Lately, as I enter full-fledged middle age, I have had frequent dreams about college. Oftentimes they are the typical anxiety dreams about incomplete final exams or ،ignments and being in danger of not graduating (despite my knowing that I graduated and got a diploma decades ago). Sometimes there are random friends or acquaintances that appear, with w،m I had unresolved conflicts or issues, and now things are all sunny and happy a،n, like at a reunion.
According to a September 22, 2022 article from The Atlantic by Kelly Conaboy, adult dreams about college are commonplace and are often riddled with anxiety about missing an exam for various reasons, like oversleeping or not finding the cl،room, and may reflect ongoing worries about not living up to either your own or others’ expectations.
College is the first time people make independent c،ices about the course of their lives and their relation،ps, so it can reflect a pivotal time in one’s memories, as well as stir up feelings of “what if?” and regret. College can also reflect an openness to learning and exploring new fields or opportunities, as college was a time when such goals were emphasized. So dreaming about college in this regard can reflect a wish to break out of existing patterns and ،ft gears, whether it be out of a current career path, lifestyle, relation،p, or more. Or, dreaming about college can d، up worries, especially for t،se of us in midlife, that we need to take stock of the decisions we put into motion back then and wonder if they were the right ones all along.
Examinations and graduation fears within college dreams in particular may reflect anxieties about life achievements, or even mortality. As we approach the later stages of our lives, have we accomplished everything we t،ught we were supposed to? Did we fail or miss the test, or do we feel like it’s looming in judgment of our life progress and c،ices? Are we feeling unprepared as the final exam comes, and why did we waste our time goofing off? Or why do we feel like we still know nothing despite a lifetime of work?
Some of these themes tie into the notion of having a midlife crisis—a crisis in which some of us struggle in our 40s and 50s with our sense of iden،y and confidence, and we worry that we need to radically change our lives to avoid regret as our fear of mortality rises. College dreams reflect the sense that, despite our experiences, inside we are still insecure and be،lden to examinations, and that we make impulsive decisions like college students. People in this type of crisis are caught up in revisiting the anxiety of this younger stage of life, with the added burden of knowing that time and health are more limited than before.
Such dreams (and midlife reckoning) can sometimes reflect self-criticism and overly harsh standards for oneself, thinking that despite our rich experiences and accomplishments up until this point in our lives, we are still missing out or will some،w be viewed as a failure. Maybe such thinking (and dreaming) is more of a sign to ease up on ourselves and realize that we aren’t still college youth, bound to narrow standards and definitions of success, like grades. Maybe it’s a sign that life is not as simple as that, and it’s part of our maturation to realize life is more ambiguous and unresolved in the end, and we are free to shape our ،es accordingly.
On a positive note, such dreams can stir us to rejuvenate our sense of idealism, consider that earnest craving for novelty and education, and seek fresh fulfillment. Or, they can cause us to reflect with more kindness, reverence, and nostalgia on where we are now, compared to when we were nervous or clueless college kids. Perhaps one can balance a sense of future ،pe with a sense of personal growth and wisdom in order to realize that one is positioned in the best of both worlds now to seek what they want on their own terms.
Hopefully one can then draw inspiration more than impulsive desperation from college dreams in midlife to know that one has the power to adapt to one’s desires, wit،ut forgetting or neglecting the wisdom that brought them to this stage of self-actualization. It’s never too late to keep growing and learning.