Flat Broke and Couldn’t Be Happier: My Student Loan Story

When I graduated from college in 2014, I had over $40,000 in student debt to pay off. This number seemed absolutely staggering to me as brand new graduate, twenty-two years old and largely inexperienced in the ways of the working world. Throughout high school and most of my college years, work had been something to avoid. It was something that put a damper on an otherwise sunny afternoon, kept me from spending time with friends and chasing a life of sustained teenager-ness. To put it simply, work was something that just got in the way.

Growing up, I never wanted to be anything that required I sit in an office all day, working on things that at a younger age, I just couldn’t imagine would ever matter to me.

I didn’t think a “normal job” would be able to scratch my itch for recognition and creativity. I was resistant to growing up, and if you take a look at the dreams I harbored as a kid, it’ll probably come as no surprise.

When I was younger, I wanted to be an artist of some kind. That was one of the first things I remember wanting to be when I grew up – someone who drew cartoons for Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network or something. Then I decided I’d become an NFL quarterback, and then a radio DJ, and then the lead singer/guitarist in a rock band. These were the things I was interested in, but aside from becoming a radio DJ, none of these goals are especially practical. But in my teenage mind, I just expected things would fall into place and everything would just work itself out.

As I sit here only a few days before my 25th birthday, I can tell you that none of these things happened. And, unless you are extremely motivated, lofty goals will always remain just dreams. The flip side to that though, is that if you can muster the determination it takes to achieve your goal (even if that happens to be a tall order), you really can make things happen.

So, putting that methodology into place, I found a path in digital marketing and threw every penny I made toward my goal of paying off $41,000 in loans. Here’s what I learned along the way.

Lesson 1:
Never Stop Learning.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” – Einstein

Like most people, my attitude has changed quite a bit since my teenage days. I no longer spend my time day-dreaming about being a carefree musician (although I’d imagine that even those in the entertainment business have many worries of their own) – instead I spend my time chasing knowledge. When I become interested in something – you know, in the way that makes you feel legitimately mystified by the subject – that fascination drives me to learn as much as I can about it. Learning to code HTML and CSS (and in the future, Javascript), using programs on the Adobe Creative Cloud, learning Spanish – those are all things I was never especially interested in prior to joining the workforce. These days I’d say they are three of the things I’m most interested in learning about… and my personal fascination with these topics goes hand-in-hand with my drive to grow professionally.

So far in my experience in the work place, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several people whom I would consider great teachers. People not only willing to field my constant firestorm of questions, but happy to help me grow professionally. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity so far to work at both a start-up in a quickly emerging industry and an established company looking to continue expanding in an already established industry; both of which have allowed me to grow and develop professional skills at the fast pace that I truly thrive on.

Seeking out knowledgeable teachers is certainly important for fostering any type of growth within the workplace, as the experience of those more seasoned than yourself can provide great guidance. There’s another key component of working life however, that is just as paramount to developing the professional skills you want, and that’s your attitude. When it comes to your approach to the workplace, I’m of the opinion that how you choose to think about things is one of your most powerful assets.

Lesson 2:
Keep An Entrepreneurial Mindset.

What you think about influences how you feel and act, which makes a positive attitude absolutely imperative.

I’m also of the opinion that an entrepreneurial mindset is something that anyone can possess. To me, thinking like an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to be starting a business or investing in real estate, etc. Being entrepreneurial can mean taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way, using them to learn something new, and giving yourself more value in the workplace.

It can mean keeping your eye on the prize and not giving up the goal you set out to accomplish. I’ve learned so far in my time in the workplace that one of the most important things you can do is to create the opportunities you want on your own. That’s one thing I believe all entrepreneurs have in common – the desire to create things around them, including their own circumstances.

When I first graduated college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life (and honestly, I still think about the future a lot). But I did know that I wanted to take control of my life. I knew that I had racked up debt, and that I wanted to squash it; I wanted to slay my debt like the dragon it was. And as I sit here only a day after making my final payment, I can say that I’m glad I took control. Which of course leads me to my final lesson…

Lesson 3:
Commit to Your Decisions.

Making a good decision is like giving a gift to your future self.

I’m very glad that three years ago, I made the decision to live my life without the weight of student loans dragging me down. The process of paying off this debt has taught me many things along the way, including great determination. I became more clear-headed and disciplined in my decision-making and I matured in a way I needed to as a young adult. I finally had my head in the game and accepted that money is a necessary part of life.

I’ve also learned that working can be one of the most fulfilling things I can do. I love learning new things at work and am always striving to expand my skillset, looking to accomplish new things in new ways.

As I look ahead, I’m fully aware that the future can hold anything, but I’m also very aware that what I do, what I think, the goals I set – all these things make a huge impact in where I am in the future. College was an expensive thing. Was it valuable? Yes. But post-graduation, I’ve learned so much both personally and professionally during the process of paying off my loans that, in a way, conquering debt has been one of the best courses I’ve ever taken.

Beer Credits (What I’m Drinking):

  • Ass Clown Brewing’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Stout
  • Saranac Brewery’s S’Mores Porter
  • DuClaw Brewing’s Sweet Baby Jesus! Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter

Have a great story about paying off your own student loans, or even just growing up in the world, post-graduation? Let’s hear it! Leave a comment below!

About the author

Hi, I’m Andre! I’m your standard, run-of-the-mill, millennial with a thing for avocados, a major coffee-habit and a blog I work on when I'm not listening to podcasts or collecting cans of rare, sought-after craft beer.

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