College Success: The Life Skills
(Continued from 1)
Suffering any emotional trauma while trying to focus
on school work can be excruciating. I went through a
major breakup right before I started Berklee College.
Was I crushed? Absolutely. Did it hurt any less than
I suffered heartbreak at 20 or 25? Nope, it still hurt
like mad. But here's the thing: As a career woman, I
learned I couldn't afford to dwell in my emotions at
work (at least not without serious repercussions to
my career). I was able to compartmentalize my post-breakup
grief, finish my schoolwork and heal myself in what
little downtime I had. I won't say it was easy, but
it was definitely achievable with a little focus.
It also helped that I had been in college once before
and had left home years ago. Although I experienced
sort of culture shock living on the East Coast, I
didn't suffer from the homesickness or separation
anxiety that my younger counterparts were feeling.
SKILL #3. GET BACK ON THE HORSE - DEALING WITH
Life in my 30's was much more stable than in my 20's.
After earning my first degree, I traveled through Southeast
Asia alone and relocated to Japan to teach English.
My Japan trip turned into a complete disaster. The English
school did not pay what it owed me, and I ran out of
money and time on my visa. When I returned to American
corporate life, I spent my share of late nights and
extra weekend hours at the office (see aforementioned
job above). I knew how to handle responsibility...whether
I wanted to or not. I also had my share of failures
in life: the Japan fiasco, broken friendships, work
presentations gone bad. I wasn't sure I could succeed
in this prestigious music school, but I knew how failure
and that I could cope with it and adapt and move on
SKILL #4. DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF - GAINING
While my younger counterparts complained at the local
coffee house about their "psycho" dorm mates,
I remember thinking, "This is so great. My apartment
on Huntington Avenue may be a boarding house for mice,
but at least I'm not living in a 200 square-foot box
with three other freshmen, fighting over toilet paper
and last night's pizza slice." I had priorities
and focus. I could concentrate on more pressing matters,
like working through music theory and sitting in the
practice room for hours working my songs and voice.
SKILL #5. IT'S NOT ABOUT SPEED - PATIENCE AND
Of all the surprises that life hands us, "screwing
up" our timetables is one of its most, um, challenging.
I had learned to adapt and redraw my various game plans
over the years. I tried to let go if things were not
coming together for me on my schedule. That is, after
all, life. I knew it was up to me to decide what I was
going to do about it.
So when my songs weren't coming together or my high
notes sounded breathy and thin, I knew enough to just
work at it, day after day. Did it suck that the
20-year old next to me could hit her high C
effortlessly, with beauty of tone and a gorgeous
vibrato? It absolutely sucked, but again, that's
life. Some people reach their goals before we reach
ours. I learned to accept this fact and keep doing
what I was doing. Whether I was the tortoise or the
hare in any given situation, at least I knew I could
arrive at the finish line.
SKILL #6. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY -
At 32, I felt I had a decent grasp on my strengths,
weaknesses, and limitations. Take the concept of pulling
"all-nighters". Pulling all-nighters at the
ages of 18, 22 and 32 were, trust me, all very different
experiences. The older I got, the longer the bounce
back factor. And the proof became increasingly easy
to spot: At age 18, pulling an all-nighter meant I had
no visible signs on my face and was a tiny bit sleepy
the next morning. At 25 I looked as if I had a restless
night's sleep and needed to cover the dark circles under
my eyes with a heavy-duty concealer. The after-effects
at age 32 were horrifying: it looked as if I had lost
a barroom fistfight and had ended up with two shiners.
The dark circles under my eyes sported a sort of "raccoon"
effect that was immune to any sort of concealing agent.
It was downright ugly. In business, I learned to plan
what I could in order to try and avoid this scenario.
In school, most deadlines are set at the beginning of
the semester. Hallelujah - I could plan! I knew when
midterms, finals and quizzes were coming. No all-nighters
necessary (except for the late-night recording sessions
- a different story altogether).
SKILL #7. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS - MONEY SKILLS
During various points in my life I had been both in
and out of the money. As a student at a private music
college, I was again, out of the money. So I
economized, trading my favorite colorist for a box of
L'Oreal "light auburn #9" (because I'm worth
polished my own nails, wore out my favorite pair of
corduroys, and lived with roommates. I found free
things to do around Boston, and hung out with the
younger students. We had wonderful conversations
about life, music, art, and politics. Hanging out with
20 something's is wonderful! These talks kept me young
at heart and nostalgic about the days when I thought
knew everything. I stretched my meager dollars to the
limit and relished everything I was learning.
Knowledge became the richness in my life. When I did
what I loved to do, my material wants (as in, I must
have those new DKNY jeans), seemed to magically
The transition from businesswoman to re-entry music
school student was not easy, but it was a whole lot
easier than I had imagined. My life experience became
the most valuable tool of all. My age, instead of a
hindrance, became a wonderful asset. If I had to do
it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.
Renae Collins is a singer/songwriter, vocal coach
and writer who teaches and performs in New York.