In this post, I don’t want to share with you how to get out of student loan debt. I want to share with you what I learned through my student loan debt.
In May 2011, I graduated from law school with $206k in student loan debt at an average interest rate of 7.9%. I didn’t know the total debt I had until I received a notice in the mail. Once I knew the amount, I still didn’t know what it really meant until I got my first job, making $75,000. I thought I was going to be rich, but really I was technically financially bankrupt.
I was dumbfounded. How could I be a 25-year-old attorney and know absolutely nothing about personal finance? I couldn’t understand how I made it that far without even one person mentioning anything about money management to me.
So, I decided to start a blog.
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While I wouldn’t wish this debt on anyone, I have to acknowledge that it is through my debt that I have completely changed my life and found my purpose. Not only is it my blog, but it’s my work – who I am and what I like to do. I’ve changed because of the lessons I’ve learned from my debt.
What I learned through my experience is that there are 4 G’s that are critical to personal success. I define success as the constant pursuit of a goal. But achieving success (and the pursuit of success) requires four key components.
In her TED talk, Angela Duckworth describes grit as the true key to success. She defines grit as:
[P]assion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
When I realized the seriousness of my student loan debt, I committed wholeheartedly to learning everything about personal finance that I could. I knew it would take years. I knew it was a marathon. I did not feel rushed. I felt committed to a vision and goal of financial knowledge and ultimately financial freedom.
- Related: Why I quit my job “to be happy”
It is not my intelligence that keeps me going and makes me successful. It is my grit. If you don’t have grit for what you’re doing, I don’t believe you’ll truly be successful.
Jim Rohn, one of the greatest entrepreneurs and personal development gurus of all time, said that his mentor, Earl Shoaff told him, “If you want to be wealthy and happy, learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”
It is through personal growth that you will become your best self. It is not through anything external, including another person or your job. It is through personal growth that you will find true fulfillment and success.
I learned how to work on myself through personal development after I started listening to podcasts about money (Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey). It was never really money that was at the root of the problem people ask Suze or Dave about – it was always something internal and much deeper than any budget (usually a mindset problem).
This is why I know I’m going to be very wealthy. I know I’ll pay off my student loans, and I know I’ll be successful. I’ve completely shifted my mindset to growth.
The best part about personal growth is that it never stops. There’s always more to learn and more grow. After all, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
Giving is the third G to success. You never get until you give. If you think you don’t have enough (and live in a scarcity mindset), then you never will. You have to get beyond the mindset that you don’t have enough to give.
Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker and entrepreneur, said, “the secret to living is giving.” Tony explains that instead of focusing on “why isn’t it working” you should focus on “how can I give more?”
This is why I never say “why me?”. Really, the question is “why not me?” In fact, I’m thankful for my student loan debt. I feel like it has empowered me to give so much through my blog. I now can help other people who have suffered similarly. I can teach them about money and help them change careers to one they like. I can give and help people in ways I never imagined possible.
If you switch your mindset to one where you focus on giving, you will move yourself toward success. When you have nothing, you need to give. If you want to wait until you have something to give, you’ll never have something to give.
When you give, you feel empowered. You remove the “I don’t have enough” and move to the “I can help you” mindset, which will propel you to success.
In Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley, Sheryl said that gratitude and appreciation are key to resilience. Specifically, if you count your blessings and show gratitude for them, you will increase your blessings. Sheryl does this by writing down three moments of joy every night.
I practice gratitude by acknowledging my debt and being thankful for it. I have tremendous financial responsibility and knowledge at the age of 30 that I never would have had but for my student loans. I have set myself up for financial success, and I have the knowledge to help other people do the same for themselves.
By expressing gratitude, you will be happier and more fulfilled.
A Final Note!
Success is determined from grit, growth, giving, and gratitude. If you can get on board with these four things, you can be successful.
If it weren’t for my student loan debt, I wouldn’t be on a journey where I get to live my personal dream, in pursuit of doing what I love.
My student loan debt gave me grit, personal growth, the capacity to give so much, and the awareness to express gratitude.
It’s through my pain of massive student loan debt that I have found my purpose and learned what true success is, which has nothing to do with external factors.
So, next time you’re faced with a challenge, try to use your inner grit, focus on personal growth, give more, and express gratitude. You might just find your passion doing it.