Student Loan Debt, Changes & Simple Rules for Balance as a twenty-something


A little over a week ago, I paid the final balance on my student loan. It’s a goal I’ve really only talked about in passing (except for those closer to me) and something I’ve been working on pretty hard for the past 14 months or so, and now…it’s gone.

I’m extremely proud of myself for this accomplishment, yet again find myself at a crossroads. Deciding to pay off my debt led to many other changes – like intentionally choosing to slow down my life and make more time for things I enjoy, the ability to save more money for things I actually want to do (like travel and get home for the holidays) and even led to me getting rid of most of my clothing and cleaning out a bunch of old junk I’ve accumulated over the past few years. Getting rid of debt was just the catalyst for getting rid of all the other junk taking up space in my life.

Yet paying off this debt also led to a lot of other feelings surfacing. Mainly about the direction of my life, and figuring out my passions – which means embracing my more creative side instead of trying to suppress it. The burden of debt has been lifted, but the pressure to figure out what’s next is slowly creeping in.

This has been a constant struggle for me in my twenties: over-thinking just about everything and trying too hard to grow up too fast.

For some reason, I assume everyone is on the fast track to success, that nobody else had to go through these hardships and periods of uncertainty and that maybe I’m just not passionate about anything. But deep down, I know that’s a load of BS. I know what I’m passionate about: creating things, helping others and pushing outside of my comfort zone. I just have to work on summoning up the courage to own those things, and remember that taking TIME to get there doesn’t mean I won’t succeed.

As I sat around with John and 2 close friends last night talking about life, laughing and drinking until 1am, all that over thinking took a back seat for a while. I remembered I’m still young – 26 – and need to allow myself the gift of enjoying that every once in a while. Sans worry and doom and gloom about what I’m doing with my life.

So much of my twenties have felt like this power struggle: should I be wild, crazy and not have a care in the world about what could happen tomorrow, or should I be constantly planning for my future making waves in my career and living more intentionally with the time I have? It’s easy to get caught up in a more adult line of thinking – especially when you’re going through a period of change like I am right now – but it’s equally as important to shut your mind up and be young every once in awhile.

From my experience, the key is always balance. Balance between being that wild crazy twenty something and her smart, forward thinking counterpart as often as possible.

So, for all of the times I inevitably get lost along the way and need a map to get back to balance city, here’s one way (or twelve) I plan on finding it:

1. Remember to be young. You are still young – have fun, stay out until 2am, talk about crazy things with your friends and have 1 too many cocktails and laugh a lot. Loosen up.
2. Be okay with change. Change is good.
3. Own your money and tell it where to go. It doesn’t have to be extreme, but save a chunk, set some financial goals that excite you, and enjoy the rest.
4. Do something that you love. Stop worrying so much about whether that thing is or can be your career. Just do it and have fun and make time for it in your life on a consistent basis.
5. Embrace the uncertainty instead of fighting back.
6. Try new things as often as you can. Especially things that scare you (working on it…)
7. Own who you are, and strive to be her everyday.
8. Binge watch Netflix. I am so over people saying this is a waste of time.
9. Take five minutes to write down how you spend your time, and then ask yourself if you really want to devote so much time to each thing or not. Then refer to #2 and act accordingly.
10. I think having the extra cocktail is worth mentioning again.
11. Go on vacation and spend money on whatever you want to spend it on. I could have paid off my debt 1 month sooner by not going to Belize, but that vacation holds some of the best memories of my life. I am so glad I did this while I was young, and took the chance when it presented itself.
12. Let go. I constantly have to remind myself that I am 26 and still have a good 3/4 of my life to go. I do not know it all, I do not need to know it all, and I do not have to have everything in the world figured out.

Cheers to balance. (Going to go grab that cocktail I mentioned.)

On embracing uncertainty


Raise your hand if you’ve ever been overwhelmed by feelings of uncertainty (mainly related to the future), questioned what you want to do with your life and then thrown yourself into an anxious frenzy which may or may not to lead to mass consumptions of wine, frequent heart-to-hearts with your mom and the sudden desire for an exotic vacation in which you can just go LIVE YOUR LIFE (read: spend your days on a beach, drink, have no worries, lay in the sun, get a tan, did I already mention cocktails?)

Welcome to your 20s.

I’ve been overwhelmed, I still question what I want to do with my life (kind of everyday), and am getting better about the whole anxiety thing. No comment on the wine, mom talks, or vacations…

For lack of a better analogy, life this past year has been a roller coaster. My boyfriend recently changed his career and that has provided its challenges for him, for me and for us. Having him make that big change in his life caused me to turn inward and look at my own career. In a big way, I’ve closed out the creative side of myself in hopes that my fear of following that passion and avoiding it all together would make it go away. (It didn’t.) I also asked myself (and my mom) a lot of questions – what do I really like doing? What makes me happy? Can I apply that to my job? Instead of being constructive about this process though, I was really hard on myself.

It has only been recently (are you surprised this revelation occurred during a heart-to-heart with my mom?) that I’ve decided being this hard on myself is nothing but a great recipe for making me feel absolutely terrible, and that maybe embracing the uncertainty of it all is the way to go.

This feeling was only reinforced with these powerfully simple yet so true words that magically appeared in my inbox at just the right time:

“If you’re in your 20s or even 30s, you might feel a lot of uncertainty all the time — you aren’t sure what your life purpose is, or your uncertain about what path you should take in life.

This is normal.”

I’m sure you’re intrigued, so go read the fantastic article on zen habits that prompted this whole blog post today.

Obsessing over whether or not you are doing the right thing or following the right road does nothing except keep you exactly where you’re at – which is stuck, anxious and worried. What’s even more important to know is that regardless of what your peers are posting on social media or telling you about at parties, inside we all feel this lost, hopeless, what the hell am I doing with my life feeling from time to time. As Leo Babauta states, it’s normal, and of course we don’t want to all show that side – it makes us look vulnerable and like we don’t have our ducks in a row. But we all feel it, especially in our 20s. It’s easy to forget we’re all winging it out here and that none of us have it all figured out.

The zen habits article provides a few solutions to coping with the uncertainty. And so I’d like to add my own advice to the mix – EMBRACE the uncertainty. Take it from someone who already wasted her time wallowing in it, constantly second guessing herself and wondering if she was wasting her time or doing the right thing or pursuing the correct passions. That path did nothing but give her anxiety.

Halfway through my 26th year, (which has felt like one big bundle of uncertainty) I’ve learned embracing this unclear point in my life is the most important thing I can do for myself right now. I will never get unstuck if I keep approaching my life questions in the same old ways (like avoidance). I’ve also learned that feeling like I’m in a place of not knowing does not automatically mean I’ve failed myself in any way – by embracing the unknown I’m just putting a little more trust in the process and opening myself up to potential to learn on the go.

Embracing the uncertainty, doing something outside of your comfort zone, and trusting the process may seem small at the time, but they are often the catalyst to welcoming more positive change into your life. Embrace on!

FYI – You can have your financial cake and eat it, too


A few days ago, a response to this article on Elite Daily was posted on one of my favorite blogs, The Financial Diet. After reading both pieces, I have to admit I was a little fired up too.

If you don’t feel like reading either (I do recommend you read them as they are both thought provoking) I’ll sum it up for you here. The Elite Daily article presents the idea that saving money in your 20s is stupid, you should spend and enjoy all your money and focus on landing yourself a $60k pay raise instead. It goes on to say that by focusing on saving, you apparently are accepting defeat and robbing yourself of potential.

The Financial Diet article firmly stands against this advice, stating that it is idiotic to follow, and more importantly that it is horrible advice to seek in light of the issues we are facing in our 20s – the fact that many of us have just thrown in the towel when it comes to finances (due to high levels of student loan debt and a crap economy) and made false assumptions that it’s okay to live it up now and just figure it out later.

What aggravates me the most about the Elite Daily article is that it presents life and finances in such a black and white manner. You can be wild and crazy and spend all your money having a supposed “fantastic” life, or you can be a non-career driven loser who saves all their money and never has fun. What? It’s unfair to take such a complex subject (finance) and present it in such an extreme manner.

If there’s one thing I have learned by starting to clean up my financial act, it’s that successful money management is all about BALANCE. It’s not about having one or the other, it’s about having both. Enjoying your life in the moment, while glancing towards the future every once in awhile to let your future self know you’ve got her back.

Listen – I am all for living it up in your 20s. I did it and it was a fun and wild time of my life, but in the past few years I’ve wisened up to the fact that there are things I want in life in addition to new clothes and nights out. There are certainly places in my life for those things, but my bigger goals are becoming equally, if not more, important as I get older. Among these: the freedom to pursue work that truly makes my heart sing, without having to worry primarily about money as a deciding factor, marriage, eventual retirement, more travel. All require – you guessed it – MONEY and in order to have money you have to both make it and save it to meet your goals.

Before I continue, I do have to say that there are a few points the article makes that I agree with. Making more money for more example. I admit to being afraid to ask for more, even when I know I’m worth it, or uncertain about setting up more income streams for myself even though deep down I know I could succeed. I’ve given away things for free without second thought. I’ve never negotiated pay. I’ve definitely undercut myself more than once.

I’m also fully on board with taking some risks while you’re young. At 23, I quit my job and moved 1,000 miles to live with my long distance boyfriend after 1 year together. I didn’t have a job lined up and had very very little money. But it worked, and 4 years later I’m still here and happier than even with my decision. I’ve also switched up my career multiple times and never looked back.

Your 20s are certainly a great time to make big changes and try new things. I wholeheartedly agree with not holding yourself back when it comes to making decisions that can potentially improve your life drastically. However, making more money and taking risks as your sole strategy fails to account for the numerous times in life in which it is necessary and wise to cut back, proceed with caution and save a bit. As with everything in life, balance is required in order to be successful.

In a way, I think our 20s are a lot like the earliest years of our lives. We’re born, and we get to have fun and generally worry about nothing while someone else takes care of us. But as we get older, we learn and grow, and eventually it’s time for us to stand on our own two feet. We learn to walk, we fall down, we get up again and try until we’ve got it right. And, eventually, we have to make a choice after high school pertaining to our general life direction. The choice we make after high school doesn’t necessarily have to be the only path we follow, but we care enough about our futures and understand that it’s important to at least give ourselves some sort of rough plan to follow.

Your 20s are a lot like this, just more grown up (read: confusing, frustrating, exciting) and completed in a shorter timespan. If you’re anything like me, your early 20s were spent bar hopping, meeting new people, living paycheck to paycheck, worrying about rent and bills, spending money like its hot, having credit card debt but not really understanding the full implications, and generally not wasting any time thinking about anything past the next few months. But give it five years or so (at least that’s how it happened for me) and it’s time to figure out what you actually want to do with your life, get your financial shit together, and start thinking about your future. Nobody said you can’t have fun and stay out til 2am drinking, or blow your tax return on a tropical vacation you’ll remember forever. But you’re also foolish if you can’t be bothered to look out for your future self at least a little bit.

Your 20s are a time to have fun and enjoy youth, travel and explore, but they’re also a time to start taking care of yourself. Look out for the future you just a little bit – she’ll be grateful for it. You don’t have to choose between being the fun crazy twenty something carefree girl or the smart saver with no social life or career goals – instead, you can choose to be the girl in between who knows the importance of both sides and chooses to plant her feet firmly in the middle.

Which girl would you rather be?

Take it from a twenty-something: You’re allowed to take a time out


Regardless of my job or stress levels or personal workload, one thing I’ve always prioritized is my time away. As much as I enjoy working hard at things I love, I equally enjoy the restorative feeling of going to a new place, getting out of my comfort zone and forgetting about the things that worry me – even if only for a day or two. This thinking got me on a flight to Belize with 6 amazing women in my family, and it also got me to Siesta Key with my mom and boyfriend, John, for a few days over a holiday weekend.

Sitting on the beach at Siesta Key, sunset over the water and drink at hand, my worries were a world away. It reminded me of the importance of taking mini time-outs (for me, that means from work) to simply be.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m trying to hustle my way through my twenties simply because they feel uncertain and uncomfortable. I don’t like the feeling of not knowing where I’m going or if I’m doing the right thing. But taking the time away from all of that always reminds me that it is ok to just CHILL OUT and enjoy life for a minute.

Taking a time-out forces you to snap back into the here and now. It makes you realize that yes, while it is important to worry a little bit and push yourself, the world won’t stop turning if you want to press pause for a minute. Guess what? You’re allowed to say “I’ll be right back,” head to the nearest beach, grab a cocktail and forget the worry and comparison and oh-my-god-what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-my-life feelings.

In fact, my experience tells me that taking a time-out is often the first step to working out those feelings anyway. When you give yourself permission to relax and loosen the reins, the answers often appear on their own. You can probably think of a million excuses not to take that breather (there’s too much to do, work is too busy right now, I’ll think about this crap later) but sooner or later it always catches up with you.

As cliche as it sounds, you really are only this young once and it’s up to you to make the most of it and make a commitment to spending time with yourself, figuring out what you like and learning about what truly makes you happy. If you need to take a break and travel the world to find that, or simply spend a weekend at home thinking and writing, it’s up to you to make that time and grant yourself permission to take it.

At 26, I know how it feels to think about where my life is headed far more than where it’s been (or is) and concentrate maybe a bit too hard about hustling my way through life when it comes to my finances, job and relationships. But sometimes slowing down and taking a break from it all is the best way to enjoy this very short decade of our lives. If you feel you need a time-out from it all for a day, a month, a year or more – take it – you’re allowed.

If you take one thing away from this – remember that nobody is keeping score. We are all in this together. Even if it seems like everyone’s life is perfect and running according to schedule, don’t forget we’re all also master editors of our own lives when it comes to what we show everyone else. Getting through your twenties is not a race and if you treat it like one, you’ll always feel behind no matter what level of happiness and greatness you achieve. So slow down, chill the heck out, and enjoy it.

When the Plan Doesn’t Go According to Plan


The first thing I do when confronted with a situation in which I have little to no control over is, of course, to attempt control. It’s my natural instinct to provide security for myself and others, research things and places before I do them or visit, learn about new things as much as possible before even thinking of attempting to do them, etc. In the end, this all boils down to simply desiring safety and comfort in my own life. If I know what I can reasonably expect in a certain scenario, it’s easier for me to jump in headfirst.

Being someone who thoroughly enjoys research and planning, I naturally became the designated trip planner for the Belize vacation myself and 6 other women (most of them family) embarked on in late June. I even went so far as to get everyone on the same connecting flight to Belize despite the fact we were all coming from 4 different states. Yet when the day finally came to hop on our flight and begin our 10 day adventure, life popped in to say a quick hello (my, what good timing you have) and shake up my soda can of carefully laid plans.

With the brakes out of commission on our aircraft (kind of important) and no other flights to Belize for the day, the plan had swerved way off course and we found ourselves stranded in Miami. (It is not lost on me that there are far worse places in the world one could find herself stranded.)

I reacted by freaking out just a little bit. Several frantic emails to our hotel and shuttle driver in Belize later, I finally realized this was not the end of the world. I was with 6 amazing women, in a beautiful place I’d always wanted to visit but still hadn’t despite living just a few hours away, and I was still on vacation. My original plan had attempted to explode in my face (and all over my travel attire), but only in order to make way for a new plan that could be just as fun. Shaken up soda can explosion crisis averted.

At 26, I’ve learned that I can plan all I want, but planning isn’t a guarantee that anything I want to happen will, in fact, happen. In our twenties, we put so much pressure on ourselves to be almost superhuman. Once you graduate from college, there seems to be a constant race to have a successful career, be financially secure, find a great partner and settle down, and a myriad of other things that seem near impossible to achieve simultaneously, let alone plan for.

The more and more I reflect and work out how I feel about where I’m at in life, the more I understand that tireless planning is often a futile effort. Life is so much more fun and exciting when you aren’t afraid to change course and throw your old plans out the window. Leaving some room to actually live can result in opportunities and adventure you never could have planned for.

So, you can tirelessly plan and try to make everything come together only to be disappointed when your life inevitably takes a new direction, or you can take a deep breath, relax and shake things up a little bit. Changing direction may just blow up in your face, but it can also lead you somewhere new and exciting, and that’s totally worth the tiny soda stain.