Your Student Debt Isn’t Fair

Get good grades. You must!

Why?

To get into a good college, of course!

What happens if I get into a good college?

You'll be able to get a good job, naturally!

What if I don't want to go to college? Isn't there another way?

That's nonsense! College is the way.

Sound familiar?

A Narrative Trap

College owns the narrative. For so long college has been the de facto next step, people take for granted there are other options.

It's so embedded in our social paradigm it's become an almost expected conversation topic. If you're under 25, chances are somebody's going to ask about it – and not even who you'd expect.

Where are you planning to go to college?

What are you studying?

Where did you go to college?

What are you going do after college?

...

But you know who's not asking – employers.

That's right. Fewer employers care each day. Instead of a degree, they want to know you have skills, the ability to show up, and the willingness to dive in and work hard.

Still, the barrage of questions from your parents, friends, relatives, and guidance counselor can make it feel like your option set includes college or bust.

Information Costs

The cost of all information – except bad information – is rapidly on the decline. Today, you carry around more knowledge in your pocket than the combined intellect of every previous generation.

Whatever you want to learn, you can access with the proper Google search. In this age, asking good questions is actually a more valuable skill than going to college.

The decrease in cost of information also means knowledge is no longer esoteric in nature. To paraphrase wise words from my good friend T.K. Coleman – "The age of the school of mystery is over."

You don't have to pay some institution for secret information that unlocks some parallel universe where you're successful. Why would you pay for what you can access cheaper, faster, and more personalized to your goals?

Today, you can design the universe of your own success deliberately and at a low-cost.

Choose Social Debt, Not Student Debt

If you're dying to go into debt at a young age, then go into social capital debt. Go ask people for advice. Offer to buy them a coffee or lunch. Then ask all your burning questions about life and take notes. (Pro Tip: always send a handwritten thank you note after)

If you have ambitions about a particular type of role, then seek an expert out. Be respectful of their time and come up with good questions. But don't be afraid to approach them.

No one starts out with all the answers. Everyone starts somewhere.

Even if you're contemplating college, do yourself a favor and do some due diligence on what opportunities might interest you.

After you've done your research, be honest with yourself: is college the best way to get to where you're trying to go?

If it is, then power to you. If not, then don't put up a bunch of hurdles for your future. Serious.

It may seem like a great idea now, but when you graduate and the jobs in the industry you thought you wanted to go into have disappeared, and you're making $35k per year...$350 per month in student loan payments becomes A LOT OF MONEY FAST.

It's Your Story

The world wants you to believe you need college to live a successful story. But that narrative is bullshit.

Your story isn't dependent on some third-party riding in with a silver bullet to save the day.

It's not fair and it's not honest to say your success depends on some other institution.  It doesn't.

Your success depends on your makeup.

Are you willing to do the hard things?

Can you get up early, show up on time, and stay late?

Will you give up some nights and weekends to be successful?

In a world where everyone else walks one way, take hold of the advantage of going a different direction.

You owe it to yourself to at least consider your options first.

 

Decisions By Proxy

I got a new pair of roller blades for my 8th birthday.

Immediately, I begged dad to take me to the park. The street no longer presented a challenge.

Marching directly to the playground, I climbed up the steps to the tallest slide, slipped on my blades and stared toward the bottom.

"Should I do it?" I asked my dad.

"I don't think it's a good idea, Mitch," he replied.

That's all the encouragement I needed. I jumped to my feet and lurched forward.

The moment ended as quickly as it began. I ate it – hard. But at least I tried.

The experiment earned me several scrapes and an important lesson: bad outcomes hurt less when they result from your own decisions.

My dad and I laugh about that incident to this day. Still, I can't help feeling a little pride. Yes – I made a reckless decision. But I made the decision.

Outsourcing Your Decision-Making

Contrast my example above with another story.

Several years ago, I worked in an office next to a warehouse. We shared street parking. Signs clearly marked the tow away zones. But we rarely saw them enforced.

On one occasion, a few new employees asked others if they ran a risk parking in the tow away zones. Some tenured employee told them they'd never seen a car towed – so the new folks parked there.

That afternoon the city towed their cars. The new employees acted outraged. What an injustice!

One requested reimbursement from the company for the incident. This confused me at first, but the longer I thought about it, the more it sank in.

This individual wasn't mad just because of the car towing – he was also mad because he'd relied on someone else's judgment to inform his decision. He saw the tow-away signs. But he made a calculated risk based on the information from what seemed like a credible source.

In short – he allowed someone else to make his decision for him. On that day, his proxy turned out wrong.

The individual felt justified in his outrage because he had a scapegoat upon whom he could blame-shift. Had he never asked anyone and chosen to park in the tow away zone, he would've bore full culpability.

Instead, by outsourcing his decision, he relived himself of responsibility for his poor decision.

Stuck Holding the Bag

We all rely on proxies to inform our decisions from time to time.

Consider product reviews as a small case and point. Or referrals from friends about the best dentist or auto-shop.

Still, we ultimately bear the cost if we act on the information and the choice turns out poorly.

What about the bigger decisions?

Like who to marry, whether or not to go to college, which company to work for, or which city to live in.

We all know people who've made decisions like this by proxy. Sometimes it works out. But when things go poorly, the person who provided information is rarely stuck holding the bag.

No – we have to live with the choices we make, even if we relied on information from someone else.

Skin in the Game

For big life decisions, I try to avoid advice from people without skin in the game. Sure, I'll ask for movie referrals. But for the big stuff, I do my best to own my decisions.

If the choices blow up in my face, I have no on else to blame but myself.

Still, occasionally it's useful to seek out third-party opinions – if even just to shock-test your ideas.

I've found over time that people who have no skin in the game as to the outcome tend to give advice based solely off their own experience. They don't account for the arbitrage of their experience adjusted to yours.

People who have an actual investment in your outcomes, on the contrary, bear some of the risk if shit goes awry. I think something about that risk makes them simultaneously more affected, and more level-headed. They have to live with the weight of their opinion.

No – this does not mean you should fully outsource your decisions to them. But it does increase the odds that their advice is better suited for an outcome that's good for you (not just them).

Proxies Don't Pay

Whether you heed others' advice or not rests on your own shoulders. When you request advice, you still get to choose what to do with it.

You're never obligated to make decisions you don't agree with. Don't forget, you own the final say.

But, if and when you make a poor decision, if you relied on someone else's faculties, remember: it's you who has to bear the full cost.

Though they may "feel" guilty – you have to live the decision, not them.

So don't be flippant. Proxies provide additional points of view. But they don't have the power to make the call – you do.

Own your decisions. Even when you make bad ones. Don't cede responsibility to anyone else.

Don’t Live Like a Victim

The world pretends everything is outside of the control of young people.

Can’t get a job? It’s college’s fault.

Student loans? It’s dubious lenders’ faults.

Don’t know how to pay your taxes? It’s school’s fault for not teaching you.

Don’t know how to save money? It’s your parents’ fault.

It paints young people as powerless. As victims of their circumstances. As incapable of ownership of their lives. Of their decisions. Of their destinies. This is all bullshit.

But becoming “an adult” does involve a lot of bullshit. Sometimes it downright sucks.

It sucks because many things about it are outside of our control. It’s easy to get lost focusing on all those things. But it doesn’t have to mean you can’t hope for better circumstances. In fact, we think you should.

The best way to start making things better is by getting started on all the things that are within your control, and fast.

Acknowledge Your Power

You have more power to deliberately design the life you want than the world would lead you to believe. Every day someone's preaching about how more opportunities will open up if only XYZ happened.

If only:

...college were cheaper, more young people could get a good education.

...loans were easier to come by, more people could start a business.

...mortgages were better subsidized, more people could have a home.

All of this is a bunch of whiny victim speak.

You don't need those things to go out and create your own life. Yes – you will need to work hard. You will have to challenge the assumptions most people live their lives by. And, you'll need to take courage to go chase after the things you want in spite of what other people say and believe.

But you don't need cheaper education. Nor more handouts. And you don't need more pity from other people.

What you need is the acknowledgement of the power you have – and to embrace it.

The sooner you do that, the sooner you unlock your freedom to design the life you want.

...more on this forthcoming.

The Temptations of Burnout

The lights were off. It’s how I liked to work.

A faint glow from two 27” monitors and a MacBook Pro reflected off my glasses. Beneath my hoodie, the steady mind-numbing pulse of screamo bass outpaced the tap-tap-tapping from my keyboard.

I forgot how long I’d been there. I’d woken up around 4:30 am and I’d be there well until the evening hours.

Half a dozen years into my career, this was a typical day.

At least, until the day I had my first major health scare…

I stacked 80–100 hour work weeks regularly. No one made me. There was no formal “work hours” policy. Success was about results. But in the breakneck pace of a hyper growth company, there is never a shortage of problems or projects to get lost in.

That kind of environment is addicting, dangerous even. There’s an almost pornographic appeal to putting in long hours. Even when you tell yourself you’re having fun – which I was – eventually your faculties erode. The warning voice of conscience “you’re overdoing it” fades the longer you allow workaholism to prevail.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And probably it shouldn’t be. But it’s a picture of what life had become for me.

I ate like sh*t. Burgers. Pizza. Tacos. Fast food.

I rarely exercised anymore. Unless switching from standing to sitting or pacing on calls counts.

Not to mention the excessive intake – coffee to kickstart the day and alcohol to shut the mind off most nights.

Health took a back seat to work – both mental and physical health.

Then one day it went too far.

Not unlike any day, I rose early and slammed several coffees before anyone else made it to the office. But I remember it was a particularly stressful day.

That’s what set it into motion, I told myself: the stress.

It started as a small ache in my side. It slowly intensified through the morning. By 11 am, I was doubled over in pin, clutching my left side.

By 11:30, my entire chest felt tight and I was gasping to breath. Fearing the worst, I called for help.

I spent the rest of the day in the emergency room, doctors running tests. Fortunately, they determined it was not a heart issue. But it was clear my lifestyle had created the conditions for this scare.

Not even 30 years of age, my extremist workaholic lifestyle finally reared it’s ugly head…

When a doctor warns you that your work lifestyle is putting your life at risk, it’s sort of a wake up call that’s hard to ignore.

I felt the only real choice I had was to reevaluate everything.

Starting with my diet, exercise, and sleep routines – like cutting back from 12+ cups of coffee per day to 1–2 max, and prioritizing healthy eating. Then prioritizing regular exercise and 8 hours of sleep. These all made big impacts quick.

But they weren’t sustainable alone. I had to set boundaries and get mentally fit, too.

It was not easy.

I began weekly counseling and engaged with my boss. This was no way to live. I needed help and accountability.

Over the subsequent year, I experimented. I tried a number of different schedules and routines. I iterated often.

I fought a guilt trap – where working less made me feel paranoid, or like I was underperforming. It took consciously combatting this to overcome it.

The withdrawal from working aggressive hours also sent me into a minor state of depression. Because I had centered my life around my work, it was extremely difficult to begin finding meaning in other areas of my life again. But I made myself explore things outside of work. Eventually, this worked, too.

The countless experiments ultimately resulted in my removing a bunch of bad habits and replacing them with intentional decisions.

In time, I discovered how much power I had in deliberately designing my life – where I could find fulfillment in and out of work and everything else.

I don’t regret a single hour I put into the work I did – that ultimately pushed me to burnout. I truly loved my work. Instead, I just wish I’d have realized how important it is to have more than just work going.

The surest way to burnout is by not allowing room for any other meaningful activities in your life.

It happened to me. May you be wiser.

*This was originally published on Quora in response to the question What is your advice for avoiding burnout in a high stress career?

 

About Mitchell


Mitchell is a cowboy turned startup professional and Director of Marketing @ Crash. He’s a former champion meat grader. Author of Don’t Do Stuff You Hate. Narrator of Why Haven’t You Read This Book? And previously Chief of Staff at Ceterus – where he helped scale a team from 20 to 150 while quadrupling revenue.

He’s radical about creating a better future and helping others do the same. Unsolvable problems and conspiracies are his favorite conversation genres. The keys to his heart – fine Bordeaux and Hemingway novels.

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