Going back to school when you're a full-grown adult with a day job and teenagers is just about as much of a headache as you probably think it is.
I've been a graphic designer for almost 15 years, and I am damned good at it. I specialize in print design, from catalogs and postcards to packaging and brochures. I like to say that I make art that people throw away. I have a few decent freelance clients, and make a little bit on the side now and then, but I want to do a lot more. The problem is, the market for print design is on a downswing. Catalogs are being published electronically. Postcard mailers are being replaced by email blasts. If I want to stay relevant, I need to learn me some web design.
So I've gone back to school, and while I love learning new stuff, it's a whole lot of headache.
For instance, it's tough to get student loans when you're in night school. I had loans, grants and scholarships for my bachelor's degree, plus I lived at home and waited tables. I would say I paid for school myself, but that would be a load of crap. Uncle Sam paid for most of it. But this time around, the bill is all mine.
Plus it's amazing how much work it is just to learn things. I'm not even talking about the time (though I will in a minute). I'm just referring to how much of my brain is taken up with things like CSS syntax and user-side script calls and dehydrogenated lithium byproducts (I made up that last one. I'm pretty sure I made up the second one, too. But CSS syntax really is beating my brain into submission). My head is tired from trying to remember a hundred new values for HTML attributes, and it's making it tough to remember to brush my teeth before I go to work.
And every time I learn one new thing, I discover another half a dozen I'll have to learn next. I finally manage to figure out how to use embedded stylesheets, and then I realize that I really ought to master WordPress and social media feeds. Once I get those down, I'll have to figure out v-cards and Google Analytics. I suspect this is what a web designer sees when he looks at print design. "What do you mean, I have to include a SWOP3 color profile with my collected document? And what the hell is proportional lining?" I know that stuff. But web stuff makes my head hurt.
But the very worst thing about going back to school is the time sink. I can't believe how much free time I had before. I have to write schedules for when I'm goofing off. I spend so much time reading school books and sitting in class that when I actually have time to do something I enjoy, I have to budget my time like a single mother with a welfare check.
It's not as bad as it sounds, though. I actually really love learning new things. I have been experimenting with web sites in ways that amaze myself (though they probably look totally amateur to anyone who can do it for a living). Some of the stuff I've learned recently is like upgrading my Crayolas from the 16 colors to the 64 with a sharpener in the side of the box. My head is spinning with the possibilities.
And even better, I've already got my first client. It's a really small gig, one that any seasoned web designer could do in his sleep, but it's still pretty awesome to know that I can actually apply what I've learned in a real, tangible way, and make a little scratch at it. I may not have as much time for stuff like playing games and eating healthy meals and sleeping, but it is exciting to consider the possibilities for the future.
If you've got something you really wish you could do, and you can break off a few nights a week and a couple thousand bucks, going back to school can be pretty awesome.
You know, once you're done.