Globalization and the proliferation of the internet has removed barriers to information previously reserved for the uber elite. Today, a college diploma is no longer the key to success. The world has changed. The education system has not caught up.
Today’s graduates hold the highest level of student loan debt ever. Americans owe over $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among an estimated 44 million borrowers. In fact, the average class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up 6% from the previous year.
However, the business world has never been more competitive. Therefore, you must invest in yourself – especially if you plan to thrive as an entrepreneur and side step the traditional 9-5.
Since I didn’t attend a university, I leveraged a myriad of free and cheap resources to improve my skills as a business owner and marketer. This strategy enabled me to start my company earlier in life. Here are a few ways you can become more well-rounded and gain the knowledge you need to succeed in business … without racking up student loan debt.
1. Take online courses
If you desire formal training, there are plenty of free or inexpensive online learning options. Do you want to learn about entrepreneurship in emerging economies? Interested in the fundamental principles of architecture? Harvard University Online Learning portal offers these programs at no cost.
Do you want to work in entertainment and learn how to craft amazing stories? Pixar partnered with Khan Academy to inspire young people to get creative. Perhaps you want to learn how to code? If so, CodeAcademy will teach you how to code — for free. Online courses have helped me expand my skillset, and that of my team, in many different areas.
2. Listen to podcasts
Make better use of your time in the airport or during your morning commute. Free podcasts like Foundation by Kevin Rose and the Tim Ferriss Show offer in-depth interviews with world-class achievers and can change the way you think about life and expose you to new subjects. Podcast hosts can become your digital mentor.
3. Read more books
It has never been easier to access books. You can purchase books from a local bookstore, on Audible or Amazon, borrow from a public library, or use free and legal public domain books from Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Google Play or iTunes.
Unsure where to start? Best-selling author, Ryan Holiday, publishes a comprehensive monthly book recommendation email that I highly recommend. Set a goal. For example, try to read one book per month and work up to a book a week.
4. Create a game plan
Create a “future you” bio. This will do wonders and motivate you to follow your dreams. This will help you visualize who you want to become and clarify the steps to get there. For example, I set personal goals to exit corporate life, start a company that helps others, land on 30 Under 30 lists, and travel the world. Write it down. Figure out what you need to do to accomplish your goal. Most importantly, get started!
Travel makes you a better entrepreneur and it’s the single most important thing to do if you want to grow as a person and experience other cultures. Travel teaches tolerance, independence and confidence. While travel can be expensive, experiences are a good way to spend money. There are many ways to cut costs by using websites like JustFly to track amazing deals on flights all around the world.
Don’t let fear get in the way of an adventure. Travel has been the most vital business growth strategy personally and professionally.
Ultimately, get creative. Don’t let a lack of money, time or experience deter you from becoming your best self. If you do all of these things or a combination of any, you will be closer to the person you aspire to become — without crushing and burdensome student loan debt.
This article has been edited.
Bridget Hilton is the founder of LSTN Sound Co., a social enterprise based in Hollywood, CA that makes high end personal audio products.