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How I Found Empowerment in Going Back to School

By Diana Raab August 21, 2023 Lifestyle

Eleven years ago, at the age of 58, I returned to school for my PhD in transpersonal psychology. As a healer and writer, I thought that my research would be a perfect fit for my life path. In addition to wanting to do research and write books and articles to help others with their journeys, I also wanted to enhance my own spiritual practice.

My previous education included undergraduate work in health administration and nursing, and then a master’s in writing, which I also completed as an adult. I believe that being an only child who lived in a somewhat chaotic household turned me into a lifelong seeker of knowledge.

Going Back to School

The first time I went back to school as an adult was in 2001 at the age of 47. I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a hectic time in American history, as 9/11 had just occurred, and many of us, including me, were feeling a great deal of uncertainty.

My own confusion was eventually magnified by my own trauma as I healed from a mastectomy and reconstruction. All this unknowing led me down a path of living out my dream of returning to grad school. My three children were still living at home, so I did a low-residency program at Spalding University in Kentucky.

Having a Door Open

I’d been a writer my entire life. My husband, who’s a “fixer,” had a difficult time watching me navigate the intense physical and emotional pain of cancer. One evening as we nestled up close, watching the evening news, he wrapped both of his hands around mine and looked deeply into my eyes, as he had the day of my beloved father’s passing.

“Right now,” he asked, “if you could do one thing that would make you happy, what would that be?”

“Well,” I responded, “aside from transporting our children across the country from the West Coast [we lived in Southern California] to be with me, I want to go back to school for my Master of Fine Arts in writing [MFA].”

“Okay, then, let’s make that happen,” he said. And we did.

It’s not that his offer completely healed the deep psychological wounds of having lost a breast, but the idea of returning to school gave me something to look forward to and which I felt could also be part of my healing journey.

Journaling Leads to a Dream Fulfilled

My mother had given me my first journal when I was 10, and since then I’d often found solace in the written word. Journaling became a passion that I turned to during many turbulent times, such as the loss of loved ones, a challenging adolescence, difficult pregnancies, and two cancer diagnoses.

Both my MFA and my PhD work resulted in the subsequent publication of two books. For my MFA, I gathered my journal entries, reflections, and poems written during my breast-cancer journey and shaped them into a self-help memoir called Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. As a result of my nursing background, I was able to research and gather enough information to help others who were navigating a similar path.

I knew that my writing life wouldn’t stop there, though. Daily journaling continued to be an integral part of my well-being and a key to my survival. I was inspired to help others heal and transform through writing by teaching workshops based on my book.

After my memoir was published, I found it stimulating to be a part of my publisher’s marketing strategy. It was fun being interviewed by the media and sharing my story.

Once Again in School

Jump ahead 11 years, when I returned to school for my doctorate. My research focused on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing. Eventually, I published my findings and was inspired to create a writing reference book and a companion journal for others who wanted to write about their lives.

In 2017, my book Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, along with its companion journal, were published. I facilitated workshops on writing for healing and transformation. I was told that my teachings changed many lives and were motivating and empowering.

Although I’ve never stopped being a writer, I was able to build upon my early education by advancing my studies in my areas of interest. Once my husband and I became empty-nesters, our time became our own, and we were free to make our dreams a reality. Also, by this time in our lives, we knew what made our hearts sing and what made us happy.

Being a seeker has always been important to me. For me, returning to school was one of the best decisions of my life, and in many ways, it might have saved my life as well!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you thought about returning to school in your later years? What push do you need to fulfill your dreams of higher education? What do you think returning to school will bring into your life?

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Yes just gone back to university to study an MBA. It’s lots of work, for sure!!!!!!!! Enjoying the learning. Still working 30 hrs pw. 61yo. Son is 19 and just left home, so I have a bit of “free time”.

Lynne Stevens

I’m 81 now and still taking university classes for no particular reason other than the many fascinating things to learn. I only take one at a time online since it gives me time to really dig into them, and I don’t have any pressure to “finish”. I maybe, possibly, could, might finish with a new degree, but for me it’s the journey. For my kids and grandkids, they have some crazy idea about me with cap and gown marching up to get it. Nah.


this is my mindset, as well. for years, if i had time around older kids and my job(s), i’d pop in to my community college for an infusion of new ideas on a subject i liked. i’ve stuck mostly to languages (ASL, German, and Spanish) and Art classes and workshops locally. i took a Geology based on my area that blew my socks off (i’m still hooked). my Geo Prof said Geology went hand in hand with Astronomy, so i’m in the middle of learning where all these rocks came from – lol. the young people are also a treat – i have to be careful not to be too chatty with some of the youngsters; they get a little …. hesitant if i oversell my excitement while they’re trying to figure out LIFE. i respect that.

so that’s my end of the conversation. i have a sister who just got her 2nd Masters Degree. i’m duly impressed, but i think my pick-and-choose method works best for me (that sister is in her 30’s, while i’m in my 60’s — ya need a roadmap for my extended family – haha.

whatever you think will fill your life with something your enjoy?
now’s the time. whether it’s a class at a school, a walk in the park, or a fresh air sit on your porch. it’s your turn. <3

The Author

Diana Raab, PhD, is memoirist, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of 10 books, and numerous articles. She often writes and speaks on writing for healing and transformation. Her latest books are Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life and Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal. Explore her books and Conversation Cards for Meaningful Storytelling.

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