The Rewards of Returning to School as an Adult

Pétur Einarsson / Photo by Seth Perry

Returning to school as an adult posed a serious threat to my mental health. Balancing a full-time career, full-time university, and full-time recovery was a significant challenge. For five years, I focused primarily on surviving the process of obtaining my master’s degree. Late nights, lack of sleep, and excessive procrastination all made the road to my second post-secondary degree seem exponentially more difficult than my first. For this issue’s column, I sat down with a recent graduate who offers a fresh perspective on returning to school in mid-life.

Pétur Einarsson is a recently certified Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) and a counseling team member at Hazelden Betty Ford in Center City, Minnesota. In addition to the demands of obtaining a master’s degree over the past two years, Einarsson filed for a student visa and a work visa, moved once, and got engaged—all while living well with ADHD. Any one of these challenges could stretch anyone to the breaking point. Today, Pétur shares the strategies, techniques, and habits that worked for him while studying for his master’s degree.

“Last time I was in college, 40 years ago, my essays were handwritten,” Einarsson comments as he reflects on his undergraduate years. “There has been so much change.” Pétur touches on an important point for any adult considering a return to school. However, just because learning looks or feels different doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying, which is why he shares this hopeful observation: “It’s a practice. The more I did it, the more I got used to it. If I can do this, anyone can.”

“I also have ADHD, which was only diagnosed a few years ago,” Einarsson notes, reflecting on the challenges he encountered while studying for his degree. Despite his diagnosis occasionally interfering with his work, there was one crucial factor that kept him engaged in his journey to achieving his LADC certification. “I always wanted to go back and do a master’s degree. It had to be in something I had a passion for.” Despite the inevitable obstacles that his diagnosis presented, Pétur’s education remained manageable due to a deep interest in his chosen field. Enthusiasm about your future vocation goes a long way.

Completing the program at Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School meant that Pétur needed to develop some core habits. “Get good sleep,” Einarsson advises, “and that means going to bed early.” Pétur focused on eating well, which he indicates improved his concentration. He also prioritized time management, which helped quiet his mind. However, one of the biggest contributors to his mental health has been choosing to stay off social media. “I have deactivated Facebook and Instagram,” says Einarsson. “I would just go on and couldn’t stop.” Since stepping away from overstimulating and addictive social media accounts, Pétur has seen a marked improvement in his overall wellness, which has paid off both in school and now at work.

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Not only is Pétur managing ADHD, but he is also in long-term recovery from addiction. “I’ve been in recovery for a long time.”Any master’s level education program demands a lot from the student; however, Einarsson also needed to complete a set amount of clinical hours counseling clients at the Center City campus of Hazelden Betty Ford. He is open about the potential pitfalls, stating, “I’ve heard that burnout in this field is less than three years.” Counseling comes with a significant mental load that most individuals without ADHD would find difficult to navigate. In addition to the high-pressure environment of a clinical setting, Pétur spent nights and weekends studying while balancing daily ADHD maintenance, typical life stress, and a demanding schedule. “I have to put the oxygen mask on myself before my patients or others,” he remarks as he reflects on the importance of self-care. This is why boundaries are the cornerstone of Pétur’s work-life balance. Over the course of his education at Hazelden, he established and maintained a home environment that was as free of work and school stress as possible. Einarsson makes a focused effort not to talk about caseloads and day-to-day work challenges at home. Pétur is the first to admit that this is a work in progress.

Not only is Pétur managing ADHD, but he is also in long-term recovery from addiction. “I’ve been in recovery for a long time,” he says. In fact, he recently celebrated 31 years of sobriety. “I’ve sought 12-step meetings all around the world.”

Einarsson, originally from Iceland, has lived in a variety of cultural contexts. His move to the United States in 2022 presented numerous challenges, but he found support from 12-step groups immediately upon arriving. “I come here, and the first thing I look up is where the local Alano Club is and where the meetings are.” Recovery has been a means for him to find support and accountability almost immediately.

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Returning to school in mid-life requires the right mindset. “I look at life as the first half and the second half,” says Pétur. “Now it is time for me to do something bigger than myself and maybe give back a little.” As he begins his new career as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Einarsson offers advice for anyone considering the next chapter of their life: “It is never too late to go back to school and to learn. I feel like I am just at the beginning of learning.”

So often, people are hindered by the assumption that they are too old, too behind the times, or too burdened to attempt to blaze a new personal path. Pétur Einarsson, MA, LADC, doesn’t just have the credentials to show that it is possible to keep experiencing new and challenging things; he has a story that brings hope for many people’s futures.

For a video of the entire interview:
https://youtube.com/live/U_Ee3xOkndM


Seth Perry (he/him/his), an ELCA Pastor, devotional blogger, and mental health recovery educator, embraces his journey of living well with Bipolar Type 1. He works to reduce stigma where faith, mental health, and personal growth intertwine. Pastor Seth currently serves Elim Lutheran Church in Scandia, MN. His website is: www.ourstigma.com.

Last Updated on July 7, 2024

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