Unlike most people out there, I’m generally a very happy guy with no regrets in life. There are things I would have done differently here or there along the way, but I don’t regret any of the big (or small) decisions that I’ve made – and I think that’s something unique in today’s society which is plagued with moral relativism. When it comes to decisions, moral relativism tells people, “Go ahead – take a chance and do something crazy! You only live once, right?!” That mentality has some merit for inconsequential decisions like considering whether or not you want to try a new food, go on an adventurous trip/vacation, or take your hand at making a new friend or business connection. But all too often our society encourages people to apply that “you only live once” mentality to decisions that shouldn’t be defined by the moment, but rather by something deeper. This “something deeper” might be the wisdom of your family, the beliefs of your faith, or certain philosophical teachings that you deeply believe in and profess regularly.
Don’t think that you need to be an academic or an ultra emotive person to discover these particular guides in your life. You can find this guiding wisdom all over the place – if you look. You can find deep philosophical guidance in the words that a coach speaks to a player, in the intangible lessons on character that a teacher gives to a student, or even in the advice your doctor gives you about general health.
Guidance that is typically not warped by moral relativism is widely available – if you just look for it.
For me, I’m guided by lessons from my family and my faith and, in many ways, by my educational experiences. Being guided by those lessons allows me to make decisions in my life that I’m very comfortable with and that ultimately lead me to a life of no regrets – without the stupid “you only live once” attitude that the moral relativists encourage.
Yet, sometimes I consider whether I might have made different decisions in life and thus the creation of this blog entry. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then these considerations certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise to you since they focus on my student loans, my health, my entrepreneurial exploits, and my education. You might consider the writing below the “lessons learned” from my experiences on these issues. I’m not sure if you’ll find this interesting, but here we go. Below are some of my personal thoughts about what I might have done differently if I had a magic time machine… or something!
Paying Back My Student Loans
My biggest financial accomplishment in the last 3 and a half years was repaying some $104 thousand of my $121 thousand in student loan debt. Today, I have enough money to repay the remaining $17 thousand, but since I’ll very likely be buying a home in the next few months I’ve opted not to give those funds to the government just yet. And that would be the first lesson learned in my ultra aggressive student loan repayment from the last 3 and a half years. Namely, I could have relaxed just a little bit with the repayment of my United States Department of Education Direct Loan to afford me a larger down payment for the home I’ll be purchasing. Along with maybe not being so aggressive in repaying my loans in the last year, if I could jump in a time machine I’d tell the 18, 19, 20, and 21 year old versions of myself to start repaying the loans while I was still in school. I was making decent money while I was in college. It would not have been a problem to make $300 – $500 payments each month while I was in school. That would have lowered the debt boom that I felt after I graduated from graduate school in 2006. Second lesson learned – begin repaying your student loans while you’re still a student, if you can… and you probably can.
Taking Out Student Loan Debt
This one goes hand-in-hand with the lesson learned above and is probably pretty obvious, but if I could jump into that time machine and go back to 1999 – 2003, I’d tell my younger self to not take out as much in student loan debt. Specifically, I would have dramatically reduced the amount of nonacademic student loan debt that I took out while I was both an undergraduate and graduate student. The job that I held the longest while I was a student was working for the landlord of the apartments that I lived in. When he initially offered me the job, he wanted to work a deal where I got paid a little bit less each week, but my rent would be free. I didn’t like the idea of losing money in my hand today but still working for it, so I took out additional student loan debt to make bulk rent payments twice each year. On average, I was paying about $600 per month in rent (it was a little bit less when I first started working there and a little bit more when I left). If you do the math, that’s $600 in rent each month multiplied by 12 months in the year equals $7,200 in rent each year… multiplied by the 3 or 4 years that I worked for the landlord equals… a lot of money that I didn’t have to take out in student loans. The lessons learned here is to take advantage of legitimate cost saving deals if they’re offered to you and try not to take out too much in living costs when you take out student loans.
Slowly Building Usable Web Solutions, LLC Instead of Attacking the Market
Switching of student loans and on to one of my entrepreneurial efforts – when I started Usable Web Solutions, LLC over 7 years ago, I took an aggressive approach to the local web development market in the northern shore area of Monmouth County. That aggressive approach paid off in the short-run with UWS generating nearly 50 clients in its first 2 years of operation. Let’s be honest – to generate nearly 50 clients in a company that I was really running part-time on the side without much effort is pretty damn impressive. One of my mistakes in building up those clients, though, was focusing on undercutting the existing web development and maintenance market. If a competitor was charging $3,000 to design a website, I’d charge $1,500. If they were charging $50 per month for maintenance and hosting, then I’d charge $30. Undercutting the market brought me clients, but it didn’t bring the tremendous amount of revenue that you would think comes along with that number of clients signing up in a short period of time. Also, I gave my nonprofit clients a discount, but I never actually marked that discount down in my official paperwork. That cost me quite a bit of money that I could have saved come tax season each year. The lessons learned here are to very carefully select the methods by which you attack a local market when starting a company and to be selective in the clients that you choose to work with in a start-up. Another lesson I learned was to do a little bit more research into the tax implications of discounts before offering them to your clients!
You Should Be Calling Me “Doctor” Right Now
The student loan and website stuff above and the other items you’ll read below are annoying. But the thing that really bites my ass is that I didn’t stay in school after I graduated from graduate school in 2006. Without question, I should have stayed in school and gotten my doctorate. Just to show you how close I was to getting one, the graduate program that I was in required 45 credits for a masters degree and 72 credits for a doctorate. You probably did the simple math and saw that I might have been 27 credits away from a doctorate – not correct. I graduated from the masters degree program with 54 credits, putting me 18 credits away from a doctorate. EIGHTEEN CREDITS. Want to know what’s worse? Since I graduated with masters degree, I’ve successfully completed a 15 credit graduate certificate program and I’m just about 6 credits into a post-masters certificate program. That’s 21 more credits on my academic resume… with no doctorate at the end because they were at a different academic institution than where I received the masters degree! You might think that the lesson learned here is to go back to my original graduate institution and finish the job and you’d be correct in a way. I’m not entirely sure that a doctorate in the same discipline that my masters degree is in is what I want to accomplish academically. Silly, right? The lesson learned here is that if you’re incredibly close to achieving an incredible goal, then focus your energy on achieving it!
And Then There Was The Weight Loss… And Gain
Ahhh… one of the reasons that I started writing this blog way back when was because I wanted to chronicle – in some form or another – the weight loss journey I was going on back in the early 2000s. After I graduated from college in May 2003, I was a big guy; probably logging in around 385 pounds. I don’t know exactly how my weight got to that point, but it did and I have horrible pictures to prove it. Then during the spring of 2004, my Father had some health trouble including a heart attack and stroke (neither of which impaired him at the time, thankfully) and a good friend of mine got married. In the wedding pictures, my big body takes up huge portions of each picture that I’m in. It was embarrassing. At the time, I knew that my Father’s health was deteriorating and that I wasn’t doing myself any favors socially by being that big of a guy so I resolved that my Father would see a healthier me before he died – and if there was a little bit more fun in my social life because of it, then that wasn’t a bad side effect. And then I ate less, worked out more, and lost a bunch of weight. To be exact, I lost 125 pounds in a year and reached 260 pounds – a weight that I hadn’t achieved since I was a wrestler in high school (and when I weighed that much while wrestling heavyweight in high school, I was pretty damn dominant). But the honeymoon didn’t last and I remember the exact day that the pendulum started swinging back in the other direction.
I was standing in my kitchen trying to figure out what to have for dinner. And some random flashes went through my mind of when I weighed 385 pounds and I would make a whole box of pasta, eat it with almost an entire jar of sauce, and drench it in different cheeses. During that flash, my taste buds went bonkers in my mouth because when I was 385 pounds, I thought that tasted good. And then something horrible reawakened in me and I made a whole box of pasta for dinner that night (with the sauce and the cheese and so on). As you might imagine, it made me sick. And getting sick allowed me to avoid the gym for a few days… which allowed me to continue eating some of the foods that I hadn’t had in over a year (candy, for example). And eating that stuff also got me sick… which, of course, led to missing more gym sessions. And the cycle back to gaining weight had begun. At some point when I crossed back over to 300 pounds, I sort of got that mental block in my head again that I couldn’t be healthy because it took too much time and effort (starting graduate school while working full-time didn’t help). Then I graduated from graduate school, got a new full-time job, my Father’s health deteriorated and I spent more time traveling to see him at the hospital, I spent more time building the website company on the side, I spent more time volunteering, etc, etc. And I gained back over 100 pounds. A few summers ago, my roommates and I had a weight loss contest that I should have won with no questions. I started the contest at 363.6 pounds and ended it weighing 314.6 pounds. Losing nearly 50 pounds didn’t win me the contest and over the course of the following months I gained most of that weight back. The lesson learned here? Well, there’s probably too many to list out and I’m sure each person has their own takeaway from this brief story, but the lesson that I learned is to not give up your successes so easily. Fight, damn it. And when you can’t stop the bleeding (metaphorically speaking), seek help. I didn’t have to regain those 125 pounds nearly a decade ago. There were people who would have helped me turn the tide back around in my favor, but I didn’t reach out and I regained much of that weight.
Writing More Often and More Thoroughly
This one is interesting because every few months/several times each year I hop onto this blog and write something like, “I’ve got a bunch of half-written entries that I’m working on for you, so stay tuned!” Meanwhile, if you are staying tuned, then you’re tuning into nothing. I mean how many entries have I even posted so far in 2013? This one makes 5, right? Pitiful. And yet, I find writing to be a very cathartic experience. It clears my mind of the craziness and hectic nature of my day-to-day working life and entrepreneurial efforts. Plus, I enjoy writing. I enjoy putting my fingers to work on this laptop and having something very tangible that is, I hope, of some higher level quality at the end of those efforts. In other words, writing allows the creative aspect of my personality to come out and take form. Although, when I write these blog entries I am keenly aware of trying to keep them short and sweet (not this one, obviously). Sure, sometimes you’ll read something that goes on and on (like this entry), but I would really enjoy writing more of these longer, extended entries so I can tell fuller, more thorough stories about my life, experiences, and thoughts on different issues. The lesson learned here is to make time for those things that soothe your mind and put your body at ease. For me, writing these entries accomplishes that goal and I should find more time to write fuller entries.
And there you go, folks. Those are some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way and some of the things that I might have done differently. Thankfully, each of the setbacks or concerns that I’ve noted above were (and still are) easy to address in a head-on manner; or it is easy to overcome the unintended consequences of each of these items. There’s more to write about, of course, but if you read everything above, then you’ve just read the equivalent of an 8 page academic paper and sometimes you need to know when to call it quits and save some more for next time!