Since starting Student Loan Hero, I have learned a lifetime of lessons about personal finance, risk and opportunity, and decisions and consequences. If I had to sum these lessons up, they would look like this:
Lesson #1: Debt is a burden we shouldn't take on willingly. Colleges are more than willing to loan you money for a degree. But that doesn't mean they have your best interests in mind.
Before you sign on the dotted line, ask yourself what kind of return you might expect. Also, consider alternative options like choosing a more affordable school or attending part-time so you can work.
Lesson #2: Parents and guidance counselors don't always know better. We envision our parents and counselors as leaders in our communities – and they are. However, that doesn't mean they understand the implications of student loan debt.
Your parents and role models may tell you to follow your dreams, but they won't bear the costs of borrowing like you will. Take advice from people you trust, but follow your gut. If you feel you're on the cusp of borrowing too much, you probably are.
Lesson #3: Expensive schools aren't always better. When I chose an expensive college for my degree program, I thought the higher price would mean better quality and job prospects. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way.
Even with a fancy degree, I wasn't any better off when it came to my job search. Remember, most employers don't care where you earned your degree or how much you spent to earn it, only that you have one.
Lesson #4: Small changes can help you dig your way out of debt. I didn't earn a lot right out of college, even after I found a full-time job. Yet I still managed to make huge strides when it came to repayment. That's mainly because I maintained a frugal lifestyle and threw all my expendable income towards my loans.
If you're struggling with a mountain of debt, you may feel like these small changes don't matter. That couldn't be further from the truth. Small changes do add up in the long-run.
Lesson #5: Never give up power over your finances. When I realized my total student debt was well over $107,000, I felt helpless, destitute, and overwhelmed.
But over time, I learned that my situation wouldn't change unless I did. And with that realization, I learned to take back power over my finances. While it's true I was deep in debt, not giving up power over my financial situation allowed me to make the changes that led me to where I am today.
If you find yourself overwhelmed and helpless, you have to flip the script and take back what's yours. Remember, no one can help you out of this situation … except for you.
I share this story as a cautionary tale, a tale of triumph, and hopefully, a source of inspiration.
No matter where you are on your journey, you should know that all is not hopeless. With the right strategy, you too can get on a path towards slaying your student loan debt once and for all.
As for me, my real journey has just begun. Now that I've made the final payment on my loans, I get to help other people figure out how to do the same.
Commentary by Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, a company that combines easy-to-use tools with financial education to help millions of Americans living with student loan debt. Follow him on Twitter @josablack.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.