Michelle Hildebrand will be the first to tell you that, despite having already earned a bachelor’s degree, returning to college was a terrifying decision. Two decades post-graduation, her confidence wavered as she questioned if she could still keep pace academically. While stepping outside of her comfort zone was scary, she has found the outcome to be very rewarding.
Hildebrand had a good job working in the insurance industry. She made a nice living, had health benefits, and a schedule that worked well with her family life, but it wasn’t the life she wanted. “I wanted to do more. I didn’t feel like I was helping anyone or making a difference in anyone’s life,” she explained. “I wanted to challenge myself.” She saw herself helping people at their most vulnerable moments and knew nursing was the career that could provide her that opportunity.
In a quick, albeit, terrifying plunge, Hildebrand quit her job, enrolled in college, and in an attempt to give herself some medical experience, took a part-time job at a local hospital. “It’s one of those things where you make a decision, cross your fingers, close your eyes, and hope that you’re doing the right thing,” she mused. “It was the best decision I ever made,” she said confidently. “I was nervous because I wondered if I was still going to be good at school.” However, she said that her 20-year hiatus from the classroom provided her with perspective and some clarity. “You know what’s important and you find what works for you.” She also said she didn’t leave room for failure because “If this doesn’t work for me I have to start all over,” she emphasized. “This is something I have to work really hard at and I have to make it work. This is what I’ve chosen. I’ve stopped my whole life to do this. I risked everything.”
This new chapter in her life came with many challenges for the mom of five, including financial struggles, balancing school, work, and family, topped off with her kids trying to learn at home during a pandemic. Yet, she has maintained her focus on a string of successes that have served to affirm that she’s doing the right thing: maintaining a near-perfect GPA, excelling in her position at the hospital, and, as she rounds out her final semester before graduation, landing her first professional nursing interview. “I just feel like I wouldn’t be doing as well as I’m doing if this wasn’t something I was supposed to be doing.”
Hildebrand includes her kids among her affirmations. Ranging in age from 7 to 15, she credits them with being a part of her journey and benefiting from her experience, “My kids are really proud of me,” she beamed. “I’m seeing a change in them in how they look at life and how they are trying harder because they see me trying harder.”
While her return to college hasn’t been easy and has required great effort and sacrifice for her and her family, she is adamant that she has no regrets. Her advice to others is to, “Push yourself and never give up. Remember every day why you are doing this, how much your life will change once you are done, and how proud of yourself you will be. When you look back you can say, ‘I did this. I made it happen.’”