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News: Help! I'm 40 and trapped in a career with no future

News: Help! I'm 40 and trapped in a career with no future

Shawn D. Van Horn, left, celebrates with his son, Mason, at Roane State’s 2014 graduation. Shawn graduated with his Associate of Science and is now completing his bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Tech through a program Tennessee Tech offers on Roane State campuses. Mason was the winner of the 2014 President’s Award, the college’s highest student honor. He is now at East Tennessee State University studying vocal performance.


By Shawn D. Van Horn

Have you ever felt trapped or cornered with no means of escape?  You wake up day in and day out feeling like you have no control over your life.

Somewhere along the way, something got out of whack and you got stuck in a rut. Perhaps when you were younger you did not apply yourself to your education. You had the ability and certainly could have committed yourself to the tedious task of schoolwork, instead you chose to squander your opportunity – for a quality education – on partying.

Maybe, you are the individual who faced difficulties and trials and “life” got in the way. Perhaps, you were young and had children, making going to school difficult. Or maybe an ailing family member required care and diverted you from your educational path. The scenarios are potentially endless.

Regardless, you find yourself well beyond traditional school age and in need of a change. Luckily for you, there are plenty of opportunities for adults to not only return to school but to fully embrace the education you missed at an earlier age.

Maybe it’s time to see the road you chose as part of your education, and now it’s time to supplement that education. Some folks get an education and then get experience, you just reversed the order. Some people put on their right shoe first; some folks put on their left shoe first.

Life got in the way

This is exactly the situation I found myself in several years ago. As a young college student, I invested more time attending parties and shooting pool. Fast forward a few years, and I’ve moved out of state, gotten married, and my wife and I have a child. I make a second attempt at getting an education and find that the stress of raising a family, working, and going to school is too much to handle. Yep. “Life got in the way.”  If any of this sounds familiar or rings true in your life, please keep reading.

I spent the better part of the next 18 years working my way into low-level management jobs in various industries, none of which were ever truly satisfying or lucrative. Now 40 – and with my children mostly grown – I realized I needed a career change. The ever-present specter of being under-educated once again reared its ugly head.  I found I was severely limited because I lacked a degree, and my work experience relegated me to positions similar to the one I currently held. I was desperately in need of a different option.

Enter Roane State Community College and one of its many career preparation programs. I researched the various career prep programs that Roane State offered and determined that the physical therapist assistant degree path was for me. And so, well into middle age, I re-enrolled in college and once again began attending classes. To say I was nervous about this venture would be an understatement. I truly did not know if I could make it through the program, but I was determined to give it my best shot.

Developing a love for education

Roane State provides its students with excellent educators. They have high expectations for their students but are willing to provide assistance to those in need. I began classes expecting the worst and was surprised to find I could do what was asked of me.

My fears and anxieties were quickly replaced with a love and appreciation for education. With the help of caring instructors and fellow classmates, I not only passed my classes but excelled at them.

As a result of these experiences, my educational plans have changed. I graduated from Roane State with an Associate of Science in 2014. The graduation ceremony was particularly special because my oldest son graduated at the same time, and he delivered our graduation speech.

Instead of completing the physical therapist assistant program through Roane State, I chose to continue my education. I am currently completing my final semester for a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies through Tennessee Technological University. Tennessee Tech offers the classes for this degree at Roane State campuses. Furthermore, I plan to continue my education and begin working toward a graduate degree.

Five years ago, I most certainly felt “trapped.” My best escape route was to return to school. Roane State Community College provided an opportunity to improve my prospects through its career path program offerings.

 I began this endeavor with fear and trepidation, only to find that I was more than able to meet the demands. So, for you adults who find yourself at a similar set of crossroads, I’ll share with you the mantra of a very wise young classmate of mine: “You’ve got this!”

Shawn D. Van Horn, 46, of Harriman is completing his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies at Tennessee Tech, a program offered on Roane State campuses. A married father of three, Shawn returned to school at Roane State at age 42 to improve his career opportunities. His next goal is to finish a graduate degree.

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