Years ago, I had a boyfriend, and for an entire year, I was ashamed of my boyfriend and our relationship for not turning into an engagement. Everyone I knew was getting married; their happy smiling faces and big fat rings screaming out every time I opened Facebook.

I lost the ability to be happy for other married couples because it felt like a direct affirmation that something was wrong with me. I started criticizing my boyfriend for not being “serious” about our future and for not “knowing what he wanted.” In short, I temporarily lost my shit.

A three-month work stint in New York turned my brain around. Hanging out with some long-time artist friends reminded me of who I was first and foremost: myself; a creative person, who does what she wants and doesn’t depend on other’s approval; who loves herself more than any man ever could.

student debt

Today, I look back and shudder to think what would have happened if we had gotten married. We were totally wrong for each other. I suspect we would have become a divorce statistic a few years down the road.

This is a story of how ego can get you into trouble, how it can lead you down the wrong path. How does our ego keep us in high student debt?

Ego keeps us stuck. We think we’re right, and we believe our way of doing things is the only way. Ego demands we keep up with our neighbors. We must win at the expense of others. Ego keeps our feet hobbled and our hands tied as we refuse to listen to or acknowledge anyone else’s advice.

The result: we stay in a job that may look cool (my unpaid internships in the film industry come to mind), while the low or nonexistent pay spirals us further into debt. Or we live an enviable lifestyle (that we post pictures of to Facebook, obsessively counting likes) that we afford by only going into further debt.

How can we manage this wily ego? How can we loosen its grip, and how does doing so affect our debt? Let’s begin with these Top 10 Tips.

  • Realize that you have a big ego.

Most people do. When I was in counseling for my depression and six-figure student loan debt, my counselor used to call me “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex”. It is 100 percent possible to have a big ego and low self-esteem, and take it from me: it’s a pretty shitty combination.

  • Try not to get offended / take things personally.

It is other people’s problem if they don’t like you. Being yourself means not being affected by outside influences. Freeing yourself means you have the time and headspace to deal realistically with your debt.

  • Stop complaining, and let go of the need to “win”.

When we attach our self-worth to winning or losing, instead of simply performing to the best of our abilities, we set ourselves up to feel bad, because it is simply not possible to win 100 percent of the time.

  • Realize you don’t always have to be right.

Opening your mind to being wrong allows you to explore other avenues for creating solutions, a great start for tackling your debt.

  • Stop defining yourself by your job, your relationship status and/or your achievements.

This will allow you to look for the real solution to your debt, and that may be a job that doesn’t necessarily have to define you. We are so ingrained to answer the questions, “Tell me about yourself” or, “What do you do” by immediately bringing up materialistic indicators of success. This could be a job title (“I’m Creative Director of _____”, or “I work at a hedge fund”), your spouse’s job title (“My husband is the Director of Software Engineering at ____”), or some external acknowledgement of talent (“I just had an article published in the New York Times,”). Fight the urge to define yourself this way. When someone asks you what it is you do, even if you did just publish an article in the New York Times, try to talk about what you do (writing) without this attachment. Attempt to talk about your job without inserting your title, accolades, or the company name.My first attempt to do this was to practice saying that I was an executive assistant. My ego would always want to insert that I made $165K/year or was only doing that job because it didn’t drain me creatively and I could keep up with my writing, but I got used to just saying the words “I’m an executive assistant,” or alternatively, “I am a writer but I don’t do that for a living right now,” and realized that people could and would draw their own conclusions no matter what I said. If people wanted to think, “Executive assistant – what a broke loser”, I had to accept that. If people wanted to think, “A writer who hasn’t published anything – must not be very good”, I had to accept that too. I have zero control as to how other people interpret the external facts of my situation. What I learned through years of doing this was, when people see that you don’t define yourself in such parameters, they have a harder time doing so. It is never your problem if other people don’t like you just the way you are.

  • Remember that other people’s reflection of you is a message of who you are.

In the Mayan tradition, there is a greeting called “Lak-ech Ala K’in”, which typically translates to “I am another yourself”. It has several meanings; most having to do with how we are all one, how our actions affect others, and so forth; but it also means that when we hurt, it’s not someone else’s fault, but ours. Perhaps more inner healing or learning needs to occur. When we own this, we take responsibility for ourselves. And that’s exactly what we need to do with our debt: Take responsibility.

  • When you realize you have been done wrong, forgive.

Do not retaliate. Do not avenge. Do not manage the situation with your bruised ego. Forgive yourself for you six-figure debt. Beating yourself up will only slow down the process.

  • Change your attitude about failure.

How many people avoid going after their goals due to the fear of failure. This fear is based in ego. Go forward in dealing with your debt, and let go of the result.

  • Realize when you’re playing the victim.

Sometimes people don’t listen to our ideas, and our work goes unnoticed. A common and very ego-centric reaction that is also self-sabotaging is, “There’s no use…no one listens to me. I should just give up and stop trying.” The victim voice ensures your best work is withheld and you end up giving less than your full potential. It also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you expect less, and as a consequence are given less. Many people feel like victims to their student debt, and this does nothing to help them get out of it.

  • Start believing other people have something interesting to say.

If you approach situations assuming people don’t have anything to say, your ego precedes you. Approach social situations as if you are a documentary filmmaker or a journalist. Challenge yourself to find that one interesting thing, saying, “I will find it…” Don’t turn the conversation back to you. Don’t name-drop. Opening to other viewpoints allows you to see different ways of approaching life. This is an important perspective when looking for outside-the-box ways of slashing your student debt.

Buddhists use the language “freedom from ego”. Freedom indicates a state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. When we break out of the prison of our ego, we can begin to loosen the shackles of our debt. That is truly being free. And isn’t true freedom all we really want?

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