$90K in Student Loans and a Passion For Nothing

If you’re a college or even a high school student, you have to have been locked away in a cage somewhere if you’ve never been given the advice to “follow your dreams” and/or “do what you love” or “find what you’re passionate about.”

But what if you have no dreams, you don’t really love any kind of work and you aren’t passionate about anything? That’s Natasha’s situation, and I bet it’s true for a lot of you, too.

I’m such a big fan of your site, so it’s not surprising that I would turn to you for advice. I am a 21 yr old recent college grad with a BA in English from a private liberal arts college in GA. I write to you because I fear my life has no purpose.

While it's not always soul-crushing, work can definitely be very unsatisfying. For long periods of time. (Sorry, there is no punchline.)

Wow, you drop the big bombs early! πŸ™‚ That’s cool, we’ll get to it all, Keep reading, but briefly here: If you mean like a divine, sent-from-God-above person — you may be right. I’m not much of a religious guy myself, and I don’t think I have any particular divine “purpose” for being here. I think you’re just here on earth one time and you get to make out of it whatever you make out of it.

HOWEVER, it’s more likely that you mean you just haven’t found something that really grabs a hold of you, makes you wanna get out of bed every day, and drives you all day long. If that’s the case, then a) you’re exactly like at least 90% of all adults on earth, and 99% of 21-year-olds. πŸ™‚ Anyhow, read on.

I don’t know if I am a damaged human being because of this-but I just don’t seem to have a true “passion” for anything. I like to do a lot of things but I have no burning passion that people seem to always talk about when they refer to pursuing a career.

You’re definitely not damaged because of this — you’re just normal. It’s a rare person who finds something they just have a burning desire to get up and do every day. People talk about finding your “passion” regarding work, and it’s true that you should try and that if you do find it, you’ll be happiest — but it sure as hell isn’t easy to find something like that, and that goes for anyone at any age.

You pretty much have to just keep waking up, finding a way to pay the bills that’s at least tolerable enough to not make you want to hang yourself at the end of each workday, have as much fun as you can (inside and outside of work) via the relationships you have with people….and then eventually, as time goes on, you end up hammering out your interests a little bit more and pointing yourself in the direction of something that does indeed grow into a passion.

What makes it worse is that I have 90k in student loans to pay back starting in December.

You’re right, that definitely makes it worse. πŸ™ Remember, though, that you can jump onto a graduated or extended repayment plan at anytime, which can stretch your repayment period out as long as 30 years, which will bring your monthly payments down considerably. You’ll also pay more back over the long run, but as I told a student earlier this week — that may be the only thing that makes the payments doable at this early stage in your career. If you’ve got something like a $900/month payment on the 10-year plan, that simply may not be feasible for you with an entry-level job; cutting it in half, even if it means extending the life of your loan, may be a simple necessity.

Now I have had tons of internships in areas ranging from banking, law, asset management, hr and community development, to television production. It seems the only one that I have stuck to consistently is tv production. I have a year’s worth of experience at 3 different companies, two of which are internationally recognized media giants. I also have made a 30 min documentary thats locally acknowledged and some other short films. I am currently unemployed but I have a 2nd interview with one of the media giants I previously interned for and I most likely will get a position there because of my long standing relationship with the company as well as the great reviews my old bosses there give me.

That’s great! I was an English major and all I had for job prospects was a $14,000 reporting job in rural Missouri watching corn grow.

I’ll be honest though… I am so freaked out about my student loans and quality of life if I continue upon this television path.

Again, reference the payment-plan switching above. It can drastically lower your monthly payment, and that can make a lower-paying career more doable. It won’t completely unburden you of our freaked-outedness, but it will help.

I am used to a certain style of living (i know i sound snobby…but its the truth!). I feel like unless I make it as some big time tv producer/executive or something….my salary will cap out at around 60k. Which won’t cut it for me. I come from a lower middle class family and I know my family expects me to make more than they do, even I expect it.

Well, you’ll definitely have to become less accustomed to that style of living, for sure, at least in the short run — especially if it was financed with student loans. πŸ™‚ I don’t know exactly what you spend your money on, so I couldn’t make any specific suggestions in that regard on how to keep your satisfaction high without spending as much money. Yeah, on the production side of TV, you’ll have to climb the ladder to make more than that.

Also, I wouldn’t mind going to film school to really cement that education and open more possibilities, but I live with my boyfriend in GA and I don’t want to leave him to go to school in CA or NY (the only places I would consider).

I don’t recommend that, to be honest with you. It’s expensive as hell (especially in CA and NY), you’ll rack up even more hellacious student loans, which will put you somewhere around $200k in debt — and you’ll still be looking at entry-level positions. (See Kathryn’s film school story).
I also am planning on taking the LSAT in October and applying to law schools in GA. A career as a lawyer would open the possibility to making more money, not necessarily guarantee it.

Well, even if you were just moderately successful in an urban center, you should be making a lot more than $60k after a few years. Remember, though, that there are hellacious student loans involved in law school as well. I know you said the schools were relatively cheap (in a separate email to me privately), but we both know student loan money, even with the best of intentions, sometimes gets used on extracurricular, standard-of-living stuff instead of just tuition and books. πŸ™‚ Just keep that in mind.

But I know if I work hard I can possibly snag a job that will pay more. I have researched the law profession thoroughly and had an internship with a judge and have observed them at work, so I know what I am getting into. I feel that I have the skills that would make me a good lawyer. I just don’t have a passion for anything…thats the problem.

Well, in general, my advice would be to slow down on law school (although taking the LSAT is fine) if you’re not SURE that you want to be a lawyer — and you definitely do NOT seem to be sure. It’s just a long and expensive proposition to go to law school, and there are many, many lawyers, and many of them hate their lives. πŸ™‚ I’d say this first — before jumping in, intern at a law firm, rather than with a judge.

With a judge, you’ve only seen lawyers during those fleeting moments where they have to really be on point; the real and giant majority of their time is spent in their offices — sometimes putting in 70-hour weeks doing research, paperwork and grunt work and trial prep (those are the early years for junior lawyers, for sure). I don’t want you to think I’m down on the legal profession totally, because I’m not (I love every one of my lawyers!) — just saying that there’s a reason that some of them make big bucks, and usually it’s because they have to do a LOT of mind-numbing work for a LOT of years. πŸ™‚

And that’s cool, again, if lawyering is something you’re REALLY into — but if it’s not, and if you’re sorta on the fence about it, I’d always recommend against jumping on the law school train, because once you’re on it, you feel like you’ve got to ride it out, even if you discover later that it’s not for you.

I guess since I actually kept doing tv related things for over a yr means I like it best…but I don’t even know. At this point I have resigned myself to picking professions that work with my skill set (reading, writing, customer service, creating, editing analyzing, researching etc) and these two both do. The only thing that really worries me is pay and ability to pay back my student loans and still live a a quality life. (quality life=not living paychec k to paycheck)

Well, you’re way too young to “resign” yourself to anything. Truth is, if I had to lay money on it, ten years from now you’ll probably be doing something totally different from anything you’ve mentioned in this email. That’s just the way shit happens. Keep yourself as free to float around occupationally as possible, and just relax and discover things naturally as they present themselves to you. (This will happen to you anyway, whether you embrace it or not. πŸ™‚

I know this is probably way over your head.

Ha, you wish! πŸ™‚ I hope this has helped to some degree. Keep me up on what you decide to do and check in here any old time you like. πŸ™‚

That’s my advice for the day. But what do you all think? Let us know in the comments below!

19 thoughts on “$90K in Student Loans and a Passion For Nothing”

  1. The income from possible jobs is not what would make Natasha live “paycheck to paycheck.” It’s her debt which will severely limit her buying power until she gets out of it. My advice would be to pay down some loans before even thinking about going to law school.

    Also, quality of life does not equal being rich. Being comfortable? Yes, absolutely. Not rich. People who use money as a meaning for their lives often find it very empty when they finally get it.

    You can always change careers later when you have more real world life experience and connections. For the moment focus on that debt! You would be amazed how much more 60K a year can be when not making student loan payments!

  2. Have you checked out SCAD in Atlanta? Great media programs there. Close to boyfriend, a little more realistic for you than NY or CA.

    And listen, lots of us are just fine in a job that doesn’t light any fires for us during the day. Sometimes passion doesn’t pay the bills, but those off hours . . . wow!

  3. I think one of the last paragraphs about letting things naturally come to you may be a good point because not everything can be expected. And the whole thing about being expected to make more money than your parents sounds rough cause what if what you really want to do is a profession where money isn’t the greatest reward?

  4. Claire Rementilla

    I thought about this once. What if you don’t have a passion. And I realized–there has to be the masses of people who will be caught up in “the system”.. who will be capitalist slaves and sadly, I think that’s where many fall under and it’s just kind of inevitable. They just are fairly content with their 9-5s, waiting for that 2 wee vacation, alright with the pay, buying what they want, saving enough for a family and they propel this system. That’s what I thought up.

  5. I agree with Claire above. Many people without a “true” passion end up with jobs they dont enjoy with the only reward being a financial gain. I know several people who major in accounting or business. Let me tell you a majority of those kids are NOT passionate about crunching numbers but they want to make 100k/year. The same is true even about some kids I knew going into pharmacy, they seemed to have no further interest in it than the money behind it. In the case of lacking passion maybe a job with the financial reward would indeed be the best route.

  6. Hello. This is a tricky place to be in. No one wants to have a job they don’t like and even more than that, no one wants to feel as if they have no purpose. I feel that Judge Josh’s advice is spot on; however there is one aspect I wanted to bring up. I feel that a career is not ultimately going to bring you total fulfillment (though there is absolutely no problem in trying to find what you love!) I don’t know what your stance is on religion or spirituality, but I would assert that true purpose is found in a relationship with God. Again, I don’t know where you are in that regard or even if you are interested, I just thought I would throw that out there. At any rate, I wish you all the best in your search!

  7. Ya know I’ve worked in the private security for over 30yrs off and on and I’m burned out at 60 yrs of age!
    No body wants me or will hire me now!
    Need something to grab and run with?
    Don’t look for something like a hand out as no such thing.

  8. I’m 47. Oftentimes, you won’t find a real passion until you’ve gained time and skills on the job for quite a while. I didn’t come into my own until my mid-30s’ (passion wise).

    I made very good money in defense as a electrical engineering on satellite systems from age 22 to 38 – fun stuff with interesting military missions — however, my passion turned out to have been running my own small business(es). This was not possible until I had nearly 20 years of experience running large projects, teams of people, and had plenty of experience with software and tackling hard problems. So, now, I run a manufacturing business which I founded (a far cry from the satellite world), and my jobs skills all allowed me to get the business rolling without needing other people’s money. My point to all of this, is learn the ropes and gain all types of skills. Then – when you know yourself better – you’ll have a toolkit to draw on to do “your passion”. It will eventually surface! Sometimes, like with me, it will take a long time to really learn what makes you tick.

  9. I was reading the Q&A and was thinking “My god this person sounds like me… damn I feel sorry for her”

    I’ve been having a back and forth with my dad for quite awhile on what I think I should do..etc…. and I am sure he’s getting tired of hearing me…

    But I am getting to the point of where ..well I’m young just 24…25 is literally around the corner though. And I’m just thinking of anyway I can work for myself. Because while I may not be passionate about that.. It would make me happier than working for someone else. And I am willing to sacrifice income for that and standard of living.

    I’m trying to mind my own business as the old saying goes.

    I wish I had advice, but I am trying to get my stuff together as well…

    I think josh had the best advice. Just think logical about whatever you do and don’t jump the gun. Also don’t use debt to live a life style you can’t afford.

  10. I have to say that the amount of student loan debt coupled with the preoccupation with a specific standard of living is troubling. While I know it was mentioned that the standard of living would need to be reduced at least until the loan debt is under control, I don’t think enough emphasis was placed on it. My concern here is that the loan debt will be compounded with credit card debt and other forms of large debt (which of course will be acquired due to the drive to maintain a specific standard of living). Unless she can find a wealthy husband (which is certainly a possibility), I think the girl needs to reevaluate her priorities in lieu of trying to find a passion (or some approximation of one). And then set a standard of living commensurate with (or below) the pay she’ll be making.

  11. Yeah, Core, I am completely willing to sacrifice the lifestyle and income to live how I want. (obviously the way I want to live is without the extravagant things) I guess i’ve realized, even though i’m only 18, that there are so many small things that I value SO much.. that I would hate to lose valuable time and energy slaving over something I would not rather do.

    GUYS, humans don’t live long. Who says we have to be a part of all of this! Why? Why do we have to? When we are born we can do WHATEVER we want because we have legs to walk and voices to speak and minds for our owns to think and imagine and create and emotions to share with others… Only you will know when you’re living a fulfilling lifestyle. Only you will know that what you’re doing with your life and how you truly feel about it. I don’t know what’s right or wrong. I only know what i’m doing, what path i’m on. And I know for a fact that even if I experience HELL on this path to what I want, I will accept that hell because i’m fighting for something that will make my life worth living–and dying for.

  12. Well, since you don’t KNOW what your passion is, why not try that lawyer thing. Its something that you seem pretty confident that you will be good at. After all, law is a lucrative business and from what you have shared about your passion to maintain the lifestyle you have become so accustomed to, you would fit right in. In addition, since you would definitely be the “new kid on the block” which would give you the chance to experience being the underdog. There is much to be learned in the legal field and it would certainly be an eye-opening experience.

  13. My dear you are heading for a train wreck! You need to come to terms with the fact that you’ve racked up $90k in DEBT at the tender age of 21. Where I live you could buy a house for that amount! This is absolutely NOT the time to even consider wracking up more debt. You need to buckle down and get a job, whether you feel “passionate” about it or not is immaterial – you have acquired some pretty major responsibilites for yourself and you need to pay off your debt, starting now. And you need to come to grips with the fact that you are going to have a lower standard of living until you pay off your massive debt load – suck it up kiddo, grow up and get to work. THEN you can start worrying about “following your passion”.

  14. I feel as though this girl is almost living my life! I am entering my third year of college, and with all the pressure you feel to prepare yourself for graduate school (be it law school, medical school, or otherwise), not knowing what you might want to do so you can make a plan is pretty darn frustrating. Everything — even down to the internship with a judge — speaks to my situation, yet it’s tough to know that the only solution is to ‘float around’ and get a feel for it later on in life. I don’t want to be groping and scrambling around for a job when I get out of school if I don’t know which direction to go in or even where to start looking in the professional world. I was considering going to law school, but now I don’t think that I will be so hasty to do so, as it is a serious commitment and I feel it’s important for me to want it and have a goal that involves a law degree. I am not so much pressured to make a certain amount of money, and to be honest I am not much of a money person. All I want is to have a career that allows me to enhance my world community, and I understand that is a broad statement. So far, I have exposed myself to a lot, but I guess there is more to discover. It’s tough to be patient and take Judge Josh’s advice, for when I can’t make a plan, I feel as though the rug is being pulled out from under me. I’ll keep this in mind, and in the meantime I’ll visit the career center at my university…

  15. Thanks a bunch for this! I’m in a similar situation, minus the financial debt.

    I did community college for 2 years so that I could figure out what I want to do. I took a bunch of different classes so that I could try different things and find something I could be passionate about (which I didn’t, really), got my AAOT, and now I still have no idea what I want to do.. It’s been a year since I finished and I feel like time’s ticking.. Part of me feels like I SHOULD just sign up for a state college and get my BA in something, but I don’t even know what I would go to study and I don’t want to waste money, or more time than I feel like I already have.

    An online vocational test said I should be a florist. Yeah. As great as I’m sure being a florist is, it’s not for me. And besides, I have allergies.

    I really don’t want to get stuck in my current retail job, but I don’t know what else I should do!

  16. Hii there,
    I’m just a friend from Vietnam, a developing country where in my case, I don’t spend much on education esp extravagent things. From my childhood until now, I don’t have to worry much about loans and we got a very poor educational system which isn’t internationally recognized. Though we seem totally different, but I find part of your life is mine, I’m from the middle family and I used to dream about becoming a very free laywer protecting the right things and the right people that I really love.

    Just look back the past, there are many freaky stories around my B.E which my major is Banking and Finance English. I spent 4 years on campus without really learning about banking system except for generall english skills. Things you can imagine about education in developing country. I didn’t join any other courses to gain other professional degrees. The exam was quite easy to get over. I cut classes to join voluntary activities (which were quite natural and simple and not-really-professional self-organized by students in Vietnam) or I may say, we can’t call them community activities at all.
    After my graduation, everything is new, I have just learnt how to use the laptop efficiently and learnt how to care about the money, the situation of Vietnam and the world. Then I start my learning again when I figure out I really wanna make people trust in good things and good people. It’s a common question that we don’t know much about ourself and the way you take, for any reasons, is for the purpose of understanding about yourself right?
    For this time, your plan is expensive, but for other, it can be fruitful, just plan it carefully, everyday try to understand about yourself to adjust the plan when necessary!

  17. I too made the mistake of wracking up almost $100k in student loan debt. I ended up dropping out of my expensive private school because I couldn’t find anything that made me feel “passionate.” And, suspiciously similar to your story, I was a Creative Writing major.

    Anyways, a year later I have managed to put my life back together, and here is my advice.

    1) You have your degree. This is good. Better off than me, anyway. Start looking for technical writing jobs, copy writer jobs, and think about taking a class at a community college so you can learn about SEO/marketing jobs. I see lots of ads hiring for these things, and the money can be decent if you play your cards right.

    2) Just forget about the standard of living bullsh*t. There was a time when I was accustomed to eating out every night and spending as much money as I wanted. When the loans and collection calls start, trust me, the world looks a lot different. You’ve basically bought a house. If you aren’t planning on enrolling half-time at a community college until you have paid down your debt, I suggest getting a job ASAP. I ended up landing a job as a bookkeeper. I am not passionate for it, but it is interesting and demanding on my skillset. The $12 isn’t much, but it makes the world look a little brighter because I am finally paying off some of my debt and can buy my own groceries. Money means a lot more when you’ve earned it yourself, and you learn the value of things.

    3) As far as money-saving ability goes, the most important thing is to stop eating out. Cook at home. Don’t go drinking. Buy a case of beer at Sam’s Club and have friends over if you must party. You can have very similar experiences–it’s the location they usually charge you for.

  18. I think you should consider the Rockport Institute Test. It’s a personality/career test to help you discover your natural talents and natural careers you can excel in. The test takes 3.5 hours, and then you either video/phone conference or have a meeting with a career counselor to go over the results. It’s very helpful. It can help you at least feel confident about your skills and better make a decision. It is, unfortunately, $500, but compare that to the student loan debt you’re racking up, it’s pretty cheap if it helps you. I have a friend that took it, and swears by it, she said it helped her with her confidence in the field she ‘thought’ she wanted to enter into, but was afraid to for various reasons similar to yours. She thought it was immensely helpful and enthusiastically recommends it to many people now. It’s also similar to the test med school students take when choosing their medical specialization. You should check it out or read the Pathfinder which is a book version/workbook and cheaper.
    Also, I’m a SCAD-Atl alumni btw, for someone that suggested that. I’m on the fence about that, SCAD is great, but it costs a TON of money as well. I would recommend going somewhere else if you’re not sure. You can do video and production at smaller schools, and not get so in debt. I’m the “art student” grad struggling to pay my hefty SCAD art school loans now.
    But I think you have to find your own way, and carve your own path. Explore career options, or meet with a career counselor or life coach. Don’t just accept that there IS nothing for you. Like Shakespeare says, “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” You can cut yourself off at the knees by thinking there is nothing out there for you! Research non-traditional careers, there are many jobs out there that you probably don’t even know about. I just saw a story the other day on a women who quit being a lawyer to be a professional aerialist(acrobat)! Who knew you could even be a professional aerialist? She now runs a studio in NYC.
    Keep working on common themes, but I definitely think you should meet with a professional career counselor. It’s not that costly, and it may help you, if not, it won’t be such a huge waste of money, or take the Rockport test. Much luck to you!

  19. I’m so glad I’ve been reading all the articles on this website. I’m 17 and I sort of have the opposite of this problem, I’m passionate about a lot of different things. But it’s still hard for me to choose which is most important, I’m glad that I know this is normal now and that things will probably not go as I have planned.

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