Break the Shame Cycle and Forgive Yourself Already!

Lauren Lapkus, Paul F. Tompkins, and Scott Aukerman record Threedom. Source: @threedomusa Instagram

On a December 2020 episode of the podcast Threedom, Lauren Lapkus commented on the pressure for actresses to get plastic surgery, “Everyone is expected to do it, and then we’re like why’d you do it you freak? It’s so stupid.”

Essentially the same narrative is applied to college education and student loans! This kind of nonsense societal judgment is unfortunately common and insidious in its double standard.

We were advised by a generation who could afford to pay for college by lifeguarding or mowing lawns during the summer. We created memes about this exact conundrum.

I don’t blame them for that! It’s great that students could once easily self-fund their college education and I hope our national leadership can get us back to that. They were just advising from their own experience and limited knowledge.

Parents only know what they know. It would be awesome if all parents had the interest, resources, and time to help their children learn about different career paths and opportunities but that is just not reality. So we turn to schools to provide this exposure, or you know, education. But of course education in America is no way equitable, so a child’s opportunity of being exposed to pathways into the arts, STEM, finance, hospitality, education, etc., is entirely dependent on our small and limited worldview.

And therefore, to make a choice at 16 or 17 about what career path you will pursue AND the long-term financial implications of that decision is inherently inequitable.

I am a millennial and millennials are disproportionately burdened by student loan debt.

Compared with earlier generations, more Millennials have outstanding student debt, and the amount of it they owe tends to be greater. The share of young adult households with any student debt doubled from 1998 (when Gen Xers were ages 20 to 35) to 2016 (when Millennials were that age). In addition, the median amount of debt was nearly 50% greater for Millennials with outstanding student debt ($19,000) than for Gen X debt holders when they were young ($12,800).

Pew Research Center, 2019

Millennials are associated with several traits- self absorbed, environmentally conscious, idealistic, and notorious job hoppers.


According to a recent Gallup poll,

Millennials change jobs more often than do those of any older generation, and six in ten say they are currently looking for new employment opportunities.

There are many reasons that millennials look for a new job ranging from “nice to have” to “meeting basic human needs”:

  • Work/Life Balance
  • Fulfillment or purpose
  • Health Insurance and other things that we only consider “benefits” in the United States
  • Need to make more money- often only possible by changing companies vs internal promotion
  • Change in job market (a recession or a pandemic…)

And on top of that:

Millennials’ earnings are substantially lower than those of all other generations and they are the most likely generation to fall under the federal poverty line. While they are a highly educated group in the workforce, millennials are having a hard time landing the jobs they want. And, in some cases, they are overqualified for the jobs they can find — jobs that do not require a college degree and have lower wages. This reality might be leading some millennials to continually seek new and better roles.

Under the guidance of parents or other influencers- close family members, mentors, teachers, guidance counselors, etc., (let’s assume doing their best with their own limited information) millennials were repeatedly told to get a college education. And employers reinforced this notion, requiring four year degrees (plus the mysterious 10+ years of experience) for entry level positions.

I propose that we at age [insert current age] forgive ourselves for decisions we made before we were old enough to vote. You were always going to evolve and learn about what you could have done differently or better.

And maybe you wouldn’t change your college experience knowing what you know now, despite the long term financial and emotional cost! I really can’t imagine my life without those experiences, exposure to new cultures and cities, or probably most importantly, the people who are my close friends, mentors, life-long colleagues and champions.

Here’s the kicker, the college education you received which necessitated those student loans, are a large part of that evolution! Your evolution as a person and student loans cannot be separated.

So forgive yourself already, release the shame. And let’s use that college education to focus on more important things.




shame[less] takes a look at the 1.6 trillion dollar student loan bubble and destimagtizes finanical transparency along the way.

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Emma Klauber

Emma Klauber

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