When I was 14, I nervously approached my mom and asked if I could finally get my first cell phone. I was in eighth grade and was sick with jealousy that every girl in my homeroom had the latest Nokia flip. I wanted in.
To me, having a cell phone was so adult. I could call people to make appointments (what appointments?). I could text people to discuss the latest episode of Gossip Girl. There was nothing more independent and freeing than having my own mode of communication.
But right as I was about to perform my lengthy speech for why I deserved to have a cell phone (I had been practicing it for hours in my room), my mom cut me off and said “You can have one, but you have to pay for the phone bill each month. If you’re old enough to have a cell phone, you’re old enough to get a job.”
At the time, you had to receive a work permit to get a job before the age of 16. So once I applied and got one, I walked down to a nearby women’s gym and asked for a job in their childcare department.
For the next 2 years, I marched into that gym every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. and worked my shift.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of my fear of money. It taught me that work was designed to be unenjoyable. It inherently required you to do things you hated like hold screaming children and clean up babies’ vomit. And all at 7:30 a..m on a Saturday? Whoever came up with this whole minimum wage employment thing must be playing a sick joke.
At the same time, I realized that I was a slave to it. I was desperate to hold onto my precious Nokia flip phone, and my menial monthly paycheck supported that.
This was the idea that eventually formed in my head: Money only comes if you do things that you hate. If you stop working, you lose the things you love, like your 2008 electronic devices. You only deserve a lot of money if you’re at least 35 and have a lot of fancy degrees, like my mom. And, last but not least, you cannot advance in life if you don’t have the money to allow you to do so.
That at least seemed to be the case until I was 17 and knee deep in college application season. Suddenly, my fellow students were willing to pay anything to attend a certain college, even if they didn’t have the money. This was the first time I was introduced to the concept of loans.
I had quite a few friends -- 18-year-olds -- who were signing loan agreements for $25,000 a year. This was considered normal. An investment in the future. The right decision.
Most of those friends, now seven years later, are still in debt and will continue paying it off for many years to come.
Don’t get me wrong -- I am not anti-loan. I’m actually very pro-finding the money you need to make things happen, and I regularly encourage my Facebook community to do the same. But this leads me to my next question.
How come American society has decided that college, and only college, is a future investment worthy of loans?
Unless you’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, college is irrelevant today. You can learn any skill, network with anyone, buy anything and sell anything from the convenience of your couch with a laptop, making traditional college a fad of the past. You just don’t need it to build a lucrative, meaningful career anymore.
Don’t believe me?
Did you know that 50 percent of millennial college students say they don’t need a physical classroom anymore? In fact, 53 percent of them say that online colleges are just as reputable, and 39 percent envision the future of education to be more virtual.
And for the Gen-Yers who are still thinking of taking out massive college loans, I hope you realize that 57 percent of millennials who already graduated from college say that they regret how much they borrowed. In fact, over a third said they wouldn’t even have gone to college if they had realized how much it would set them back.
There is simply no ROI on these massive college loans anymore. So if you’re going to find the money to invest in your future or continue your education, consider alternatives that will have a much higher return and richer impact.
Learn a new skill that actually excites you
Coding? Marketing? Writing? Hula hooping? Sky jumping? Hell yeah!
What do you know more about than other people? What are you better at than other people? Charge for those skills and start making money doing something you love!
Hire someone to support you and help you grow
A therapist? A life coach? A language tutor? A fitness trainer? A business coach? 100%!
Travel and learn new languages and cultures
Thailand? Fiji? South Africa? Peru? Where will it be? Doesn’t matter, just go.
Attend incredible events and connecting with life-changing people
Now, the next question is obvious: “How is taking out a loan for college actually different from taking out a loan for these alternatives? They’re both going to take forever to pay off!”
I’ll tell you how. When you take out a loan for a purpose that will actually make you happier -- as in, coming from a place of genuine interest instead of societal, status-driven expectations -- you are naturally going to manifest the money to pay it off faster.
Jen Sincero tells a great story in her book, "You Are A Badass," about the time she was deciding between buying a Honda CRV -- a practical, safe car -- and an Audi -- a car she couldn’t afford and had no practical use for. Deep down, she wanted the Audi. It was her spirit car. So last minute, instead of opting for the reasonable car that she could afford, she got a loan and bought the Audi. And when she did that, she suddenly signed way more clients and was able to pay it off a lot faster than she ever would have if she had purchased the Honda. Why? Because when you’re truly passionate about something and you’re committed to making it work, the money manifests itself. When you don’t really care about the purchase, however, you let the loan drag on and on, much like millennials do today with college.
So think about it. If you have access to that money, you can use it for a year-long trip in India to volunteer in animal sanctuaries and gain an entirely new perspective on the world (which then could turn into you opening up your own animal sanctuary, learning three new languages, building relationships with people you never thought you’d meet and becoming a well-known leader in the animal welfare nonprofit space.)
Or, you could take that loan and put it toward a four-year communications degree that teaches you absolutely nothing about anything. Gotta love binge-drinking, $300 textbooks and outdated tenured professors, am I right?
The point is that I’m really tired of everyone getting antsy around the word “loan” when it comes to anything other than the all-American broken business of college.
Whenever I even mutter the words “find the money to make your dreams come true," someone attacks me with an angry “are you promoting taking out loans to your followers?”
I am not the enemy here. I’m also not anti-college; I’m just pro-choices. And I’m pro-finding the money to become the best version of yourself, no matter what that looks like for you.
So if there is something you know that you need in your life to be happier, more confident, more free, more worldly, more skilled, more helpful, more connected or wealthier, stop wasting time and find the money to make it happen. Do it now. The money is out there and waiting for you, and with the right action and drive, it will pay itself back in no time. Trust me, I’ve done it.
Sit down and truly ask yourself: What do I need to elevate my happiness in my life? Once you figure it out, don’t overthink it, stress or back out. Take action and commit making it happen. You owe it to yourself.