Tips for Going Back to School

I’ve been in corporate marketing for many years. I enjoy working for small companies where I feel I can make a difference and collaborate with cross-functional teams. I earned my bachelor’s degree at a time in my life when my complete focus was on school. That wasn’t the case when I decided to study for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification online.

I’m a working mom with two active kiddos and a full-time job. The thought of squeezing one to two hours of study time into my day made my head spin. I was at a point in my career I felt I needed to up my game and gain new knowledge in the areas that interested me the most.

I’ve been part of marketing teams since graduating college. Looking back, I always gravitated to managing projects. I love initiating projects and taking them through to launch. I didn’t realize how much until I really evaluated my skill set and looked at what I get excited about when it comes to working and volunteering.

The decision to obtain my PMP took several months. I researched the certification, read reviews, and learned about Project Management Institute. All the answers pointed me in the direction to keep going in the PMP direction. It was scary, exciting, and overwhelming at the same time. At the beginning of 2019, I decided to go for it and set the goal to obtain my PMP before the end of the year.

Here’s how I overcame my fear of going back to school.

Education is an investment. Some companies offer tuition reimbursement to their employees. Some people will go their own route and pay the cost on their own. Either way, you need to research the degree or certification and learn the best way to move forward with your education. Your career development is ultimately up to you.

I searched on the Project Management Institute site for all of the requirements, tools, and information I needed to get started. My research helped me eliminate unnecessary costs and helped focus me in the right direction as I got started.

For me, I found LinkedIn Learning to be an excellent tool for my PMP certification. The cost was pretty low for a premium account and the premium account gives you access to the LinkedIn Learning videos.

Research is like a friend that will help guide you. Explore, learn and then decide the best course of action based on your research. People and resources will appear at the right time when you stay curious and keep exploring.

Find Your Tribe
Take a moment to think about the people in your life who are supportive. It may be a family member, friend, or professional mentor. You need people in your corner who are positive and understand why you’re pursuing your goal. Be selective of who you share your plan with because you don’t need negative energy slowing you down.

Do you know someone who obtained the same certification or degree? Ask them about the experience and see if they’re willing to talk with you about how they achieved the goal. They might have great feedback that will help you while you’re researching. And it’s great to have someone you can talk to or email when things get tough.

They will help you stay motivated and excited about what you’re doing. They’re the people who want to see you succeed.

Create Your Plan. Work Your Plan.
I’m a project manager at heart so planning is what I love to do. I realized a solid plan was the best way to stay on track and keep my husband informed of the weekly schedule.

I used Google Sheets for my study schedule. I tracked modules, mock quiz dates, and video tutorials I had to complete.

Build your plan in the beginning so you stay on track until the end. And like any plan, you can tailor it to your needs and make adjustments as life happens.

Kid Coverage is Key
Kids make studying hard, especially if you’re learning a complex subject. I couldn’t concentrate at home. For months, I went to the local library after work from 6-8 pm a few days a week. I reserved a study room which was a quiet place for me to concentrate. When I couldn’t go to the library, I’d study after the kids were in bed. I was tired but focused on the goal. I used noise-canceling headphones if I studied when they were awake.

My husband and I don’t have family located in our town. We’re pretty much on our own. We had a lot of conversations before I got started about the shifts in our schedule to open the time for me to study. It was hard at first, but we all fell into a groove. His support helped me focus during those months of study. I kept telling myself this was temporary to help alleviate my guilt for not being present as much.

Take Breaks
I went full force at studying for months. I started burning the candle at both ends. I took a break over a weekend or two. There was no studying, no reading, no focus so my mind could get a break.

It’s ok to take a break as long as it’s not so long you fall off the schedule and quit. Sometimes a walk outside will do the trick. Listen to your mind and body. When you’re tired, studying won’t stick as well as it does when you’re rested and focused.

Get in the Zone. Mindset is Everything.
Begin with the end in mind. I’ve heard that over and over so that’s what I did. I was scared and didn’t want to fail. I visualized passing the exam. I visualized holding that certificate. I visualized the knowledge building in my mind every time I studied. I queued up the Rocky theme song in my head because I was training for the main event of passing the PMP.

Goal accomplished!

I put in over 250 hours to earn my certification. I wanted to quit so many times but kept going. I realized how much extra time we really do have in a day. I just had to focus and not waste it with distractions.

Visualize and get focused. You got this!

Accomplishing a big goal is never easy. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have to focus our heart, body and soul on achievement.

Great accomplishments and success must have these three things:

  1. A vision
  2. A positive attitude
  3. And the willingness to do the hard work

That little voice will tell you to keep going until you achieve that goal. Getting started can be the hardest part. Rally your troops. Plan the work and work your plan. Once you get rolling, the forward momentum and positive energy will get you through. Good luck!

Have your own tips for achieving a goal? We’d love to know.

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