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Making My Way Out Of Student Debt, One Gig At A Time

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By: Jana Thiel

People talk about the starving musician -- how you live off of crackers and the generosity of people, being fed by music alone. But I still thought being a music major would be the best way to get a job in what I love doing.

However, life is not as easy as it seems when you leave home at the age of 18.

In high school I was very naive about what my responsibilities would be after I graduated. Many college programs funnel their recent graduates into internships or positions with job potential. Music is much less structured and... more expensive.

When I decided to go to DePaul University, in Chicago, Illinois, I didn’t realize that graduating with a flute performance degree would leave me with $67,000 of student loans, and not the slightest clue on how to pay them off.

Music isn’t a career to go into for the money, it’s a career you enter because of love and passion. It fills something in you that can’t really be filled by anything else.

However, a career in music is expensive. You have to pay for lessons, music, instruments, instructional tools, performance attire, maintenance of your instrument, as well as airfare and general travel expenses to even be considered for a position. How do you make money when the only way to get a job is to spend more money?

Many of my friends took a “safety minor” or a “safety double degree in something that would make them more marketable to non-music employers. A lot of people do this if they go into an arts program, so they have a cushion to find a better job. I watched others go straight into masters programs so they could avoid the pressure that I’m feeling right now. But meanwhile, they’re only racking up more debt

In winter of my senior year of college, I realized that graduation was coming up and I had accumulated debt higher than I imagined. I completely broke down.

The only thing that consoled me was when friends reminded me that financial independence would take time and effort. I needed reassurance that it would be alright to just take it one step at a time. I had to hear that it was okay to not be financially secure for a little while.

And when I realized that I didn’t have to have all of the answers to keep going forward, I found a bit of peace.

Sometimes the healthiest thing is to focus on what is right in front of you, so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the future. That means taking the Starbucks job and trying your hand at jazz flute, even when it’s not your specialization. 

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org