How Debt Defined My Career Goals

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Have you ever seen those articles online telling you the five (or 10) simple things every 20-something needs to do now to be a millionaire by the time they’re 30?

Those articles kill me.

Like most Americans, I spent my 20s wracking up debt and didn’t make enough to even think about my 401k until my mid- to late-20s.

A savings account? That was something I had when I was 13 to put my babysitting money into. I hadn’t had a savings account in 10 years! (I know a few of you financially smart people are appalled. My apologies.)

Somewhere in my late 20s, as I was changing jobs for the third or fourth time, I realized my career choices were no longer driven primarily by my talent or desire, but by my debt. I had busted my butt to get to a certain pay grade, but I had worked myself into a corner thanks to my credit cards. And there was no easy way of coming out of that corner either (my parents still laugh at the number of times I asked for an advance on my inheritance).

Tell me if this cycle rings a bell:

You are low on cash and need gas and groceries. You use your credit card. Payday comes around. You pay off the credit card (or at least make the minimum payment). Then, a week later, you’re low on cash and need gas and groceries. You use your credit card….

You get to a point where you just need a minute. A minute to sit down and think about life, career, money. But who has a minute when you have bills to pay, deadlines to meet, friends and family to visit and entertain. A life to live.

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, I’m sorry to say I don’t have a quick and easy answer. My suggestions? If you’re in your 20s, get rid of your credit cards now. If you’re in your 30s, consolidate your debt. Talk to a financial advisor. Suck it up and cut back on the fluff (yes, this means cable TV and Starbucks).

Three years ago I made a wise investment in some property, and recently, that investment paid off. I finally have the opportunity to THINK for a second. To choose my next career step wisely. To take a breath and share my shortcomings (and victories) with you.

My debt no longer defines me, and if you’re in a similar situation, I hope one day it won’t define you either.


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