From the outside looking in, one might take me as a successful young professional. At the age of 27, I’ve managed to put myself through school, earn two degrees, live on my own, support myself financially, keep a job in education, and find time for myself occasionally. I’ve always been the type of person to set high goals for myself and work hard as hell to attain them, which I am extremely proud of. However, working hard and attaining these goals came at a high price…my happiness, mental and physical well-being, and about $110,000 of school debt.
I attended and graduated from my dream school in 2014. At the age of 22, and after financing a 40k yearly tuition in loans, I thought I had it all figured out. I would get a good paying job and pay the loans off immediately. Then I would be able to start living and truly enjoy my life. This idealistic approach seemed to be a great idea until life set in shortly after graduating.
I accepted a job in a high-needs Washington, D.C. school as a teaching fellow, where I pledged to do my part in closing the achievement gap that we see among students of color and/or from low socio-economic statuses. It was my first REAL job, with an actual salary, and quite honestly I was happy to even have a job lined up right after school. It was a plus that I landed a job in my field of choice and where I felt I could make a difference. However, living off of a starting teacher’s salary in the Washington, D.C area, while paying my portion of a 2k rent, ensuring that I had basic necessities, and paying my monthly loan bill became burdensome and next to impossible. I went days without eating, often times taking home the leftover student lunch before it was thrown away. There were many days, that I would drive to work with barely any gas in my car, hoping to have just enough to make it to work and back home. I was not even financially able to purchase work shoes that fit me properly. I believe that due to the stress that I’ve endured along with other factors, I eventually developed chronic health problems, that I still struggle with today. To top it all off I absolutely hated the politics of my job. Not only was it mentally taxing, I felt as though I was just unable to reach the students whom I served, and my circumstances only added to my frustration. I felt stuck in this never ending cycle of defeat and unhappiness, and suffered many internal battles alone.
So, at the end of the school year, I decided to do something about it. I successfully completed my teaching fellowship, earned my teaching credential, and then subsequently quit teaching. I told myself that I would NEVER teach again, even if it meant that I would be jobless and moneyless for sometime. And quite frankly, even if it meant that I wasted a year receiving training and education that I wouldn’t need, or so I thought… I ended up moving back home to my mother’s house in New York, to give myself some time to sort things out and hopefully find another job.
After a couple of months back at home, I found another job working for the U.S Army as a child care provider, because after all my passion is centered around working with children. The only thing was that the starting pay was a quarter of my last salary and I would have to move back to the DC area. At this time, I spent 2 months without a job and still had bills to pay. So I accepted the offer, moved back to the DC area, and decided to down size my living expenses by renting a room. Shortly after beginning my new position, the reality of it all settled in. I just wasn’t making enough money. So I went back to what was familiar and what I once told myself I would never do again, teaching. Never say never!
The second time around I absolutely fell in love with the field of education, my school, my coworkers, and most importantly my students. After two years of working as both a general and special education teacher at a charter school in Washington, D.C., I decided to go back to school to pursue my Masters in School Psychology. Working and going to school full-time, in addition to battling my newly developed heath issues was definitely tough. I found myself penny-pinching again to make ends meet and take care of myself, while trying to achieve this new goal. I received an overwhelming amount of support from my coworkers and school leaders, who did everything in their power to adjust my work schedule to fit my school schedule. This allowed me to continue working and earning my normal salary for as long as possible. I believe that God placed the right people in my life and afforded me certain opportunities, to pave a way for this woman that I was growing to be. To this day, I don’t believe that I would’ve been able to complete grad school, if it weren’t for these angels, and for that I am forever grateful.
In order to complete my masters program, I was eventually forced to quit my job and live off of my savings for a year. I recently graduated with my Masters degree and am now completing an internship in order to earn my certification, which is required in most states to practice as a school psychologist. Most internships in the field of school psychology do not pay a livable wage, if they pay anything at all. As you already know, I couldn’t afford to work for free and had already depleted all of my savings. So I decided to search for internships in places that I’ve never heard of and honestly had no desire to moving to, because it was my understanding that I had a better chance of landing a paid internship in these areas.
I am now living in a rural part of Wyoming, far from home and any familiarity. I have no family or friends here and as you can imagine, the way of life is polar opposite from what I am used to. Although this is not my ideal location to live, I had to make a tough decision focused solely on my ability to survive. The things you do for money and a debt-free life…
As a 27 year old woman, life has definitely had its challenges. The sacrifices that I have had to make up to this point have been daunting and weighing heavy on me, to the point where my mental and physical well being has suffered. However, I continue to believe that my personal journey through life is purposeful, and one day it will ALL make sense. After all of my accomplishments and what it took to achieve them, I would really love a chance to truly enjoy life without feeling like I’m running this never-ending rat race. I would love to be able to truly put my all into my new profession without obsessively worrying about the huge load of debt that I’ve attained throughout the years. I would love to finally be debt-free so that I can finally enjoy the fruits of my labor.