Dear College Kid: Pursue Learning Over Your Passion

Dear College Kid is a series I write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. It’s not finance advice by any means, but rather, personal anecdote. Still. I hope it changes lives.

Dear College Kid,

Sometimes, pursuing your passion is bad advice. Not because you shouldn’t pursue them, but because it may be too soon to start. When you’re young, you won’t a clear sense of your passions just yet. Perhaps you have a good idea, but there are nuances that you can only realize from experience. Instead, you should pursue learning.

For example, I entered a field of dentistry that I told people was my passion. Turns out, it wasn’t quite honed in enough to what gives me joy. You see, I love taking care of people, working with my hands and interacting with patients. But I don’t love the stresses of dentistry. I don’t love seeing people in pain. I don’t enjoy feeling helpless when I can’t do anything to fix a situation. It feels awful to give my patients a quote for a treatment they can’t afford. It pains my perfectionist self to do sub-ideal work, but sometimes I have to because of financial constraints or time constraints on the patient’s end. As a people-pleaser, it hurts to have patient’s introduce themselves and then tell me they hate the dentist’s office. They scurry out of the dental chair and as much as I understand it, it doesn’t feel great.

Now, I see that my passions of taking care of people, working with my hands, and socializing would have been better in the hospitality field. Professions like baking and coffee are more aligned with my soft self. Creative spaces such as wedding venues, or crafts such as pottery would have been better suited to me. The painful parts of dentistry is an emotional and mental toll and it makes my job stressful. I’ve learned to create a dental space where I reduce the negative parts, but I can’t get rid of it altogether. That’s why I only work half of the week as a dentist. Because I only like half the aspects of the profession.

Here is advice I wish I received when I was in my 20’s. Instead of pursuing your passions, pursue learning, personal discipline and growth. Focus on improving yourself. That’s what I did in my late 20’s and early 30’s. I decluttered everything in my life first because I realized outside influences could have shaped what I thought I wanted. I read many self-improvement books (or books in general). You can view my reading list on GoodReads here. I built stellar habits and really stuck to them. For example, I write, read, and exercise every day. I reflected each night through gratitude journaling. I wrote down how to improve the next day, looked back on my struggles, and asked ‘Why?’ A LOT.

On top of that, I sought out connections with people across the planet. I traveled to 10 countries and 10 states. I talked to different people through my blog. It was a gift to share my story and listen to others. I spread myself across different professions.

For example, I took ceramics classes, did yoga, boxing, swimming, pilates, and weight-lifting, volunteered to help at a bakery and eventually opened my own, started dog-sitting, volunteered at a national barista championship, started helping with wholesale and learned about sales and accounting, and of course, I studied blogs. I learned about email marketing, SEO, and how to write courses. In all of these endeavors, I talked to people. I also probe my patients’ brains. Not only do I ask what they do for a living, but also how they like it or don’t like it, and how it’s applicable to dentistry. I make an effort to make one connection between each person that I meet and myself.

Let me tell you that it’s okay to support someone else’s dream for a while. Know that while you are doing so, you are building yourself. The relationships and knowledge that you earn is valuable too. It isn’t all about you. (Actually, making life about others is good advice in general. I would jot that one down.)

And honestly, I have seen time and time again, young people pursuing their passions too soon and burning out. I see them failing at their endeavor and entirely giving up. I see them get lost, because their path isn’t super clear. They aren’t intentional enough, and then they blame the rest of the world for their failures. But it takes work and time.

I promise you, one day, you’ll wake up, and there will be a very strong whispering in your ear saying, “This is it. This is your passion.”

Have patience with yourself until then.

Dear College Kid: Stay Frugal As Long As Possible

Dear College Kid is a series I write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. It’s not finance advice by any means, but rather, personal anecdote. Still. I hope it changes lives.

I remember what it was like to live as a college student. Those who paid their way without a free ride to college would agree: the finance part of it was brutal. Rationing out food, opting to buy the cheapest groceries, and looking for ways to save on rent was part of my college experience. It’s like living paycheck-to-paycheck. You may not realize it now, but much of college is about learning to flex your frugal muscles. While that may sound horrific, I think there is a benefit to learning this skill. In fact, I would even go so far as to say, stay frugal as long as possible, even after graduation.

There are many ways in which my lifestyle today looks similar to my college days. Erase drinking cheap booze, the bad habits of staying up at night and eating cheap food and the books. But, the way I spend my days and money now are quite similar to how I did then. Although some people will think that’s sad, I don’t agree. Why? Because I’m in it for the long-haul. And like most long-term endeavors, it pays to bootstrap at the beginning. Spend less, pay back debts, invest more, and talent stack while building your empire.

Since you’ve had excellent practice living with less in college, why not take those soft skills and use them to build wealth? The biggest mistake college grads do is succumb to lifestyle creep. It’s a very real thing. I wrote before the real reason doctors can’t pay back their student debt: because they won’t.

Here are my top frugal life hacks:

By the way, the ULTIMATE LIST of things I have given up in the name of frugality can be found here.

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Dear College Kid: Experience Trumps Degrees

Dear College Kid is a series I write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. It’s not finance advice by any means, but rather, personal anecdote. Still. I hope it changes lives.

Dear College Kid,

Let me be the first to tell you that experience will always, always trump degrees. You can pay a lot of money to go to school (I paid over $575,000 for example!) or have formal training by lieu of classes, but at the end of the day, a newly graduated kid with a license will not add as much value to a company as the one who volunteered in the field and has solved its problems.

I liken it to applying for university. GPAs now mean diddly squat. The California UC system has written off the SATs. Whatever grades or awards you got in high school isn’t as important as what you’ve done. Extra curricular activities, previous projects, volunteer opportunities … in other words, how much of the world have you seen and contributed to? This is what’s important.

To be honest with you, we are entering a time period where the college degree becomes less relevant. I would love to live to see that one day. But even now, I see kids who have solved problems in a field or gained hands-on experience through shadowing or volunteering trump new grads. That is especially true in software, computer programming, digital marketing, finance and art. (Unfortunately, the healthcare field still requires official stamps on paper.)

Let me tell you that most jobs I did never required a degree. I didn’t get a degree on writing, coding, digital marketing or website production to create this blog. Everything was learned as I went along. I never got a culinary degree to open my own bakery. But my experience making bread surely helped. It required no paperwork to create a pet sitting business. Not once did I work at a vet’s office, groomer’s or pet store. I do not have an accounting degree, a finance major, or past sales experience. Yet I am a wholesale director for a bakery who runs the billing, the accounting, and manages wholesale clients.

For six years, I never even had my diploma. I did not realize I lost it, because no one ever asked for it. Even though I have started five new jobs since then. Just recently, my dental office asked if they could hang a copy of it up. I searched frantically to no avail. My mom finally found it jammed between some canvases of art in my parent’s garage.

That’s a metaphor for what my degree is: A work of art, that no one cares to look at.

Instead, be a muse. Have a story to tell, filled with experiences and lessons learned. THAT is worth something!

However, you may already be in college trying to earn that paper. That’s fine. But here are a few ways to talent stack:

5 Ways To Gain More Experience

  1. Learn a new skill.
  2. Volunteer in your field.
  3. Shadow a professional.
  4. Explore YouTube or blogs.
  5. Work on self-improvement.

All the best, ’til next week!

Dear College Kid: What Are Your Summer Plans?

Dear College Kid is a series I write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. It’s not finance advice by any means, but rather, personal anecdote. Still. I hope it changes lives.

Dear College Kid,

What are your summer plans? Do you have a trip somewhere far away? Will you be on the road, or by the beach? Or will you be looking for a job, having graduated this year? Whatever it is, I hope you find time in between your play to plan for the future and get ahead. Not to be a kill joy, but someone’s got to remind you that now is not the time to be lazy. You can enjoy your break, but balance it with making some moves. It’s equally fun!

I write about becoming 1% Better all the time. I write them for you. Here are a few self-improvement ideas that you can implement this summer. It doesn’t have to be all of them, but I promise you will feel more fulfilled and refreshed if you partner relaxation with productivity. They feed on each other very well.

Productive Ideas for your Summer Break

  1. Declutter your things (and then the rest of your life) in order to gain clarity on who you want to become.
  2. List 10 habits that would make YOU better each day. Then create a goal to do all ten every day. These are mine. Habits will make your life easier in the future.
  3. Learn how to optimize scheduling your day to be more productive.
  4. Identify the ONE thing you want to achieve this summer.
  5. Hone your skills or learn something new in Skillshare.
  6. Create your budgeting tool so you can learn to manage your spending at a young age.
  7. Learn how I Bonds can help pay for college.
  8. Clean your apartment, so you have more thinking space. Develop the habit of keeping it clean 24/7 (which may sound crazy!) so that you don’t have to clean as much in the future.
  9. Start preparing for financial success post grad.
  10. Get student loan advice. The earlier you start, the sooner you’ll be financially free to live your dream life. I highly recommend Travis Hornsby and his team at Student Loan Planner. Andrew Paulson, from White Coat Investor, is another option. 

As I said earlier, balance is key. Have some fun this summer too. Do not waste it away on social media, watching television, or perusing YouTube. Such things would only take up space and fill your head. Summer is time for a real reset. Check out these 50 analog activities that resist the attention economy to ensure you get the relaxation you need.

And don’t forget to check in every Monday for a new letter to my past college kid self.

Dear College Kid: Choose the Cheapest School

Dear College Kid is a series I write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. It’s not finance advice by any means, but rather, personal anecdote. Still. I hope it changes lives.

Dear College Kid,

Specifically the college undergrad hoping to enter grad school. (I am also addressing my past self.) I beg you, choose the grad school that costs the least amount of money. It doesn’t matter how well known they are, it doesn’t matter if your parents or friends went there, it doesn’t even matter if you like it. It matters most that it’s the cheapest.

At the end of your grad school career, you will walk away, diploma in hand regardless. You may also walk away with a large student debt. If you choose the cheapest school you can possibly go to, you will have an advantage over your peers. You will be starting your life at a better starting point.

I would love to teach all college students to choose grad schools based on price. If more kids opted for cheaper schools, perhaps elite schools wouldn’t charge so much. A decrease in their applications will certainly give them pause. What if no one applied to the most expensive schools in the country? Trust me, those private institutions will start to wonder why. Let’s not feed them our young.

Starting a career with less debt is equally as good as starting a marriage with less debt. You want the foundation of your life to be on solid ground. If you begin life in the red, then you will encounter more struggles than the people around you. There will be more restrictions with what you can do.

This isn’t to say you can’t live a flashy and glamorous life. You certainly can, but you are restricted to a loan forgiveness program. Or you have to work more hours. Or you may be tied to a job that you hate in order to pay the bills.

But if you start your life with less debt, you will have more freedom to choose how that debt is repaid. You can be ahead of the curve and have a higher savings rate. With more savings, you will reach your financial goals quicker. You can work less hours, leaving time to learn about investments instead. Or you can focus on building careers around your passions rather than your degree.

There are so many benefits to having less student debt. I really implore you to consider the following:

Choose the college that will cost you the least amount of money, because that may also be the path of least resistance to financial success for new grads.

At least, that’s what I would tell my past self. I hope she listens.

If you’d like to speak to a professional, I have a recommendation! Speak to Travis Hornsby and his team at Student Loan Planner. They are knowledgeable and give great advice.

Dear College Kid: Pursuing Medicine Will Not Get You to Financial Independence Faster

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Have you ever heard of the term FI? More importantly, do you know of the FIRE community? Standing for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, FIRE is a concept that aims for the option to be free from needing to spend forty years of your life working. Not to be confused with your life’s work, FI aims to free people of your job, if and when you choose to do so, in order to do your life’s work.

What I am here to tell you is this. If you’re dream is to pursue FI, then the medical profession is not the best, most practical route. I’m a dentist, who graduated from dental school at age 26 with more than half a million dollars in student debt. Now imagine being a doctor finishing residency at age 30, or an oral surgeon finishing at age 34. What you have as a college kid that I no longer do is time on your side. Time to get a head start, time to reach freedom more quickly and efficiently. Time to start opening doors.

At 21, I had no idea FIRE existed. It’s unfathomable for me to even think that I would have understood that work is not necessary in order to live a good life. A 21 year old graduating with zero (or very little) student loans, pursuing a desk job and saving  their income will have a 5-10 year head start on a 30 year old medical professional graduating with hundreds of thousands of student loans and saving none of their income because it is all tied up in debt. I will start at 36 years old at $0 in the bank if I spend all my income right out of school and funnel it to paying down my student loans (something I’ve talked about before). Meaning, the 21 year old with the desk job will have 15 years ahead of me in savings. On top of that, those savings have been racking up compound interest for 25 years. Assuming a moderate 6-7% return rate, those 15 years makes a whole heck of a lot of difference!

Off course, if you are pursuing the medical field, I am not dissuading you entirely, if it is what you WANT to do. The medical field is great! I love my job, but that’s because I did not go into it for the money. If you want to become a medical professional because it’s what you want to do for a long time, then by all means, you will be very happy! If you want to enter the medical field because you want to be RICH and that’s your goal in life, then you will be successful. BUT, if you are pursuing freedom or FIRE, and you think the medical field will get you there quicker because of the higher salary, you are incorrect. There are people in the FIRE communities who retire at 30 years old. If you go into the medical field, unless you have relatives that can pay for your entire tuition and you graduate debt free, well, you’ll still be at net-zero at 30 years old, but at least you have the means to get to FIRE by mid-to-late thirties perhaps. Most parents, however, cannot support med school, and if you graduate with a medical degree AND a ton of student debt, then you’ll be reaching FIRE later than your other FIRE friends. See what I mean?

This does NOT mean, pursue a desk job that you hate in order to reach FI. We reach for FIRE in order to be happy. There is no point putting yourself through misery in order to get to FI because you’ll be giving up happiness in order to do it. Some people say, “Well, I’ll just put in the work and hate my job but get to FIRE faster and THEN I will be happy.” But will you really, though? Reaching the end and never working a day in your life does not guarantee you will be happy. True FIRE pursuers recognize that it isn’t about the end goal, but the journey. It’s about gaining your freedom in the future, without giving up your freedom now. Otherwise, you’ve read FIRE all wrong.

Alternatively, FIRE is not entirely about Retiring Early. It’s about having the option to not work at a job, in order to pursue something else in life that will lead to more happiness. Ultimately, this all boils down to entering a profession for the right reasons. If you find a profession you love, you may not need to retire at all. I find myself happier than a lot of my colleagues, some of whom have only been out a few years and are already “sick of it”. They want out! Unfortunately, they are far from being free because of their lifestyle, or their debt, or a combination of the two. I am happier because I did not enter the field solely for money. I am happier because I do not need as much money in order to live, and can therefore choose how much of my life I need to give up in order to live a happy one. As I’ve said many times before, having money dictate the way you live your life is not a good thing. Whether that’s a lack of money, or a plethora of money. My dream is to free myself from student debt, go FIRE, and eventually travel the world and work for free as a dentist in third – world countries. To give back to communities that dentists never touch. I will likely never be “rich”, but my life will be. I am very, very happy, because I am doing what I love.

So in summary, enter the medical field if it is something you are very interested in or really want to do. (Sage advice: enter ANY profession because it’s what you want to do.) Do NOT enter the medical field, thinking it is the quickest way to get you to financial independence. It’s not the fastest, and it’s not the easiest, either.

For those just hearing about FI, here are a few of my favorite blogs and podcasts:

Welcome to the rabbit hole.