Life Decisions: These 5 Questions Are All You Need

Life decisions get complicated.  So many expectations, so much pressure, so many unknowns.  The whirlwind process of choosing a college, a major, and a career path is intense and stressful.

The rest of your life is on the line, right?  Don’t mess this up, kid.  No pressure.  Figure it out.  You’re young.   

Which major would be more interesting?  But which one would lead to a better job? Should you listen to your teacher’s advice?  Or your dad’s?  Or maybe your neighbor’s?  What about financial aid?  What’s the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans?  Is the debt worth it if you get into your dream school?  But what if my credits don’t transfer?  Should I add a double major?  An extra semester?  How about off-campus living?  What if you live at home?  But what about the college experience?  If you take a year off to work, could you save enough money to cover the rest of your degree?  But what if you lose out on true freshman scholarships?  What’s more important – your major, your GPA, or your alma mater?  But does that school have a study abroad program?  What if that lousy school offers a better scholarship?  Aren’t the classes too big?  Isn’t that school too small?

Today, we’re simplifying theses life decisions.  Just five questions.  

Clarity.  Focus.  Purpose.  Intentionality.  Choice.

life-decisions

What would success look like, in your eyes?

It’s different for everyone.  Let go of the cultural narrative.  Embrace what matters to you.  

  • “I’d feel successful if I could help people face their issues head-on, and get paid to do it.
  • “I want to own a house – no mortgage.”
  • “All I want is to travel, all the time, everywhere.  Success would mean a location independent career that provided me the funds to criss-cross the globe.”
  • “I want to feel important.  To be in charge and be needed and be a leader.”
  • “A company expense account and a corner office.  Done and done.”
  • “Success for me is simple.  A family and time to be with them.”
  • “I want to design my own days.  Write my own schedule.  Be my own boss.”
  • “Can I just create stuff?  All day?”

In light of your success vision, what’s your “for now” end goal?  

Just look ahead five or ten years.  You don’t need to plan out your entire life.  In fact, you can’t.  Change is inevitable and okay.

  • “I want to teach music, cello and piano, to young students.  In my own studio.”
  • “I’m going to be a lawyer.  Human rights.”
  • “It sounds crazy, but I want to launch a magazine.  Like, a real print magazine for indie writers.”
  • “I want to develop apps independently.”
  • “All I’ve ever loved is writing, but I’ve realized I like to do it mostly for myself.  So, I’d love to teach writing to students who are passionate and invested.  I’m flexible – maybe at a high school, maybe college-level, maybe online.”
  • “I just started a travel blog.  I plan to monetize it and build a travel-writing career.  While I travel, of course.”
  • “I want a steady job in IT.  9-5 with benefits.  Stable and freeing.”
  • “I know med school is expensive and intense, but being a doctor is all I’ve ever wanted.  Specifically?  Radiology.”
  • “I want to be a big-hearted life coach for teenage girls struggling with depression.”

To reach your end goal, what skills and experiences do you need to pick up along the way?

Be creative, honest, and realistic all at once.  Get rid of “should.”  Focus on what is necessary and world-expanding.

  • To be a lawyer?  During my undergrad, I need to gain practical work experience, make smart connections with professors, and stay out of debt.  Next, get into a great law program – for my field, this is crucial, even if it’s expensive.  I’ll stay on top of the debt by working part-time at my mom’s company.  
  • To launch a magazine?  Um, I need to master graphic design and clarify my style.  Network like crazy.  Get an internship in publishing.  Brainstorm ways to keep costs low while starting up.  Start small.  Build hiring and management skills – maybe even by working as a manager at a coffee shop.  A crystal clear business plan.  More networking.
  • To teach writing?  I guess I should clarify my goals.  If I want to teach college-level writing, I’d need a bachelor’s and a master’s.  But to teach online, I don’t even need a degree!  I just need to write and write and write.  Get published and build a small following.  Learn the basics of online course creation and try to understand the tech side.  And get out there!

What are you prepared to say NO to?

Because boundaries are clarifying and life-giving and keep you on the right track.  Don’t fall off the bandwagon here.

  • Dead-end, part-time jobs.  For some fields, working at a restaurant or coffee shop is a great way to earn money during school.  But for my field, I need to already have lots of valuable work experience in order to be hireable when I graduate.  So I need to find entry-level jobs or internships.
  • Debt.  I want to have the freedom to travel and work on my own projects on the side, so I need to be able to keep my expenses low.  If I have a boatload of debt, I’ll have to make decisions based on that…instead of my dreams.
  • College.  After a bunch of research, I’ve realized that, in my field, my portfolio and work experience matter way more than whether or not I have a degree.  I know that’s not true for a lot of people, but for me, those four years would be a waste of time.  
  • College, for now.  I know I want a degree someday, but I’m not ready yet.  I want to save money and just live for a little while.  A lot of people in my life disagree, but the reality is that getting a college education is riskier and more expensive than it used to be.  So, for right now, I’m working at a local non-profit and taking a few online photography courses, just because it’s something I’m passionate about.
  • Kids.  I’ve seen people go through med school with families and I don’t think I could handle it – emotionally or financially.  I’d love to have a family someday, but I don’t think I’ll have the margin to do it well for a few more years.
  • Bad advice.  I used to let other people’s opinions shape all of my decisions.  I felt like I was in the middle of a game of tug-of-war, constantly being pulled between “follow your heart” and “you’ll never make money doing that” and “but don’t you want the college experience” and “well, here’s what I did…

What’s the first step, the one that will launch you towards your goal in the best way?

People often default to college here.  Don’t default to anything.  Balance realism and individualism.  Forge your own path.  

  • Instead of getting a minimum wage job this summer, I’m going to spend all of my time on applying to scholarships.  Especially niche scholarships.
  • I’m going to drop the cash on a coaching call with an expert in my chosen field.  I need been-there-done-that advice, and some perspective.
  • I’m scared of networking, but I’m going to do it.  I’m making a list of the ten newspapers in my area and I’m going to call all of them and ask for an unpaid internship.
  • 20 hours a week working at the cafe, 20 hours a week working on my blog.  Starting now.
  • I need a degree, but it doesn’t need to be from an elite school.  So I’m diving into accelerated education.  It will feel so good to get this done – with no debt.  
  • I know someone who was accepted to three Ivy League schools.  In my field, my alma mater matters, so I want to take her out to breakfast and get some solid advice.
  • I’m going to reach out to an amazing ministry in India.  I’m going to offer my photography skills and web design know-how; I’d love to help them get the word out on social media too.  I’ll ask for room and board in return.  

Remember, your destiny is not determined by your dreams.  It’s determined by your decisions.  So, take action today.  Email me with your next step.

5 Reasons To Skip Traditional College

I believe our college system is broken. We promote standardized tests, crippling student loan debt, and assembly-line-style education. We tell you that there’s a cookie-cutter formula to success, a formula that’s based solely on the logo on your diploma and the marketability of your major.

And I’m not a fan. So I did something different.

traditional college 1

I picked a college that gave me flexibility and freedom. The flexibility to take courses through other schools with lower tuition, earn credits at my own pace, and test out of any class I wasn’t interested in. The freedom to live where I wanted to, set my own schedule, and focus my extra time on things I really cared about – my local literary center, relationships with my family, and personal writing projects.

The path I chose allowed me to earn my bachelor’s degree in less than two years, for less than $10,000.

Now, I’m not telling you to blindly jump onto my bandwagon. I’m just asking you to consider that our system’s one-size-fits-all formula for success might not be right for you. Everyone you know might be taking the traditional route, but that route might not mesh with your unique goals, your core priorities, and (let’s be real) your bank account. And hey, didn’t your mama ever tell you that just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s right??

I realize that the alternative college options I support may not be the right path for everyone.

For example, this is not for you if…

  • you’ve already earned a full ride scholarship to an awesome school.
  • your parents are funding your education and don’t care how much it costs.
  • independent learning and self-motivation aren’t your cup of tea
  • accelerated and/or distance education doesn’t mesh with the vision you have for your major (It’s hard to participate in a music ensemble or a pig dissection over Skype. Think through your chosen major and be realistic about what’s right for you.).
  • you’ve been looking forward to dorm life since middle school – because who doesn’t love communal bathrooms!? Wait……

If you’re still with me, let’s dive in.

traditional college

When you’re no longer chasing a fancy logo or “the college experience,” you can make choices that give you financial freedom. And, in the long run, this will enable you to make career and life decisions based on your dreams…not based on your debt.

But if you take a traditional college route, you have to operate by their rules. They set the cost-per-credit (and usually require you to take most of your credits at their institution). They pick the textbooks. They tell you what meal plan to buy and how much a parking permit costs. This isn’t all bad, obviously, but it means you don’t have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to saving money. You have to pay what you have to pay.

Because I refused to take out loans and prioritized my financial freedom, I intentionally enrolled at a college that allowed a lot of transfer credits. Why? This meant I could take that super cheap math class through that one school and transfer it in. This meant I could take that cost-effective writing workshop through that online program and transfer it in. This meant I could take the $80 Natural Sciences CLEP test instead of the $1300 Biology 211. This meant I could invest all of my saved money into candles and organic chocolate. Sort of kidding.

By choosing a flexible and unconventional school, I chose the freedom to make decisions aligned with my budget and my priorities.

What are you choosing?

timeline goals graduation

If you choose a flexible degree path, it gives you the freedom to set your deadlines and end goals.

Traditional colleges operate on a semester system. Classes are offered once in the fall and once in the spring, or sometimes only once a year. You’re only allowed to take a certain number of credits. And it doesn’t matter how great of a writer you are – you have to take Freshman Comp 101. Basically, if you’re trying to speed up your graduation timeline, you have your work cut out for you.

When I was making my college decisions, the idea of spending two entire years on generals bored me to tears. I had taken advanced classes in high school and had done a lot of independent study on subjects that interested me. I didn’t want to pay someone $1,000 to tell me how to avoid comma splices. Plus, if I really needed help with comma rules, I would look it up on YouTube (you know, since we live in the 21st century and all.).

So, as I’ve already said, I chose a college that gave me options. I could test out of subjects I’d mastered, which meant with a few hours of study and a simple test I could skip an entire semester of coursework. I could take self-paced online courses that allowed me to breeze through the material at my own pace (and, bonus, they were offered year round, not just in the fall or spring). I didn’t have to work within a rigid framework that told me that I had to invest four years of my life, minimum, for a piece of paper.

Because of these flexible options, I was able to complete my entire degree in less than two years.

I want to be real with you here though. Flexibility is not just an advantage for those who want to speed ahead. It’s just as valuable for those who want to slow their education down, or for those who are working full-time, or are raising a family, or starting a business.

It means that when real life happens – a death in the family, needing to pick up extra hours at work, coming down with mono (yep, it happened to me) – you can hit pause and take a breath.

You see, that’s the beauty of this. You can take it at your own pace. The pace that’s right for your life and your goals.

distance online education

Many young college students are excited about moving out and moving away. But maybe that isn’t right for you.

Maybe you want to live at home, but your family doesn’t live close to any colleges. Maybe you need to stay in your area so you can hold on to your job. Maybe you want to launch a cross-country roadtrip. Or maybe you just want to stay in bed! ;) It’s all up to you!

With that said, I need to be super honest for a second.

I’m not trying to glamorize this whole alternative education thing. I’m not promising that soon you’ll be sitting on a beach, sipping real deal coconut water, and practicing your Spanish homework with a dark, handsome stranger. Because that’s not how it’s gonna be – at least, it wasn’t for me.

I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, wearing two-day-old yoga pants, rocking a messier-than-messy bun, and fighting back tears as I tried to understand a science graph that didn’t make sense to my creative brain. And I didn’t have a professor to talk to, because I was studying for a CLEP test so that I didn’t have to spend time or money on the class. And I couldn’t text a classmate to get her notes, because I didn’t have any classmates – it was just me. This was my nitty-gritty reality.

I passed the Natural Sciences CLEP after hours and hours of grueling study. I saved hundreds of dollars because of it. I learned more about myself and my capacity to struggle. And it was worth it. But it wasn’t easy for me and it won’t be easy for you.

Still, in the midst of the hardness, it’s good to know that you have the freedom to take an extra week (or an extra month) to study, because you’re setting the deadlines. And, on top of that, you have the freedom to live anywhere in the country, to be near the people you want to be near to, and to maintain the job you need to maintain. That freedom can mean the world when everything feels hard.

*back to the regularly scheduled programming*

Institutions that give you the freedom to transfer lots of credits, test out of lots of credits, or earn credits through online classes will also give you the freedom to live where you want to.

For the curious ones out there who want to know how I balanced distance education and on-campus education, I took many on-campus classes through a few different colleges in my lovely and frozen home state of Minnesota, but I only took online classes at Thomas Edison State College, the school I got my degree from. I didn’t want to move to New Jersey and I didn’t have to! I could simply transfer credits from my local schools to my degree-granting institution.

online education schedule

When you choose a college that offers flexible alternatives to a traditional class schedule, you get to decide what your days look like.

I know how and when I learn best. I’m not a morning person. I’ll fill my entire afternoon with busywork and Netflix if I have something scheduled at 4 – because, you know, I don’t have time get anything done before that. I’d rather spend six straight hours on a project than spread that same work over six days. I work best in an environment where I can listen to music, zone in, and work through things at my own pace.

I knew that a traditional college schedule would get in the way of my focus, my productivity, and my general sanity. I would struggle to get anything done if I had an 8am math section, classes scattered throughout each day, and small assignments due each time a class met. I’d be a hot mess, all day e’ry day.

Choosing a school with flexible options allowed me to work through self-paced courses quickly, take tests in coffee shops, and watch lectures in my pajamas. I could spend an entire day on a research paper and I could spend the entire next day studying for a CLEP test. And this fit perfectly with my learning style and my lifestyle.

The obvious benefit here is being able to complete coursework in your bedroom. But there’s more.

Because I chose an education path that fit with the way I learn and the way I work, I was ridiculously efficient. I completed assignments (and entire classes) way faster than I could have at a traditional university. And this meant I could focus my additional time on other things, such as relationships, working a part-time job, and finishing my degree faster.

Moral of the story: be honest, get to know yourself, and make decisions that are based on who you are and how you learn.

diploma resume hire graduate

If you take away one thing from this article, take this. College isn’t the end goal; it’s just a launching pad.

It’s a place to build your skill set, rub shoulders with people who do what you want to do, and prepare for your future worklife.

Many graduating students think that their diploma will unlock the door to their dream job. But in today’s hiring world, it isn’t enough (unless, say, you have a 4.0 GPA from an Ivy League school – in that case, you don’t need this article).

Your diploma is a baseline requirement, but your skills will get you hired.

Here’s how this connects to unconventional college education.

If you choose alternative options, such as online courses and CLEP tests, you will have the margin and flexibility to focus on things that matter. Your days won’t be wall-to-wall filled with classes for four years straight. You won’t have to spend your summers on dead-end part-time jobs just to cut back on student loans. You’ll have space to invest in other things.

Ideas: learn an additional programming language, work at the non-profit, master that software, network and reach out, publish your short story, start a blog, build your portfolio, land a foot-in-the-door job, teach internationally, or learn photography.

Or, maybe the idea of focusing on things that matter hits a little bit closer to home. Putting food on the table for your family. Spending time with your kiddoes. Caring for a sick relative.

I don’t know what situation you’re in, but I know that having space outside of classes and homework is important and necessary.

So this is the end.

I’m not here to say that a traditional college education is evil. But there are other options, that open doors to freedom, growth, and flexibility. Maybe you should take a look.

Interested in taking a step towards something different? Or just want more information?

Check out my free video course, Own Your Education: Earn Your Diploma Without Breaking the Bank.

Or, let’s chat.

How an Automated Text Changed My Life

Let’s start at the very beginning.  (If the song from The Sound of Music popped into your head, you’re my new best friend.)  

What do you want to do with the rest of your life?

For some of you, it’s like, been there, done that.  

For some of you, you were secretly hoping you could get read an education-planning, career-launching blog without having to actually answer that question.  Sorry, friend.  No luck.

active purpose life

If you live in the same world that I do, then you probably hear about college, job markets, and the economy all the time.  

And, on top of that, we hear a lot of lies.  That money equals success.  That debt is normal.  That financial freedom, the ability to go on crazy adventures, and the opportunity to do what you love – those things are for the distant future, not for now.

Not to mention, your life is overflowing with homework, deadlines, work, activities, responsibilities, and confusion.  Bottom line: You’re on the verge of major life decisions, and you’re surrounded by a lot of noise.

It’s really easy to be distracted – from your purpose, your goals, and your dreams.  

Here’s a simple and epic way to turn down the noise and turn up your passion to identify the right education path, work towards your goals, and launch a life you love (even if you haven’t figured out all the details yet.)

Begin your day with your why (your reason for doing the things you do) and your active purpose (the daily steps you’ll take to get to your dreams).

It’s okay if you don’t have a detailed 10-year plan.  It’s okay if you’re still nailing down your career goals.  It’s okay if you haven’t zeroed in on one single “passion.”

It’s not okay if you’re just going through the motions…applying for college because everyone else is, taking out loans because everyone else is, working a minimum wage job because you don’t know what else to do.

You can move forward with intention without having your future perfectly in focus.  I have no idea what my life will look like in 10 years (or 5…or 1!), but I can still make intentional choices and take steps towards current goals.

And that’s why I start each day with my why.  Here it is.

I will write 1,500 words today in order to grow my capacity for meaningful, beautiful, helpful communication.  I will work to shape TDP into a resource for searching young people, a space for visionaries and dreamers, and a forum for world-changers who want to step off the broken assembly line of our education system and forge an independent path towards their goals.  I will seek to be a humble, knowledgeable, invested teacher.  I will not allow my decisions to be fueled or paralyzed by fear.  I will search for ways to love the people in my world and add value to the lives I reach with my voice.

Here’s the epic part.  I get this texted to me every morning.

Let me tell you, friend.  When I wake up to that text, I’m a whole lot less likely to spend an hour in bed scrolling through Insta and a whole lot more likely to grab a notebook, make a latte, and launch into my daily writing.

If you clarify your why and bring it to mind daily, the little pieces fall into place a lot more easily.  Try it.  I dare you.  Here’s the app I use.

Hit reply and send me your personal why and your active purpose statement.  I’d love to cheer you on!

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