All my life I was told I should go to college. The economics of college were never really explained to me -- all I knew is that it was very very expensive. Over and over my parents told me, "Don't worry about paying for school, just worry about getting in to the best school you can." I suppose by my teenage years when I started to question everything else I should have questioned this too, but it had been repeated to me so many times I thought there was some master plan to be had.

Well, there wasn't. My senior year, when the rubber hit the road as they say in the venacular, they changed their stance a bit, "Well, we don't have any money. You're on your own." The school I ended up going to for undergrad and my master's was Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Its a pretty good engineering school, maybe a slot down from an MIT. They even gave me a scholarship of $10,000 a year. But even with that, at the end of my undergrad I had accumulated over $100K in student loans. Everyone else was doing it, so it must be cool. Right?

My grandparents even helped out quite a bit. As a graduation present, they paid off most of my loans. Mind you, most of over $100K still leaves tens of thousands in outstanding debt. I got my Master's in some esoteric field and I didn't know what to do. So I went to .... more school! at UC Berkeley. Berkeley's a public school, but living in the Bay Area is expensive. So more loans. A lot more loans.

I ended up leaving Berkeley to take a fairly well paying job minus the degree. By this point, I was again at way over $100K in debt. I had no capital. And I got into financial troubles for reasons having nothing to do with education. I wasn't partying it up or doing anything particularly foolish. Just bad circumstances and helping out other people. So I had to take out more loans. Even with my decent salary, about half was going to student loans even before having to take out the personal loans and maxing out my credit cards. Afterwards, there were months when I mostly ate beans and rice for financial reasons.

Now I'm at a great job making even more money. I don't particularly have any immediate financial hardships. I generally spend how I want, but my life isn't particularly expensive. I don't own a house, a car, or anything worth over $1000 (I'm neither proud nor not proud of that, its just how it has worked out). But its given me a chance to reflect.

Even with my salary, which is more than I really ever thought I would make, it will likely take me to my 50s to pay off my student loans. Read: my retirement plan is....paying off my loans early. I'm lucky and my employer contributes to a 401K. But its not going to be anything to retire on.

I often wonder where I went wrong, exactly. Loans aside, I'm very happy where I am, career-wise. But financially, I'm in a real pile of crap. Yes, I have a good salary. But my loans require me to have a job with a high salary just to make the payments. Its pretty much indentured servitude. Having not gotten my doctorate, I probably shouldn't have gone to Berkeley. But what could I have done with my master's degree? I didn't know then and I don't know now, and not having any money to live off of, its not like I could have taken time off to figure that out. Its kinda "get a career right quick". I was always jealous of relatives and friends that actually got to take a few months off and reflect on things. I really need that right now. But que sara sara.

Financially, I probably would have been better off if I had taken my alternative plan I formulated at 19. I was going to go to a 2 year trade school, become a welder, and screw the educational complex. At the time, welders were in demand (I have no idea now). It paid fairly well ($40-50K again at the time). And I would have been making a positive income for ten years instead of kinda just starting now. Again, I love my job now, so can't really complain about how things ended up. But it would have been nice to have a job where I could work 8-5, go home and have the rest of the time to do whatever I wanted. I'm mostly a thinker. I think about things and I play with thoughts. This is extraordinarily time consuming to do in depth. I also tend to be depressed and physically unwell. I am jealous of my coworkers that feel fine (physically and mentally) everyday. Most ever day I hurt. Most every day is a struggle for me. But with the indentured servitude of debt through student loans, I have little choice but to plod on. I don't know if it helps me or anyone else not to really have a chance to get a handle on my life.

I often joke that I should become a motivational speaker for high schools carrying the message, "Don't pay for school, kids! It will ruin your life!"