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Completing Your Educational Journey

How to Persevere When Life Intervenes

by Joanne Guidoccio

When I enrolled in the Career Development Practitioner program at Conestoga College, I met with the course director and carefully planned the next two years of my life. I could continue teaching full time during the day and take two online courses per trimester. I had even selected the order of courses so the more demanding courses would be taken during the summer months. Soon I would be ready to start a second career as a certified Career Development Practitioner. That was the fantasy. The reality was very different.

The first trimester went smoothly. I successfully completed two of the introductory courses and awaited the start of the second trimester. However, during the next four years, I encountered a number of life challenges that extended the original time line to almost five years. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, entered a nursing home and died; my mother’s Parkinson’s disease worsened; I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and underwent ten months of treatment. Afterward, I had three additional cancer scares and developed hypothyroidism.

Rob Straby, the director of the program, often encouraged me during that time. “Sometimes life happens and you just have to deal with it," he said. "But stay the course and complete the journey.”

I am grateful to Rob, my friends and family members who helped me to persevere and not quit while I was struggling with these life challenges. Along the way, I developed a number of strategies and stress busters that helped me cope and carry on. Consider these suggestions if you feel your educational or career plans are being derailed.

Seek Support

The phone calls come out of nowhere and suddenly life changes on a dime. When that happens, surround yourself with supportive people. Sit down and talk with your family about ways they can help you balance household, work and school obligations. Let your friends and neighbours help you. Accept offers to bring over casseroles, drive children to their appointments, or drop off assignments. Distance yourself from any overly negative or critical people who drain your energy and make you feel worse. Seek out support groups at the college or in the community. Although it may seem almost impossible to even consider another commitment, you will find it helpful to discuss your challenges with those in similar situations. They can provide you with specific tips and emotional support.

Ask for Consideration

Contact your instructor if your work or family obligations make it impossible for you to complete an assignment by the deadline. Do not wait until the day before a deadline to ask for an extension. Instead, raise the issue as soon as you receive the phone call or diagnosis. During the five year span of my program, I spoke directly with six of my instructors and met personally with three of them. While I completed all the course work, I did require special consideration for a few of the courses. Instead of dropping courses, I asked for extensions on some assignments and coursework. I also emailed the members of my online study groups and kept them up to date with my situation.

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