“I graduated from college in 2009 with a journalism degree and major depression. The last three months were particularly hard. I wanted to crawl up into myself, become invisible, and sleep until I no longer felt anything. I barely left my apartment. I skipped classes. I struggled to make it to my work-study job. I ignored my friends, ate blocks of sharp cheddar to numb my anxiety, and chain-smoked until my throat burned.
When I failed a class my final semester, I could no longer ignore the weight of my unrelenting sadness. I scheduled an appointment with a therapist, sat in her office for two hours, and spoke candidly about what I was feeling, and how I wanted to feel instead.
For the next two years, I met with this therapist, at first twice each week, then once, and then monthly or every other month. She helped me through my depression and eating disorders, for which I am truly grateful. And after several months, I was noticeably healthier, more self-aware, and less reclusive.
About six months into treatment, she told me to go back to school. “You’d make a great lawyer,” she said, “but you are not emotionally ready for law school. Maybe a master’s degree would help future law schools overlook that F on your transcript. It doesn’t really matter what your master’s is in, so long as your GPA is high.”
“I don’t really want to go back to school,” I said. “I don’t even know what I would study. Ok, well, yes, I did enjoy the political science courses I took as an undergraduate, but I don’t know. What if I just worked, got some practical experience? What if I went and worked for a law firm?”
“I know some attorneys,” she said, “you could probably work for them, but not yet, you’re not ready. Go back to school. You are smart, and you are a good student; show those future law schools what you are truly capable of.”
This was and is terrible advice. I know this, now, because I took it. I went back to school, earned a master’s I do not value in a field that does not interest me or advance my career, and I now owe the Department of Education more than $53,000 in student loans. And halfway through my master’s program, I realized it was a terrible mistake. It did not empower me, or bring back the Energizer bunny of a student I had been in years past. And even though I hated it, I couldn’t tell my therapist, and, out of misplaced pride, I would not quit the program.
So I slowly stopped seeing my therapist, making occasional appointments where I lied to her about my grades. In the meantime, I fell back into my depression, ditching classes and handing in lazy work at the last minute. I graduated, but did not attend the ceremony. And when the diploma came in the mail, I shoved it in a drawer somewhere, hoping to forget about it.
But how do you forget $53,000 of bad advice, plus interest at 6.8 and 7.9 percent?
You can’t; I can’t. All I can do is learn from it. Financial decisions – especially the big-ticket ones like school – are ones that I need to make. I didn’t fully see the risks of investing my time and money into something I did not value. I trusted that someone else knew what was best for me better than I did, someone who was not qualified to give me career advice and not invested in my particular money situation. There’s a time and a place for financial advice and it’s not on the therapy couch.
Every so often, I get really salty thinking about my therapist, and the bad advice I followed. But then I take a moment to acknowledge that I have my student debt under control, and that I now make conscious, informed financial decisions that are 100 percent my own. I’ve learned to listen to myself.”