don't have a support system or many people that I can rely on except for myself and that's why getting the help that I needed was the best thing that i could have done. I thought that I would continue going unnoticed and coasting through the educational system and my life in general, but my professional support team has helped me out so incredibly much. I don't know if they will ever know it, but I hope to tell them one day.

I have turned my life around and am lucky that I made changes when I did. I think I would have been in a terrible place emotionally and physically if I had not gotten help. I still have disassociation and find it difficult to visualize anything let alone my future. But, I still manage to have hope and that's what has helped me out more than anything else. I want to believe that things will improve for me because that's what I deserve. I want to believe that I'll have certain things in my life because I deserve those things.

The reason why I'm posting this is to let you know that things will only get better if you work towards making things better for yourself. You seriously have the power to change your life regardless of how late you may think it is. In my opinion though, it's never too late to get an education and it's never to late to do the things that you have longed to do. I think it's better to have done certain things (assuming that they are ethical) and regret them then not do anything at all. Make sure that you are going to university because you want to attend university. Make sure that you are in a right place emotionally before going to university or find a way to get help while going to university. Good luck!

P.S. and the longest post ever award goes to...
posted by sincerely-s at 8:51 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm asking because I'm 23 years old, a university dropout and I'm hoping to attend a college next year to give myself another shot at life.

You probably haven't even been to jail yet. Seek help for depression.

posted by rhizome at 10:17 AM on November 7, 2011

I was 43, in a crappy marriage, working retail after I let my LPN license lapse. I made EVERY wrong choice you could think to make in my 20's and 30's. I was divorced 3 times before I was 30. I had 4 kids by 3 different men. I didn't have any substance abuse problems, but I did have an undiagnosed mental illness. I decided I didn't want to BE that person anymore and actually (I know, I know-it's Mefi's answer to everything) got serious about therapy.

I'm 45 now, in the same marriage but it's an amazingly fulfilling and happy one, in college with a 3.99 GPA, doing higher level math that I never would have imagined I could do and majoring in sociology with a social welfare track. I honestly thought 3 years ago that I was destined to be a fuck up my whole life, but it's not true. You just have to imagine the person you want to be and start acting like that person.

(Whoa-that's a whole lotta embarrassing personal information. Sorry about that)
posted by hollygoheavy at 1:34 PM on November 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

For God's sake... 23? Late in life? Come on. Are you expecting to be dead by thirty or something? :-)

I'm 52 and I just turned my life around this year. I wasted 28 years working in business/IT, hating every miserable, soul-crushing second of it, but for various reasons I couldn't escape - or thought I couldn't. Then two and a half years ago I reached a point where I just said "Fuck it, I'd rather spend all my money and be homeless than put up with another day of this." So I quit my job, having nothing to go to, no other experience of anything, and no clue what I was going to do.

I travelled, dicked around and spent almost all of my savings for just over two years. Now I am driving trains and loving every single day I go to work. And I'm fifty-two. That is late in life, son. Not Twenty-bloody-three. You're still a kid. You have loads of time to try again. Or not. Or go off travelling for a year. You're barely out of your teens. Stop worrying.
posted by Decani at 2:50 PM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I recently read and loved two books by Donald Ray Pollack, whose story may inspire you.
posted by jabes at 4:11 PM on November 7, 2011

Oops, 2nd link should go here.
posted by jabes at 4:12 PM on November 7, 2011

The stories above clearly show turning things around is possible at any age, but I suggest that you not think of your current situation so much as turning your life around as it is discovering what life has to offer. You have so many options and things to consider...I know all those choices can feel overwhelming and frightening at 23, but they're not.

It's all an adventure; get out there, live life and make some mistakes, because as you can see above, people are always changing course as they get older.
posted by kinetic at 2:54 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

The above stories are amazing. Thank you for asking this question.

The first thing I thought of when I saw your question was this guy who couldn't get into the college he'd always dreamed of so he tried business school, but he only managed one semester. He started his own business when he was 35, but it went bankrupt. It took him 13 years to pay off the debts. He tried taking night classes in law when he was 40, but he dropped out. But around the same time, he got an administrative job with the courts. That led to other jobs with the county, and then with the state. When he was 50, he was elected to the US Senate, and when he was 61, he became President.

Life is long. You have no idea what adventures lie ahead of you. You can achieve amazing things, at 23, 34, 45, 56, 67, even 78.
posted by kristi at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

ok this is Reddit, it's kinda schlocky, and there are the usual cynics questioning its veracity, but yanno, I saw this on Veteran's Day, it's extremely cool, and I think it could apply to your situation.

Behold, a very-well-written Reddit "rage" comic about (among other things) a guy turning 86 and enjoying a life that's spanned the Depression, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan, 2 marriages, alcoholism, a kid running away, and discovery of the internet and subsequently reinventing himself at 65.

for myself, I'm 43, I never even went to college, spent most of my 20s and 30s working dead end jobs and dealing with unsustainable relationships. Within just the last 5 years I've gotten a really great career-track job that enables me to get continuing education and work towards a degree, plus I've gotten married and am living in a real house, with pets and a garden and everything.

It took me until I was almost 40 to really turn my own life around, with the caveat being that I'm kind of a lazy slacker, so I wasn't too motivated to do it until I really got fed up with being eternally low on funds and eternally stuck in third-rate apartments with equally poverty-stricken roommates.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:02 PM on November 12, 2011

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