Even though this is probably no surprise to anyone out there – I read a lot. From books to magazines to newspapers to websites to blogs to academic reports to you name it. I find myself reading a great deal of varied content on a weekly basis. Right now, for example, I’m reading a book about post-World War II educational curriculum development in America as well as the ninth book in the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I’m also halfway through a book about how approaches to best educating students has changed in the last 20+ years.
But aside from all of these books and reports I really like to read blogs written by everyday people who accomplish extraordinary feats. I have a small cadre of such blogs fed into my RSS feeder. Some of these blogs are written by people who have lost tremendous amounts of weight, others are written by people who have gone from a skinny physique or a chubby physique to winning bodybuilding competitions. Some of the blogs are written by guys who were introverted and wound up changing their lives to become social butterflies. Other blogs are written by people who have managed to travel around the world for an incredibly small amount of money before they were a certain age.
I don’t necessarily identify with any of these blogs or their writers because none of them really speak to my direct experience. In other words, at one point I lost 125 pounds so I already know how to accomplish that goal, I’ve never been an introverted person so I don’t need tips or pointers on how to get out there and meet people, and I’m not the biggest traveler so those lessons really don’t apply to my life. What I do enjoy about these blogs is reading the sense of accomplishment that these people achieve when they meet their goals. As someone who has met (and continues to meet) certain goals in my life, I understand how great that sense of accomplishment feels.
However, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in many of these blogs. All of these amateur writers are missing commentary that speaks to a growing number of individuals in our country. Let me be more direct: not one of these bloggers, these self-professed self-help gurus, these accomplished weight loss success stories, these people who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, etc. have accomplished their major goals and retired a tremendous amount of debt.
While these bloggers build their own ego and create their own hype because they lost [insert large number here] pounds or because they traveled to [insert large number here] countries, you can’t find someone who has managed accomplish a major goal while saddled with a tremendous non-mortgage debt burden. And it’s like this all over the blogosphere. For example, I read a lot of guy blogs (those blogs focused on items of interest to guys in my age group). These blogs range in variety and type from guys who spend a lot of their time working out and talking about the best techniques for working out to guys who claim to have a lot of social success to guys who manage to weave the fundamentals of their faith throughout their daily lives.
All of the writers that I read on guy blogs eventually wind up writing an entry about how their readers can become better at [insert whatever here]. Well, the impetus for writing this entry was a piece of “advice” that I’ve seen pop up over and over again on these guy blogs. And that same piece of advice pops up on all of the blogs that I read – not just guy blogs. That piece of advice is that if you want to be the absolute best at [insert whatever here], then you absolutely cannot have any debt.
That’s right. I’ve read bloggers saying that if you want to lose weight, you can’t have any debt because you need the freedom to be able to spend as much time as possible working out instead of being stuck working one, two, or more jobs. I’ve read bloggers saying that if you want to increase the size of your social circle, you can’t have any debt because if you don’t have excess funds to do new and exciting things, how can you expand the number and type of people that you’ll interact with? I’ve even read bloggers who say that if you want to meet the type of girl that you think you’re most compatible with, then you can’t have debt because that debt weighs on you mentally and restricts your ability to see yourself with a successful girlfriend, fiancée, or wife.
But here’s the question that prompted me to write this entry…
Who doesn’t have some type of debt? I don’t mean that as a matter-of-fact type of question with the expectation that your response would be, “I guess everyone has some type of debt.” That’s not what I’m going for here. Think of the real answer to that question – who doesn’t have some type of debt? Well, you have independently wealthy people or those who come from tremendous wealth and don’t need to pay their own way through life. Okay. You also have those people who have worked their butts off and earned enough money such that they don’t have to carry any debt. Okay. And you know what? You might even find that people who are the exact opposite of these wealthy people also don’t have any debt. That is to say that those people who never took on college debt yet still didn’t graduate with a degree or those people who just graduated from high school (or not) and wound up living in their parents’ basement; the habitual underachievers out there.
Is there any other type of person who doesn’t have some type of debt? I really can’t think of any, but I would suggest that there should be a fourth category – those people who choose to write a blog focusing in depth about their success at achieving a goal other than retiring debt! After spending a few years reading some of these blogs I’ve come to the conclusion that people out there who accomplish what they believe are great things are not saddled with a tremendous amount of non-mortgage debt. They don’t have a significant amount of consumer debt and they don’t have a significant amount of student loan debt. They have that freedom that I referenced above – the freedom to not be tied down to one, two, or more jobs. And with that freedom comes the ability and flexibility to spend more of their time losing weight or working out or hanging out at local clubs or spending their time learning new hobbies or traveling around the world, etc.
They don’t know what it’s like to work an 8am to 6pm job with an hour commute wrapped on either side of that workday plus spending an hour each morning before you leave for the office working on freelance projects and several hours at night when you get home at night working a second or third job. And I specifically wrote that last sentence to begin with “they don’t know what it’s like” because that’s the problem that I’ve been having with a lot of the blogs that I read: the writers just don’t understand how self-righteous and, frankly, alienating they sound when they write their entries.
And here’s the prime example that I know so many of you out there have probably seen before… How many of you have ever read a weight loss blog or a weight training blog that condemns those who say they don’t have the free time to work out? Usually, the writer says that this is just an excuse and that you can make time to lose weight or work out if you really want to…
If you really want to? Really?
Are you fucking kidding me?
The only person who would write such an ignorant comment is someone who don’t wake up at 5am (exhausted) and then fall into bed at midnight after working the entire day to earn money in an effort to retire debt. Who would tell someone who keeps this schedule 5, 6, or 7 days each week that they are lazy or that they are the cause of their own lament because they don’t make time for working out? I know who would tell someone that – a blogger who has never had to try to tackle both [insert a personal goal here] and retire a significant amount of debt at the same time.
The reason why I wrote this entry is because I know I have a lot of random readers on this blog and I can track where some of you come from out there on the internet. Some of you are coming from some of these self-help, conquer the world type of blogs and that’s great. Believe me, I want to conquer the world and improve my health, wealth, and well-being just as much as those other writers. However, I live my life in the real reality – a reality much closer to where you probably exist, too. I understand that it’s hard to train to climb Mount Everest when you have a six-figure student loan debt crushing you and dictating nearly every move you make. I understand that it’s really hard and really difficult to lose weight when you’re working 16 – 18 hour days (or longer). I understand that it’s difficult to put the proper amount of time and effort into increasing your social circle or even finding someone worthwhile to date when you’re so focused and, unfortunately, controlled by crushing levels of consumer or student debt. I understand where you’re coming from – I get it.
And I don’t think that you’re lazy. I don’t think that you’re anti-social. I don’t think that you’re making excuses. Not at all.
What I do think is that you’re stuck in the same rut that the majority of population is stuck in – you’re forced to do things to retire debt (or generally improve your financial position) that prevent you from fully engaging in the other activities that you want to engage in. You’re not going to find this understanding on those self-help blogs or the guys’ blogs or in many other places out there because the truth is that those writers simply don’t understand. In about 6 years I’ve paid off nearly $100,000 in student loan debt and I have another $21,000+ left to repay. I repaid that amount while losing a tremendous amount of weight, gaining most of it back, losing much of it again, and gaining some of it back again. Professionally, I work around the clock; not just a 9-to-5 type of job. Believe me, I understand the burden of debt and how it really does dictate what you can and cannot do with your life.
And, like many of you, I’ve sat there and listened to people in my personal and professional life ask me why I don’t [insert whatever here] while I’m young? These people also have no idea what it’s like to be suffocating under crushing consumer or student loan debt. Folks constantly ask me why I don’t go away on vacation (my last real vacation was back in 6th grade). Well, I don’t go away on vacation because I can’t imagine spending a thousand or two bucks on vacating reality while I still owe money on my student loan. That would be financially foolish. People ask me why I don’t go out and find a “nice” girl to date (usually, their definition of “nice” is different than mine, but that’s another entry). They don’t understand that when you work around the clock, you don’t have much time for socialization outside of your standard circle. And, to mix a little bit of a guys’ blog mindset here, they don’t understand that the girls you meet while you are burdened with immense debt, while you are out of shape, or while you are working around the clock are typically not the girls that you want to marry! I assume it’s the same for the ladies out there looking for a man.
To sum it up, I just warn you all to read these self-help, self-improvement blogs for purposes other than examples to follow. Chances are very strong that the writer you’re reading doesn’t have the same life experiences as you do. And chances are even stronger that they never had to tackle an immense amount of undischargeable consumer or student debt before, during, or after they accomplished whatever it is that made them an amateur expert.
Be rational, believe in yourself, and tackle your debt first. Once you remove that crushing yoke, then focus on your health (losing weight, gaining muscle, etc.), and after that you can focus on your social life. There’s no way around doing what makes sense and this is the path that I really believe makes the most sense for the most people out there.
Now… back to the grind!