Julian’s Success Story: How Going $42,000 in Debt was the Greatest Decision I’ve Ever Made



julian-100Julian Hayes II is a fitness and lifestyle coach and writer based out of Nashville, Tennessee. He is the creator of 206 Fitness. Why 206? Not only is 206 one of his nicknames, but there are also 206 bones in the body. He believes anyone can achieve the body they’ve always wanted while still living a fun and adventurous life. Read more about him and download his free ebook on how to achieve the body you’ve always wanted while owning life at 206fitness.com and connect with him on Facebook & Twitter.

I am $42,000 in debt and I’m absolutely loving life right now.

Yes, you read that correctly.

$42k in debt.

To the majority of people, this sounds like an insanely large amount of money.

Except me.

Seriously, this is nothing to me.

Allow me to explain…

Would you rather be $42k or $300k in debt?

(Yes, that’s before interest.)

This is the situation that I was presented with not too long ago. I was mentally prepared to go more than $300,000 in debt to achieve what I thought was my calling. Little did I know that $42,000 was going to led me to discovering myself and my true calling.

I had my heart set on going to medical school and becoming an ophthalmologist. (I know, I know… eyes? They’re really cool, but this isn’t the time to nerd out.)

How could someone go from having aspirations of becoming an ophthalmologist to becoming a fitness and lifestyle coach?

Easy! I went through a series of crazy and random adventures over the course of a year that I interpreted as signs, and I encountered 5 quotes which would shape my mindset forever.

Today, I’m going to share my story, which can be summarized as an unconventional journey to discovering my true passion, finally awakening and living life on my own terms.

While reading through my story, I challenge you to ask yourself: “Am I living life each day doing what I love and living life on my own terms, or am I doing what I think is right which some would call playing it safe?”

Everyone is told to follow their dreams, do what makes them happy and be passionate about their work. How many of us actually follow this advice?

Not many, I can tell you that.

For 25 years, I was part of that group who mindlessly wandered through this thing we call life without a purpose or passion for anything. I was asleep for 25 years, scared to do what I knew I was meant to do, but I finally was awakened during this past year.

How did this awakening happen?

The birth of $42k

I remember like it was yesterday. It was early spring 2011, and I had just finished my shift as a bank teller at Bank of America.

My plans for the night were to meet some friends for happy hour at one of our favorite bars, relax, and complain about work. On my way there, I decided to check my email and saw I had one new message from the school I had applied to.

I opened the email and was informed of my acceptance to start medical school in the fall of 2011.

Needless to say, I had to leave my car at the bar since I celebrated a little too much.

Moving to NYC from Tennessee was no easy task. Since my parents weren’t rich, and I had no savings, I’d have to take out loans to afford not only the tuition, but the cost of living in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

After talking with financial aid, I elected to take the maximum amount of $42k, which would allow me to live relatively comfortably while going to school.

I had no reservations about taking this amount of money out, nor did I even consider the long-term implications of such a loan.

I viewed the $42k as a way to escape Tennessee and my dead-end job. $42k was going to help advance me toward my future career and my dream of living in a big city.

Plus, moving and going back to school was a great distraction from the fact that I really had no clear path or direction. At this point in my life, I hadn’t found my passion.

Going to med school seemed liked the right choice in an economy that was uncertain, especially for a kid who was afraid of taking risks.

What really went through my mind during school

During my time in school, my interest in nutrition and training had hit an all-time high. Even during class, I would think about how I could apply what I was learning to my training regimen. Medical application was simply an afterthought.

And while most students in med school barely have enough time to sleep, I was still in the gym every day and kept up with the latest training and nutritional information. I remember sitting in biochem, discussing amino acids and liver glycogen, and my thought process switching to how it could be applied to intermittent fasting.

I had also begun to notice my waning interest in the medical field. During several exams I would find myself zoning out, questioning what it was I was doing there. I didn’t want to be stuck in a room for three hours taking an exam over something I didn’t have much interest in. Yet, time after time, I kept returning.

It was also during this time that I began to break away from my cohorts and venture out into the city to meet new people.

During my solo adventures, I happened to meet random entrepreneurs at bars of all places. Through conversations with them, I began to notice signs that perhaps I was going down the wrong path when it came to my career.


Who knew that nights at happy hour could lead me to finding my passion?

End of NYC and school

At the end of my spring semester, I had the option to continue on in the medical program, or go home. I chose to go home.


At the time, I told myself it was because I wasn’t in love with the program any more and wanted to reapply to other schools. Looking back now, it’s because I had fallen out of love with the idea of becoming a doctor.

When I got back home, I decided to get a job as a personal trainer at my local gym. This job was far from what I expected and opened my eyes to the passion I had been missing and the opportunities that were available and within reach.

It’s where I began developing the idea of beginning a career as a fitness professional, but the idea of not applying to school, and of journeying down an unknown path, was scary. I knew the kind of backlash I would receive if I went through with it.

While I had always seen myself as someone who could start his own company, be his own boss, and be a leader for others, I wasn’t willing or ready to take such a risk. Instead of listening to myself, I allowed others to influence my decisions and direction.

So, I began preparing to retake the MCAT.

The last straw

It was a couple of hours into my MCAT exam when I felt a wave of realization wash over me.

This was not what I wanted to do with my life. It was as if everything that I had been ignoring all of a sudden came together and clicked. With that, I rushed through the rest of my exam and walked out of the testing center, knowing with full confidence that becoming a doctor was not my true calling.

However, I still wasn’t 100% sure what was, though I had a hunch.

Over the couple of weeks that followed, I began seriously thinking about making fitness a full-time career, but that alone seemed too short-sighted. Sure, I love training, and I love talking fitness with people, but I also enjoy geeking out over music, nutrition, movies and a multitude of other things.

It was in the middle of the night when I realized I could be a fitness coach and integrate all my other hobbies and interests into my job. I’d be able to do this because, as an entrepreneur, I’d have no one to answer to except myself.

I’d be completely in control.

That mindset of following your dreams, doing what you’re passionate about, and loving what you’re doing is the definition of what being an entrepreneur/adventurer of life is all about.

That night was the birth of 206 Fitness.

Tough times

Even though I had found my passion, I still had a lot of friends and family members who were skeptical about me starting my own fitness company vs. going back to medical school.

I had to deal with a lot of negative comments. “Why would you give up being a doctor for fitness?” “You’ll always have a job with medicine, can you say the same with fitness?” “You’ll never make a comfortable wage with fitness!” “Writing is a hobby, not a job!”

And those were just the nice ones.

It was also during this time when I hit a low point. While working on my business and starting up my website, I depleted what little savings I had until I had 5 cents left in my account – literally. My credit cards were already maxed out from being irresponsible. With virtually no money, I began to doubt myself and my decision.

What my savings account looked like for a couple of months.
I was depressed at the way life was going. I missed out on trips to visit friends, and social engagements on the weekends were nonexistent. I even sported a pair of Nikes with holes in them, but deep down, I still knew there were brighter days ahead. This was all part of my journey into becoming who I was supposed to become.

5 quotes that live with me every day – and should be with you as well

Times were rough, and every day was a battle with criticism all around me. On the surface, it seemed I was struggling mightily and this further reinforced people’s opinions that I had made the wrong choice.

Each time I would start to feel negative thoughts or question myself, I would fall back on five quotes. These quotes reestablished my vision and purpose. These five quotes are like gold to me. With each quote listed below, I want you to stop and think about how it applies to yourself.

1. I love watching Gary Vaynerchuk videos because he has such passion for everything he talks about. He has one quote in particular that I love.

“Legacy is greater than currency.”

This meant so much to me because people always have an obsession with money and never worry about how they are going to be viewed in the long term, what their personal brand will be in the future, and how the big picture will always win in the end.

2. I was reading an ebook titled 279 Days to Overnight Success by Chris Guillebeau and came across the following quote.

You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.”

People are quick to tell someone else how to live their life or how they should be doing something but who says you have to live this way just because everyone else is living that way. Challenge yourself to think outside the box and do what you feel is the right thing to do and forget what everyone else thinks or says.

3. There was a quote by H.L. Hunt which was extremely valuable during my low times where all my money was drained and I had to make sacrifices.

i. “Decide what you want

ii. Decide what you are willing to exchange for it

iii. Establish your priorities

iv. Go to work”

4. I was staring at my wall of basketball awards from high school and noticed a quote my basketball coach wrote on one of them which was used to describe my character. He used the word vision.

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.”

This applied to me because no matter the hard times, I could always see how things were going to be in the future. I could always paint a picture – I was a big dreamer. Never let someone take your dreams away or let them marginalize your passion.

5. Lastly, one of my favorites is from Mark Twain.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

This quote to me meant having no regrets, following your heart and instincts. Who cares if it goes bad? You at least lived, and at the end of the day, we only get one life so we have to make good use of it!

Coming full circle with $42k

Without $42k, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to New York and become awakened to start living life on my own terms, filling each day with passion. If I had never taken the loan, I could’ve ended up in medical school somewhere, becoming a doctor even though that wasn’t my passion.

$42k led me to feeling alive, finally feeling as if I had a pulse. It showed me what’s important in life. I learned how to conquer a lot of fears that have always controlled me and affected my life.

$42k is with me every day. There’s not a day that I don’t stop and smile as I look back. I finally found my passion, and each day I’m living life on my terms and not anyone else’s. Before the events of $42k, I never would have imagined myself writing, nor being a fitness and lifestyle coach. It’s crazy how this world operates; if you let the wind guide you, it’ll lead you to where you need to be.

As for my debt, it didn’t disappear by any means, since I’m reminded each month. These payments aren’t a huge black hole hanging over my head, though.

I view this debt as a small payment in exchange for a lifetime of freedom and living life doing as I please. Using the advice on this site has helped me create a more precise and concrete plan fro eliminating my debt and living life debt-free.

What is your $42k?

It doesn’t have to be money; it can be a series of events, a chance happening, or a few lines of text in an article/book you’ve read that pushed or is pushing you toward your true calling.

The first step in making a change is to believe you can have what you want.

Never settle for mediocrity.


Note from Joan: I’ve wanted to share Julian’s store here on Man Vs. Debt for a while. Given that we’ve been sharing posts about topics like thinking twice about graduate degrees, what better way to continue that conversation than to talk to someone who has seen both sides of that path?

The other super-interesting thing (to me) about Julian’s story is that he was willing to let go of what wasn’t working for him. I have mentioned this several times and went into detail about it when I was talking about expensive hobbies. Sometimes, we are so concerned about sunk cost – I already spent $42,000 toward this degree – that we stick with something, and spend even more money on it, that isn’t authentic.

I’m SO glad to share Julian’s story about finding his passion – and being willing to take the $42,000 he’d already invested and say, “That’s OK, but now I’m doing something else!”

What really gets you excited? Where are you willing to make a big leap like that?

We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

14 thoughts on “Julian’s Success Story: How Going $42,000 in Debt was the Greatest Decision I’ve Ever Made”

  1. Thanks, Joan, very timely and inspiring. I even took an “attitude adjustment” day off work today to think about such things. Even though Julian (thanks, Julian) and I are at different points in life, I’m closer to retirement, his words have great meaning to me. Every day I go to a job I hate just because it’s expected of me and I’ve been there 12 years, I love what I do, but am really tired of the people and work environment. I’ve tried everything to change my life’s attitude about this, but to no avail. So Julian’s words kind of make me think maybe I should just stop now and not continue being so unhappy. I know I can find something else, I’m sure more fulfilling and I think that now I might need to go ahead and try. I have some debt, which I’ve been working on, and that kind of holds me back, but maybe with more enthusiasm in my life, things would move faster. Julian definitely speaks to my son who is probably in his generation and is out there experiencing what he is right now. Fortunately he has no debt, but no real calling yet. Thank you as always for an inspiring post.

    1. Hey Mary Ann,

      Thanks for the kind words and best of luck to you as you think about leaving your job and venturing out into the unknown as I like to call it. It’s definitely tough to leave a situation , especially when you have become so familiar with it.

      The hardest step at least for me was the 1st initial one. After that, it’ gets easier and easier. Once again, glad the story helped and I wish the best for you and your son on your new and fulfilling adventures.

  2. Thank you to Julian for sharing his story.

    Sometimes I believe it is in our lowest ebb when the best, life changing decisions are made and the determination kicks in.

    I also believe that in certain circumstances taking on SOME debt can be OK. For example I took on some debt to invest into my business, and coaching for myself when I started up. And I don’t regret it. I think that is different from mindless consumer debt. Although I still have to use a lot of awareness whenever I make a purchase because of my old, bad habits.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Thank you Julie, I’m glad the story provided some benefit. I agree with you 100% about when we’re at our lowest, usually that’s when some of the best and most beneficial decisions happen in our lives.

  3. Julian

    Great story! I love your positivity and outlook. Most people would have continued on with med school b/c that is “what you should do”. Good for you for following your dreams ….I hope you’re more successful than you ever imagined.

  4. Really enjoyed reading this, and the truths in it! I agree with being able to live life on my own terms. I made my big leap last year, changing everything in my life. I quit the job that had begun to frustrate me after 5 years, as I’d got to the point of no return and my passions were burning so strongly in my heart, I couldn’t ignore them any longer. I was initially afraid of not being able to make my dreams come true, of things failing, but they haven’t so far. The journey has been rough at times, but since my focus is now on developing myself in the best way possible, I learn from those less desirable outcomes by using them as tools to move me forward. My mindset has surely changed too. I have goals and a clear vision, something that wasn’t there before. I’m even sailing through paying off my debt (accumulated while living the life I didn’t truly want!), now almost 50% gone. I no longer have the dread of getting up in the morning to go to a job I don’t feel excited about.

    1. Hey Claire,

      Thanks for reading the story and I’m glad you got something out of it. That’s awesome that you took the big leap and joined the world where we are in control of our adventures.

      It’s so cool that you overcame fear, unleashed your passion onto the world, and now going for your dreams. It’s kinda funny once you take the big leap, most of your worries seem to work themselves out. It’s almost like magic starts to happen.

  5. A Frugal Family's Journey

    Great Story…the underlying theme is so true. Our past experiences is what shapes our future. My personal take is to live life with no regrets because you may look back one day and realize it was those mistakes that made you who you are today.

    Who cares if you didn’t become a doctor, be proud of your accomplishments because not many people can say they whole-heartedly enjoy what they do. They may be making great money but at what costs (myself included)?

  6. I love reading this because I too feel this way about my student loan debt. I was a stay at home mom with no education and no real marketable skill. I knew I wanted to go back to work when the kids got older and I was depressed at the thought of working for 8.50 per hour. So like so many moms, I opted to go back to college. I sometimes feel uneasy about borrowing money for school, even though I did get 10 grand in grants and will get another 10 grand before the end…whoohoo! But when I look at my life, I know it is worth it. I own my own wellness center and I love every minute of it! I am helping people to transform their lives and I feel I am making a real difference. I also landed two part time teaching jobs that I would have never gotten without my education. I too want to keep my debt down, but I feel that education can help you to achieve your goals and dreams if you get the right education and align it with the job market. The way I see it, is if debt can make you more money then perhaps it’s not that bad 🙂 Rather than being stuck at a a dead end minimum-wage job, I am working the job of my dreams and making money doing it.

  7. This post resonated so much with me and the past year of growth that I have experienced. I to have worken up from being a corporate soldier, or one who did what was expected. After taking this leap of faith at the young age of 26 I find myself happy, debt free, and really doing what matters in life. I gave up the currency to live my legacy. I think the biggest message that I was told was that I don’t need to know what my legacy is yet, I just need to position my life in a way that I enjoy and start living it!

    Much Love! Awesome post. Thank you.

  8. My wife and I paid off $45,000 in nine months just by being focused or, as Dave Ramsey says gazelle intense. Being focused and intense help me work harder than I ever had before and help a sacrifice more than we ever what I have. I became the top listing agent in our company just been working more. I think if I did not have a goal of getting out of dad, I would not of sacrifice that much more work that hard. It’s amazing what you can do when you focus your intensity. Have you ever considered becoming more gazelle intense see you can get rid of that $42,000 once and for all?

  9. Thank you for this inspiring post!

    I currently am in my fourth year of paying off my student loan debt. I have roughly $48,000 left on it. I think college is an investment in yourself and you should go if you think that degree will better your life. My diploma has helped me a lot in work and I can say even though I have a lot of debt now, it was definitely worth it. I can also say that refinancing my student loans has helped me a ton as well. As long as you have a strong credit you can save thousands and get better interest rates.

    Thank you again for the post and keep it up!!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll to Top