5 things I learned on my hiatus from college

The Bernie Madoff saga played on the screen as I drifted off to sleep. I caught bits and pieces of it in between excusing myself for a snore. The Accounting Ethics professor concluded the class with a lecture but as hard as I tried to focus, the information just wasn’t sticking. It was a nice change of pace getting back into the familiarity of college courses and reengaging my mind into the world of business in the summer of 2010, just a few months removed from what seemed to be an endless hospital stay. But something wasn’t quite right.

Through lectures I had a hard time focusing. I couldn’t go very long without falling asleep. But a sense of panic did not set in until I started my first quiz. As a friend held up the paper for me, not only did it feel weird to have to relay my answers to someone else to write down, but I was realizing the self-doubt that began to creep in.

Why was I having such a hard time reading, processing, and remembering everything? Was it the high amounts of medications I was on? The sleepless nights staring at the ceiling wondering what was next in this journey? Or had my brain actually endured some type of undetected trauma that did not come to light until exercising it in an academic setting? I kept my fears to myself, unsure of their validity.

School had always come so easy to me and I figured a loss of mobility of my limbs would have no effect on my aptitude in the classroom. But it persisted. The panic associated with feeling as if my intellectual abilities had taken a hit only added to the anxiety surrounding how to balance maneuvering around campus in a 300 pound chair while needing someone else take notes for me. This array of emotions made me realize one thing: this was not the time to jump back into classes.

After that initial summer course, I held off on going back to school for the next few years as other opportunities presented themselves. Then, earlier this year some time freed up so I started the process of looking into finishing the business degree I started in 2007. Class kicked off this fall and I re-acclimated myself with the likes of Business Management and International Business.

Good thing I got to class early for this seat

Good thing I got to class early for this seat

Here are five things I learned during my hiatus from school:

Each step in the road is vital to the entirety of the story:

Interacting with a few people regarding starting back to school has left me feeling as if they’re saying, “Oh good, you’re finally ready to move on with your life.” I don’t believe any of the time I wasn’t in school was wasted. In fact, the break was crucial.

With more time available to read, write, and contemplate life, speak, meet with high school guys, start this website, etc., these last few years have turned out to be the most important season of my life to date. I found out who I am. In many ways I’ve better understood what my role is. And most importantly, I discovered who God is.

We each have our own race to run:

It hit me when I was signing up for classes… I’m going back to college with students almost 10 years younger than me. Taking a class that my peers completed nearly 5 years ago can be humbling. Not to mention that on top of that, the same peers are well into careers while I still share a hallway with my parents. Comparing myself to others can leave me depressed…which is why focusing on the race God has marked for me is all I need to do.

Trying to please others never ends well:

“Are you taking classes yet?” became what I heard more than anything during my break from school. Many times I was left wondering, “Is that what I’m supposed to be doing?” Was I looking to find approval from people rather than God? Over time it became abundantly clear that entertaining the idea of doing something just because it fit in with the social norm was ridiculous. This begged the question, who cares what anyone else thinks?

What excites me isn’t always going to excite others:

I may enjoy learning the nuances of the business world but you can bet that I am much more excited for Sunday afternoons and what is to come of the hearts of my high school guys. When I express my excitement about this to some people I have often gotten a blank stare or the deflecting response, “That’s nice… Are you taking classes yet?”

Regardless of the response of others, I love getting to witness firsthand God propelling the transformation process from boyhood to manhood. Sunday meetings have undoubtedly become the highlight of my week. And if others don’t get excited about the same things? That’s completely okay.

It’s never too late to finish what was started:
I really was not trying to use a cliché. Too late. Finishing a college degree in nine years may not make me sound like a high achiever, but you better believe I’m going to have that degree from the University of Cincinnati eventually. It’s never too late to take the next step. It’s not too late to finish strong.

Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com

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  1. Donna Leuenberger said:

    Great having you back!!


  2. Tim Heidel said:

    Hi Ryan,

    I always love what you share with us. You are amazing! I know you will be a UC grad soon, my fellow Bearcat buddy!


  3. Maybe your excitement over those Sunday meetings is one way that God is speaking to you now. Perhaps calling you in a new direction? Keep taking things one day at a time in your walk with God. He has only your best and highest good in mind. Your journey is such an inspiration! Praying that God continues to reveal Himself and lights the way with each and every step you take.


  4. trattray said:


    Once again your blog is inspirational. You have a gift for writing, you know. I’ve been doing some writing lately and appreciate talent when I see it. Go for it!



  5. Terri said:

    Hey, Ryan – glad you’re back with your blog! I initially thought you may be on vacation…after some weeks I asked Mark if you were ok. He assured me you were “just taking a break.”

    It is a different experience returning to college. In my way of thinking there is never a “wrong ” time to do that if there is purpose for being there. You will likely find you are much more focused than those younger people. And you probably have a maturity factor they have not likely reached yet. But you’re not old enough yet to be the “elder statesman” of the group so you should find a comfortable niche!

    I hope you left time for yourself to continue with the Sunday afternoon group. As much as it means to you, I hope you recognize how meaningful it is for the young men. You are obviously able to connect and offer some leadership that many others could not. It is a difficult age for them – so carry on!

    Good luck with school!

    Terri JW


  6. Bob Buck said:

    Ryan, whenever I see that you’ve written something for your blog, I immediately stop what I am doing. Can’t wait, because I know I am going to learn something, be inspired, or challenged. This one did all three for me. There is only one downside to you going back, you are going to mess up grading on the curve.


  7. Absolutely correct! I didn’t start college until after I had children and they were in school, and I was also on campus with students 10 years younger than me, but you know what? All of that life experience made me a better student, and even a mentor to the younger students in my classes because of it. I am certain, Ryan, that your depth of spiritual growth and life experience will be a blessing to you and those around you during your college years. Godspeed!


  8. Steve said:

    Ryan – I always love and benefit greatly from your blogs. You have great insights and are a godly great teacher. As I see your UC logo at the bottom of the page, I need to say, GO CARDS! 🙂 Be strong brother. Steve


  9. schro907 said:

    Sometimes I swear my injury happened so I would stop and look around a bit more. Stop pushing full steam ahead and instead pause and refocus my life on the people and my God who really mattered. Not gonna lie, some days I wish this lesson didn’t have to be QUITE so dramatic, but he sure made his point…

    We sure all do have our own race to run and our own purpose in God’s plan to fulfill, I’m glad you took time to figure that out and are okay that not everyone “gets that.” I really loved this blog, college post-injury sure is different! But different isn’t always bad, it’s just different:)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Sue said:

    Great insights Ryan… You have perspective & wisdom beyond your years. Thanks for sharing. I always gain insight & encouragement when I read your blogs.
    P.s. You are a gifted writer as well!
    Keep it up👍🙌🎉


  11. Jan Beatty said:

    Ryan, you are so right! Everyone’s path is different and the “usual” is not always best, not the right time or the right place. Those questions are so annoying when asked, “When are you………..??? Great reminder to never ask anyone that!!!


  12. Virginia Wilson said:

    Ryan, good to hear from you again, as always. Every one of your points is completely valid and full of wisdom beyond your years. I can SO relate to much of what you write and often I go on rambling about it. I shall attempt to be brief this time.

    I am absolutely impressed that you’ve headed back to UC to ‘go for it’! It’s obvious that you are very intelligent; however for some reason I just didn’t see it coming. It just surprised me. Perhaps it is because I see you as having been a perpetual student. And you have gained so much rich knowledge about life, what’s really important, where / how to best spend your time & energy, and much more. Like I said before, you are a wise guy 🙂 (in a good way of course).

    I have a sense (Holy Spirit?) that you’re going to be super surprised by where this part of your journey ultimately takes you!!! It’s GOOD!!! VERY GOOD!!!

    You never cease to inspire me, buddy… in more ways than you probably know. I am glad that our paths crossed!!!

    Happy for you and so proud of you!


  13. Jay Payne said:

    Thats right buddy, your work ethic is inspiring to anyone who reads your blogs. Keep on truckin’ my friend!


  14. Erika said:

    “It’s never too late to finish what was started.” A lot of people need to hear this. Thanks for the reminder.


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