Just about everybody I know is still paying off student loan debt.
I have one friend who’s paid it off, and a few that are getting pretty close. But in general, the majority of the people I love and care about took out debt to get their education, resigned themselves to the fact that they’d be paying it off for a long time…indefinitely…forever…and went off into their careers.
Most of us were in our twenties when we took the debt out. And now, decades later, many highly intelligent, skilled, rational and hard-working individuals are still swimming in it.
Why do we all stay stuck?
1. We’re resigned to the idea that “it is what it is”.
One of my best friend’s favorite sayings is “It is what it is,” and it sometimes drives me bonkers. I’ve always felt that this sentiment seems so hopeless and defeatist…sure, it is what it is…but does it have to be? (To be fair to my friend, he uses the phrase in ways that are usually very true – nonetheless, it’s still not my favorite).
Student loan debt falls under the category of “is what it is” because it’s so widespread – nearly ALL of us have it, and the programs that we’re placed on to pay it back keep us on it for a VERY LONG TIME. It’s perfectly normal for people to go their whole lives carrying around student loan debt, so it becomes accepted that maybe it’s not such a scary thing. It’s just normal. Annoying, yes, and sometimes frustrating – but commonplace.
In my opinion, this standard sucks and is bad for us.
What if we looked at student debt through a different lens – like that we’ve got a tiny emergency going on here that we need to attend to? Could we figure out how to prioritize differently to get this handled much more quickly so we could be set free? (The answer is yes, absolutely – we just need some know-how).
2. We feel badly when we think about making more money in the context of the helping professions.
One of the things that gave me pause when I was figuring out how to increase my income in order to get out of debt (which was absolutely necessary, since I was looking at a 47k income and a 121k debt-hole) was tackling that I saw as the moral problem of earning good money while being a helping professional. I had Issues around money that made me equate increasing my earning power with being selfish, with taking resources away from other people, and with no longer being aligned with the helping community, which often prizes self-sacrifice. It just didn’t feel good to think about making money.
It was only when I accepted the truth that I would no longer be able to be of good service to anyone if I continued on with my finances as they were (you can hear the whole story in my first Help for the Helpers podcast episode, Yeah I Get You) that I concluded that I’d have to earn more money to take good care of other people…and to take care of me, too.
Once I accepted that, and began actively pursuing earning as a priority (amongst other priorities), the money came in like I desperately needed it to. I doubled my income the first year that I left agency work and joined a group practice.
3. We don’t have any models for how to get out.
I think that this is the trickiest problem we as helpers have to tackle. We may want to get out of student debt, but most of us have no idea how to go about doing it. When I was coming up with my own action plan, I read every finance-related book and blog I could find out there. Thank goodness for Sure Orman, Dave Ramsey, and Mr. Money Mustache, because they gave me enough information to move forward at least somewhat confidently in paying off my debt.
As indebted as I am to those financial gurus (and I really am), I didn’t find any one of them that spoke to me directly as a helping professional. No one seemed to outline my exact situation and understand the helping culture that I was a part of. PSLF was a blip on the radar. My personal values did not often align with theirs.
This is why, years later, I’ve created Help Yourself.
In the Help Yourself Group Intensive, it’s my mission to walk other helping professionals through the steps that I took to get off PSLF, get myself out of debt (a total of 151k in 4 years and 1 month), and get moving on building the private practice (and now coaching program!) that I wanted for myself, but that I assumed was out of reach. I’ve been thrilled to discover that I can have a career and lifestyle I love much sooner than I’d anticipated, and I fully believe that this possible for every other helping professional out there currently struggling with student loan debt.
If this is you, and you want to learn more about the Help Yourself Intensive and working with me, check out the information here. I also strongly encourage you to listen to the Help for the Helpers podcast (out TOMORROW!!), where I talk with other helping professionals about the courageous and radical ways in which they prioritize themselves while working in service to others.
As always, feel free to be in touch with me! I answer every email I receive. I look forward to hearing from you!