1) Live off-campus while attending college/not borrow massive student loans
College is not cheap. I graduated from UCLA in 2013 and earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations. I can honestly say that it is the single most expensive piece of paper I own, and in order to afford said diploma, I did two things: lived off-campus and worked two jobs while attending school.
I spent all four years of my college career commuting fifteen miles to and from my grandmother’s apartment in Koreatown to the UCLA campus in Westwood to save money and to graduate with the smallest possible student loan debt. Living with my grandmother off-campus meant having a dreadful three-hour daily commute on the Metro bus (shoutout to Rapid 720!) but also the opportunity to opt out of taking additional student loans to fund dormitory housing. For four years, I was either commuting, studying or hustling. The struggle to even stay afloat was no joke. It was hard and it was ugly and I can’t even count how many times I threw an adult tantrum about my situation.
They say everything is 20/20 in hindsight, and my situation was no different. Thank the heavens I didn’t sign the dotted line with my underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex at 18 years old to borrow heaps of thousands of dollars just to “have the college experience.” Looking back, I am so grateful that my parents forced me to live with my grandmother and to find a job to help fund my education. A majority of bachelor’s degree recipients borrow an average of $30,000 of student loans. My student loan debt after graduation? $8,000.
I dragged my feet to pay it off, making only minimum payments for the first few years but later realized that I was only making Sallie Mae richer from the amount of interests I was paying. I went full gear in 2016 and paid off my loans completely in March 2017. It. Was. Glorious. It’s been more than a year, and I’m glad I decided not to postpone my debt repayment any further. Not only has paying off my loans given me peace of mind, but also the courage to seek opportunities that come my way. Because I’m not drowning in student debt, I am able to finally save money and contribute to my Fuck It Fund*, savings and retirement accounts. It has also given me the courage to switch jobs, move cities, and travel if I want to. I no longer feel stuck or tied down to a particular situation or place because I don’t have the dark cloud of loans looming over my head. Sallie Mae has been evicted out of my life, and she is not welcomed back. Ever.
2) Move out on my own before I was completely ready
Merely a short two months after graduating, I decided it was time to leave my grandmother’s nest and live on my own. I was fortunate enough to find a full-time position immediately, which in turn, gave me the confidence to think that I can actually move out, regardless of whether or not I was ready for it. At the time, I was so tired of sleeping on my grandmother’s couch, and I was so impatient to finally be a “real” adult! Despite my negative net worth, I managed to leave the nest. I found a roommate and lived in a two-bedroom apartment in the west side of LA. I was completely ill-prepared financially, but forcing myself to move out meant I had no choice but to make it work. No matter what, I have my own back. Character builds when you take the responsibility to parent yourself. When there is no one else but you to ensure that the rent is paid on time, the lights stay on, the bills are current, and there food is on the table… maturity develops.
I’ve moved to a new place every year for the past four years, and I feel like I got this thing on lock.
3) Take my first solo trip to Japan
If I waited until I had someone to come with me, I would never have gone. Before my 25th birthday, I promised myself that I will ring every new year and celebrate every birthday at a different location in the world. Somewhere new and somewhere far and somewhere I’ve never been.
The decision to book a trip to Japan that year precisely to honor that promise and to inaugurate that new tradition changed my life. Spontaneously purchasing a ticket to visit a new country halfway across the world where I don’t speak the language and where nobody knows my name is exactly the adrenaline I needed to rattle my brain chemistry. There is nothing like the thrill of arriving at a foreign place knowing that there is nobody to pick you up from the airport. I live for it!
It was up to me to keep the wheels turning, to get myself from Point A to B, to call every decision to make this trip as memorable as possible. I flexed my social muscles, I leaned in and stretched my neck out to the discomfort, and in return, received the biggest boost in self-confidence. It was my first solo trip, but certainly not my last.
4) Become a minimalist
I discovered minimalism in 2015 when I felt overwhelmed by all the stuff in my life. My closet was filled to the brim with clothes, shoes, purses, accessories, and I still had “nothing to wear.” The clutter was enough to affect me physically and to trigger constant anxiety attacks. Things that I mindlessly bought over the years were now the very same things that made me feel suffocated and trapped. The effort, time, energy, and space required for the up-keep of these material things were exhausting. I paid the cost once but kept paying the price over and over and over again. I was ready to let go.
It’s been two years since I started my minimalism journey, I’ve purged and donated at least ten garbage bags full of clothes, shoes, and god knows what. Even if you give me a million dollars right now to recall what were in those trash bags and boxes, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.
Minimalism has not only benefitted me physically, but emotionally, mentally and financially as well. My apartment is cleaner. My closet is no longer overwhelming. My finances are soaring. My relationships are healthy. My mind is at peace.
5) Terminate friendships/relationships that were expired or no longer add value to my life
In the same vein as my point above, minimalism has also forced me to take a good look at my relationships. There is now a hard line on who I let enter my life. My standards of what a “friend” is have risen, and boundaries have been implemented.
I think it’s really important to take a consistent stock of the people in our lives and to re-evaluate what they’re bringing to the table. Does this person add value to my life? Does this person lift me up, help expand my future, and encourage my voice or does this individual belittle my voice or make me feel insecure? Is this person in my life out of convenience? Are we friends because we share the same values or is it because we attended the same school together or happen to live in close proximity?
I personally had my own share of friendship break-ups in my early and mid-twenties. They were relationships that have way surpassed their expiration dates, but my brain lured me into the sunk-cost trap. I’ve known these girls for years and years, and it took a while for me to mentally come to terms that I have, in fact, outgrown them. Our values are no longer in alignment, and they were no longer adding value to my life the way they did before. I’m grateful for the friendship we had, but deep down I knew that I had to move on and cut my loses.
What are life changes you’ve made in your life that you were glad you did?
*Cash used as a safety net/emergency fund to walk away confidently anytime from anyone or any situation that’s toxic in my life.