Paying Off My Debt

James Titchener / @mistertitchener

The most important skill for getting rich is becoming a perpetual learner.

This little nugget of wisdom from entrepreneur and Twitter philosopher Naval Ravikant hit close to home for me the other day. I agree with the sentiment and I think it applies to finding riches beyond just financial wealth. But what struck me when I took this quote in was the tinge of pain arose for me as I read it.

I'm not a perpetual learner. I try to be, but while I can generally allow my curiosity to take me down rabbit holes, I've never been able to find much depth in any domain.

I've written about my problems around learning before, and I thought I'd found my solution—I needed to give myself permission to work on myself. I went off to Thailand for two months with the intention of doing just that, but in hindsight I barely dipped my toe into the depths of my trauma before I jumped straight back into chasing newfound career goals.

I did, however, plant the seed for an eventual return to the hard internal work. I gave myself a year or two to get my dad's software company in a place where it could thrive without my direct involvement.

Here I am just about two years later, and while our growth prospects are strong, I'm not much closer to being in a place where I'd be comfortable stepping away. If anything, I've moved the goal post further than where I'd set it originally.

And so the three month long meditation retreats I dreamed of and the fantasy of spending more time reading and writing is starting to appear to be just that. Dreams.

Maybe that's okay—I've since taken up a style of meditation that puts less emphasis on seeking the momentum that can be gained on long silent retreats. I'm also not sure I've lived or learned enough to write much worth reading. But I fear that I'm letting the debt of my trauma compound unchecked.

If becoming a perpetual learner is the most important skill for getting rich, the second most important skill would be taking advantage of compound interest. Small percentage gains compounded over a lifetime can build into fortunes. I think this is where the power of perpetual learning comes to play as well. Incremental gains in knowledge and skills will build upon each other to create huge positive outcomes in the long haul.

Debt plays the opposite role. The interest rates on debt compound as well, just not in the direction you want it to. If the interest rates on your debt are higher than that of your positive investments, you'd be wise to spend all your free resources paying off that debt as soon as possible.

Left alone, small debts can turn into gaping holes, and I've seen how unimaginably wrong things can go when emotional baggage is buried. Being able to turn off emotions can come in handy in the short-term. But one way or another, debts must be paid. I'm wondering now if it isn't time for me to start making payments.

Along with the ability to shut down emotions before they become overwhelming, I seemed to have developed a knack for tricking myself into thinking that there's no more debt left to be paid. I've been through a few stints of therapy since my parents passed. Each time the work has been incredibly hard and painful, but I've always left confident that I'm well on my way to healing. But I haven't quite paid enough of my dues to become truly debt free. And so the debt compounds...

Honestly, I'm not sure if my debt can ever be completely paid off, but I do know that the 20% per annum rate weight pulling down inside my chest doesn't feel good. I don't think I can sustain it. Not unless I'm willing to sacrifice my happiness for external success, but even if I was willing, can I really expect to perform at my best while I miserably grind and mentally berate myself for not being better? 

There's a lot I want to do with the time I have here. Perhaps my greatest fear is wasted potential, so stepping away from direct work on the goals I've set for myself pains me. As much as I crave to have the capacity to grind 80 hour weeks, I'm just not there yet. Whether or not working 80 hours a week is advisable is another question I've touched on prior, but the point is, I'm burnt out. This probably isn't uncommon given the pandemic, but I've been an asshole to myself long before the corona virus outbreak.

It's time I learn how to ease off. And while I try my damndest to pretend that I'm over my parent's deaths, I'm not. As much as they hurt me, I miss them dearly. Their lives were needlessly tragic, and I damn sure don't want to end up like them. My parents were experts at sweeping their emotional debt under the rug, but it came back to bite them.

I will not let my own debt do the same.

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