Owning Your 5-9: How to Build Your Career Outside of Work

Regardless of how deep you are into your career, the idea of switching gears and going back to school can be intimidating.

Although university is typically seen as an experience for young adults, learning is a lifelong process that can do wonders for your career — regardless of age or experience. From higher paying jobs, to having a more impressive resumé, to being a more well-rounded person, there’s equally as much value and reward for mid-career professionals to advance their education as there is for those just starting out.

As someone with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees under her belt, Royal Roads University alumna Marianne O’Connor understands how critical continued education is for success. “The more education you get, the more opportunity it provides you,” she says. With constant changes to professional benchmarks and technologies, it’s important to have an education that complements your career aspirations. Whether you’re looking for a new job or you’d like to advance in your current field, here’s how to take your education to the next level without having to sacrifice work or family time.

Choose an adult-friendly school
After completing her undergraduate education, O’Connor thrived in management roles at highly successful retailers — but she still couldn’t shake the desire to keep learning and building upon her skills. “I think that there’s no con to learning more, keeping your brain active, socializing, networking with new people and having exposure to different teachers and educators,” she explains.

Pursuing further education mid-career can have a positive effect on everything from your work performance to your personal well-being, but it’s important to remember that your lifestyle isn’t the same as it was when you were 20 — and you need a school that understands that. To hone your search, look at schools that actively recruit working professionals. These institutions often provide a greater range of options for affordability, smaller class sizes and flexible program structures (such as the Blended Learning Model) to better meet your day-to-day needs.

Work efficiently and effectively
While student life is always hectic, being busy can quickly turn into an overwhelming amount of stress without proper planning. “Navigating personal, professional and social commitments are some of the things that you have to keep top of mind,” says O’Connor.

To make it all work, O’Connor recommends mastering prioritization, organization and productivity. This includes creating fixed entries in your calendar for things like studying and homework assignments. “If you are simply doing things as they come at you, you’re likely not going to be doing the right thing at the right time,” she says. “If you schedule things in, then you can work around them; whereas if you’re trying to add them in after you’re already booked [up], that’s when it begins to feel like you’re out of balance.”

Look for financial aid
Regardless of age and background, paying for tuition and fees is a hard cost for most people to take on. To help offset this, see if your school offers any awards, loans or scholarships for your specific program, or for continuing education students in general. Additionally, if you’re looking to further your education but still stick with your current employer, be sure to look into whether they offer a tuition reimbursement program. If you make the case that your education will benefit your company, they may be willing to foot a portion of the bill.

Build a support network

Even if you have a solid support system at home, take the time to develop strong connections within the school itself. Connecting with other classmates can come in handy in case you miss a class or need help with an assignment. You can also check in with your student services office to see if there are any social or study groups that provide support for adults returning to school.

Create happiness habits
“It’s really important to develop practices that allow you to manage your stress and maintain your happiness,” says O’Connor. “You perform way better when your brain is in that positive state.”

To help ensure you’re making the most of your time and your brain power, find out which activities help keep your mood up. Whether it’s weekly nature walks, time spent with friends and family, meditation or keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, make a habit of balancing the different areas in your life by making these activities a regular part of your week.

Going back to school isn’t always an easy choice. If you’re hesitant to begin the process, consider the opportunities that an additional degree would provide you with, such as learning practical new skills and expanding your professional (and personal) network. Your age and life experience aren’t an obstacle —in fact, they’re a leg-up in the process of understanding yourself and achieving your goals.