I got off the phone 5 minutes ago with one of my clients, and I’m so fired up about what we were coaching around that I’ve got to sit down and write about it.

My client Chloe and I were talking about her decision to go back to grad school. While she’s excited to start school again, she’s been feeling some residual anxiety about her choice.

When we dug down to the source of the problem, she realized she’s been wondering, “Should I feel guilty for doing an advanced degree if it’s not ‘necessary’?”

I understood what she meant … it’s pretty universally common (at least in America) to get a college-level education after high school, because it’s mostly necessary to have an undergraduate degree to get a decent-paying job.

In Chloe’s mind, going to college wasn’t really a question. It just “was what it was.” And so the time and cost of going weren’t big considerations — she did what she had to do.

But in her mind, grad school is a different story. You don’t need a Master’s Degree to do well, financially or otherwise. And so the implication of spending years of her life and tens of thousands of dollars suddenly seemed scarier … she doesn’t need to spend this time or money, so should she?


It doesn’t help that Chloe is going back to school to study what some people would refer to as a “softer” or more “social science,” as opposed to something super “useful.”

And naturally, her various extended family members are happy to point that out … “Why would you go back to school for that?? That’s not as necessary as medical school or law school.”

When we got to this point in the conversation, I stopped her and said:

“Do you know what’s funny? People have babies ALL of the time. And babies are really expensive. They require years and years of manual labor and likely cost ten times more than your grad school program ever will, at a minimum. And yet NEVER, not once in the history of babies, has anyone said to a pregnant woman, ‘Oh, well THAT was a bad idea. Babies are SO expensive. And they’re not really necessary. You shouldn’t have done that.’

Why? Because most people value babies, and think they’re a worthwhile investment. There are a LOT of really expensive, time-heavy commitments in life, like mortgages and car payments and children … but because most people agree that those things are necessary, no one thinks to question your decision to have them. But what if you have a different opinion about what’s ‘necessary’?”


I told Chloe that I have friends who are dead-set on becoming mothers. Personally, I’m not dead-set on that today, but I intend to have children one day. I, and many of my friends, agree that being a mom is a necessary part of our eventual happiness and fulfillment in life.

On the other hand, I have friends who are dead-set on not becoming mothers, ever. Their happiness and fulfillment rely on maintaining their independence and not having to procreate, if they don’t want to.

Kristen and I recently traveled to a business-building event where we met a young entrepreneur named Cory. He told us that, much to the dismay of some of the people in his life, he’d decided to leave college before his senior year began and focus on building his business, instead.

He told us that if he continued with school, he’d be in over six figures of debt and that the education he was getting wasn’t valuable enough, or necessary enough, to help him build his business. So he was cutting his losses right then and there.

(Interesting aside: Cory’s brother, who did the traditionally “useful” thing and went to law school, is now over 250K in debt and the owner of his own law firm. Though he’s just starting out as an attorney, he’s already feeling miserable and trapped … but thanks to his astronomical debt, he’s going to be locked into his firm for a long time. When Cory saw this, he decided he’d be better off owning his own business, rather than having a business that owns him.)

The point being … “necessary” is arbitrary. What’s necessary for one person to find happiness and fulfillment is never the same as what’s necessary for someone else. There is no one definition of “necessary” for anything in life. There’s only your definition.


When I asked Chloe, “What do you NEED in order to live a life that’s fulfilled, happy, and gratified?” she said …

“Well, I definitely need to go to grad school.”

For her, getting her Master’s is non-negotiable if she wants to have a career and life that’s deeply rewarding and fulfilling.

For me, my happiness is completely contingent upon working for myself. I’ve tried working for other people, over and over again, and it’s just not ever going to suit me. I’m meant to be my own boss, and that is necessary for me to be happy.

Maybe you need to get a PhD. Maybe you need to quit your job and travel the world for a year. Maybe you need to swear off having children. Maybe you need to have ten kids. Maybe you need to buy a house with a white picket fence, and maybe you need to live in a hut in the wilds of Alaska.

It doesn’t matter what your definition of “necessary” is … it only matters that you live by your definition, not someone else’s.

Sometimes, your definition will align nicely with everyone else’s. Other times, your definition is going to create friction. That’s OK. It’s bound to happen because no two people are exactly alike.

But will you stand up for your definition, even if no one else gets it? Will you have the guts to dismiss what other people deem “necessary,” when you know it’s not necessary for you?

You get to be happy living your definition, or you get to be less-than-happy and live someone else’s definition because you care too much about what they think. But you can’t have both.

twitter-birdYou simply can’t be 100% happy AND care what everyone else thinks.

It takes a pretty sizeable dose of courage to live your own definition of “necessary.” But you won’t be alone … Chloe’s doing it. Cory is doing it. I’m doing it and Kristen’s doing it and our clients are doing it. Join us, won’t you?

So, what’s your definition of “necessary?” I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Much Love,

Rachel (+ Kristen)

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Did you hear? We’re doing a {free} live hangout on Tuesday, September 15th at 12pm Eastern about how to find a job you love … that loves you back.

You need to hear this if you’ve ever asked:

Plus, we’ll share the exact strategy we recommend to all of our clients that’s consistently helped them to find unbelievable (in the best way) opportunities.

If you can’t join us live, no worries. Register and you’ll be sent a recording after the hangout ends.

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  1. WOW, it’s sometimes spooky how relevant your blog posts are to what’s happening in my life! I was literally just talking to a friend last night about what my needs are when I’m in a relationship, and trying to help her understand that what I think is necessary for my relationships to work won’t always match what other people need in theirs – and that my needs almost never align with what society and the media is constantly telling us is necessary for a relationship to work. I get annoyed when I see articles with titles like “5 Things Your Partner Should Be Doing for You” or “7 Signs That Your Relationship Is Headed for Disaster.” There’s no way these articles can apply to everyone who reads them – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for what’s going to work. You may go along with what everyone else is claiming to be important, and then wonder later why you aren’t happy.

    I love this question you asked Chloe: “What do you NEED in order to live a life that’s fulfilled, happy, and gratified?” It’s so important for us to retain our integrity, observe ourselves, and identify what WE actually need in order to live a fulfilling life – rather than looking for the answers outside of ourselves.

    Thanks so much for this! What a valuable and helpful post 🙂

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