YOU'RE in your 30s, you should have sussed out what you are doing with your life and stick with it.

You have a house, a partner, possibly children – you can't afford to take risks and change your path. You have responsibilities; get on with it.

What happened to terrific thirties?

When I decided to hand in my notice for my job (a job I did really enjoy), my friends and people I told were like, seriously? Steph, aren't you a bit old now to change jobs again? Don't you have a mortgage, bills and a wedding to think about and pay for? Are you seriously considering going back to university in your thirties?

Some even sniggered when I informed them that I am now classed as a 'mature learner'. It made me laugh at the thought that, yes, I am returning to education later in life, but I don't consider myself old, nor agreed with the label of a 'mature student'.

But, like most things, I shrug it off and look to find the funny side. I quickly discovered that it had its advantages, including a significant amount of life experience which I could bring to the table and feel of value throughout my student year.

I decided when I was 32-years-old to follow my goal of becoming a primary teacher, and returned to university to do my one-year post graduate diploma in education at the University of Aberdeen. It had been nine years since I was last in an educational institute, nine years since I had read literature books, wrote essays, academic presentations.

Was I scared? Oh yes, I was well out my comfort zone, but that’s where we grow!

It was the exact same feeling I had before I walked out for my first fight at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. I was nervous because, if I had lost my first fight, I would have been out of the competition.

I was nervous to start this new chapter in my life as nothing is guaranteed, and I risked failing and being back to square one. I was also nervous / excited before my first fight as I knew how hard I had worked and I felt ready. I was nervous / excited to start my journey as a primary school teacher as I felt it was my passion to help our future generations reach their full potential, and be a positive influence and make a difference to so many people’s lives.

I am a very lucky individual and, if you are familiar with my story, I am sure you would all agree. But what I am most lucky and thankful for is the support I have from my family, closest friends, and my fiancé Ally. Without these very special people in my life, I do not think I would have managed to complete or do this new challenge.

A lot of friends and different people have asked me the same question: ‘Steph how did you manage to do it?’. It is a question that I asked myself ‘How can I manage this?’.

I pass on advice based on my own experience, and by sharing this I hope to help others. First, I researched and found out more about what it entailed, and have a clearer understanding of what I was potentially about to put myself through.

At the time, I was working in primary and high schools as an Active Schools Coordinator, and had built lots of relationships with teachers in those schools. I asked them lots of questions, shared with them my idea of doing my post grad to become a teacher, and asked them what the challenges and rewards of being a teacher were.

It gave me a lot of mixed opinions and helped me form a view of life as a teacher before I committed to it. One variable which remained constant across all teachers I asked, and those who had completed the one-year post grad course,was that they shared how hard and intense it is.

I was fully prepared and expected a busy and hard year ahead. Unfortunately, I hear a lot of students drop out of this course due to the volume of work and realisation of what is involved, where I felt lucky as I was under no illusion that it would be a ‘cruise’.

After many conversations with Ally, my parents, and my sister Stacey (who is a primary teacher), I felt confident in my decision to leave my job and begin a new venture as a primary teacher. After all, that was one of the reasons, I went to Vietnam ,to see if I wanted to become a teacher or not and, five years later, I finally took the plunge to fulfil that goal.

August 2021 marked the beginning of my teaching journey. As we are still living in COVID times, all my university teaching input was online. This worked hugely in my favour.

As I have suffered a brain injury, have epilepsy and struggle with fatigue, it took a big pressure off me and my family as online meant I could pursue this course from the comfort of my own home. I didn’t have to relocate and live alone; there was no commute; if I was feeling tired, or taking a funny turn due to my epilepsy, I could take a break comforted by the fact that all lectures and classes were recorded, and we could catch up.

I can’t thank the university enough for their support as they really encouraged us to do as best we could and, if we needed to leave during an input for any reason, not to worry.It was a very supportive community which I was so thankful for!

Thursday July 7 2022 marked the day I graduated with a post graduate diploma in education from the University of Aberdeen. I did it! A day I will forever be proud of, as much as my silver medal at the Commonwealth Games.

I know in myself that I have worked so hard this past year to develop my knowledge, learn and gain the tools I need to become a teacher. I guess every project I am working on I treat it like I would as an athlete,.

I give it my all because, like the Commonwealth Games, even if I do not reach that gold position, I know within myself I did the best I could and gave it my everything, and that is what makes achieving your goals (or not) most rewarding.

A piece of advice I would like to give to you if you are wanting to change career, or anything in your life, and it is a question I have asked myself any time I am faced with making an important and potentially life changing decision, is asking yourself 'when you are 70-years-old, will you regret doing this, or regret not doing this?’

If the answer, is I would regret not doing it and not knowing, then it answers my question and creates my path for me.

I personally always would prefer to know; to know if I could be a teacher, if I could be a professional judo athlete, what teaching in Vietnam would be like for me, if I could help positively impact our future generations lives.

We are so lucky to live in a world where we do have so much opportunity and, yes, we will face a lot of obstacles along the way (these shall differ for everyone). But I fully believe there is a solution, and maybe it means I must find an alternative path to reach my destination.

I worried about the impact my brain injury would have on the pressure and volume of the workload, therefore I prioritised my rest and health by eating well and going out walking daily.

Not earning money was a big reason to not pursue this career change but, speaking with my partner looking at our outgoings, and making cuts where we could, meant we could manage if we were sensible. Again, I am very fortunate and grateful to be in this position.

We put so much pressure on our high school pupils to choose their subjects, to choose their college or university course, to then go into that field of work, without experiencing the world and finding out their likes and dislikes!

I do agree that we should encourage young people to follow this route, but would it not be something special if we could also provide a safety net? It’s OK if you complete your university course but don’t want to pursue that career. What would you like to do and how can you do it?

It’s OK to switch jobs all the way through your adult life. Did you know adults on average have eight jobs in their lifetime? Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t live in fear of risking negatively impacting mortgages, the judging opinions of others, or future job prospects because we were searching for our passion? Can employers ask more meaningful interview questions than ‘why did you leave your last job?', being so judgemental and letting us explain that I went, I tried, it wasn’t my passion, so I am on my own individual journey to fulfil my passion and make a positive influence in this world by offering my best self?

As I look to August 2022, where I begin my probation year as a teacher and, all going well if I complete this year, I will become a fully registered teach with GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) in June 2023. It’s exciting and scary all at once! Throughout my student year, I had two teaching placements, which I thoroughly enjoyed and learned so much from my support class teachers.

So many people my age have this fear that they are no longer a child or teenager with the privilege to change their minds. Why is this? We spend most of our adult life working, make that life exciting by doing something that truly aligns with you.

If you aren’t sure how to go about it research what you want to do, try volunteering, or shadow someone in that position to get a feel for it, look at getting a personal coach who will help you on your journey. Sure, there will be sacrifices, and it will be tough, but if that result is going to make you feel more fulfilled and happier, is it a risk worth taking?

Heading back to university later in life can be a daunting thought, but I would strongly encourage you to do this if it has been on your mind and you are looking to make a change in your life.

Being that bit older allows you to bring life and previous career experience to the table which will stand you in good stead. There are so many ways you can bring studying into your full-time life; other mature learners on my course had young children and held down full and part time jobs whilst pursuing this course.

What is the worst that could happen? You drop out and go back to the life you have/had. Nothing would be different, but at least you know you tried and maybe that will answer that bug bearing feeling or thought in your head and bring you more satisfaction with what you are doing.

Or, you could change your life to something you always wanted, positively impact your life, your mental health, and being the best version of yourself for you, your family, and your friends. Go on, find a way!

As Marie Forleo’s book says, ‘Everything is Figureoutalbe’. So go out there, find the solution and go for it!