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Renae CollinsCollege Success: The Life Skills Advantage

by Renae Collins

I was jolted awake at 7:30 Monday morning by the hostile sound of my alarm clock buzzer. Visions of pointless meetings, a panicked boss, and stressful deadlines galloped through my mind. I had to face it: I was burnt out. My corporate job was slowly suffocating my spirit. I knew right then and there, things had to change.

At the age of 32, I decided to follow my dream and go to music school. It was something I had always wanted to do, but had deemed "too impractical" to pursue. I knew that if I didn't go for it, I would be plagued by the "What if?" question for the rest of my life. So I applied for the Spring 2001 semester to Berklee College of Music in Boston Massachusetts.

I was thrilled when I received my college acceptance letter. I busied myself researching financial aid options, said goodbye to family and friends, and dove head first into my new life back East. During this time of transition, my scariest inner demons decided to make a house call. Questions of self-doubt plagued my mind. I asked myself, "How will I make this work?" "What if I can't hack it?" I was an older student who would be competing in a top music school against 18 year olds with more musical chops under their belt than I had at almost twice their age. I was both elated and terrified of the decision I had made. What I found out surprised me: those 18-year olds may have had youth on their side, but my life experience gave me a host of wonderful advantages that I could use to my benefit.

SKILL #1. GRACE UNDER FIRE - PERFORMING UNDER PRESSURE

Music school is about performing. Performing in front of classmates, teachers, and at end of semester juries. My talent and hard work waited to be ruthlessly judged and poked holes at. My precision and technical aptitude coldly evaluated by an exacting faculty. A harrowing scenario for sure, but not one that I was unfamiliar with. It was similar to presenting to a big client or my corporate boss. In business I had prepared myself for slings and arrows that came my way whenever I put my work on the line. This mental toughness proved to be extremely useful come performance time.

Rehearsing for hours in the practice room for an end-of the semester jury exam was a bit different than working on my laptop until 3 A.M. the night before a big presentation, but the concept was the same: I did what it took to get the job done. My business career taught me that when push came to shove, I not only got stuff done, I got it done well! If someone fired at my talent with slings and arrows, I knew enough to get out of the way, take criticism with a grain of salt, and focus on improving my game.

SKILL #2. NO MORE DRAMA QUEEN - EMOTIONAL STABILITY

Being the artist that I am, everyday life experiences always seemed just that much more dramatic when they happened to me. Love experiences seemed to follow me around for years - and not in a good way. When I was in love, I let those emotions envelop me like a warm blanket. When I was unceremoniously dumped, that cozy blanket transformed into a soggy burden. Either way, it was all "too much". Emotional extremes kept me in their grip, leaving me unable to focus on other areas of my life.

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