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Sports and finance have a lot in common, says Olympian Lauryn Williams

Three ways to pay down your student debt
Three ways to pay down your student debt

If you need a pep talk, check out Lauryn Williams, a certified financial planner and four-time Olympian.

She knows how to train for a stratospheric goal. Williams, founder of financial advisory firm Worth Winning in Dallas, is a three-time Olympic medalist and the first American woman to earn a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, in sprinting and bobsledding. 

Take student debt, a definite headwind for most. 

The amount owed for student loans is now more than people owe in credit card and auto debt — and the outstanding debt keeps spiraling up. The average college graduate owes $30,000, up from $10,000 in the 1990s. Every day, 3,000 people default on their loans.

Williams says it is still possible to save for other things or purchase a home, even with outstanding debt. You just have to figure out the best way to pay down the loans.

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Student debt, and all the negative emotions it sparks, is among the biggest problems her clients face.

"They're embarrassed, they're ashamed," Williams said. "They feel like they've kind of been cheated in some way, because they took on all this debt thinking that it was going to increase their earnings."

The stark reality is that many graduate with those hefty loans to jobs that pay salaries far below what they'd envisioned.

Sometimes the cost of living in their area and the student loan payments outstrip their salary. "It's really frustrating for a lot of people," Williams said.

That financial weight leads many to feel hopeless. Williams says people struggle with worrying they'll never be able to buy a home or start investing. They feel they can't save when they need to throw all available resources toward the debt.

"A lot of my work is around creating a strategy for clients to help them see the light at the end of that tunnel that is student loan debt," Williams said.

Finance is like sports


Personal finance has a lot in common with fitness or sports. Both require having the discipline to be able to follow a plan, whether training or financial. 

Another trait athletes share with financially fit people: perseverance. You may not always get it right, but you still have to show up the next day, even when you got it wrong. The financial equivalent might be going over budget, or not earning or spending the way you'd planned. You need to persevere and say, OK, I screwed up, but now I've got to get back on track.

The money's in money

When Williams was heading off to college, she wasn't 100% clear on her goals. But she did consider which majors might be likelier to result in higher earnings.

"If I'm honest, at 17 years old, I didn't really know what the earnings were for, you know, basket weaving versus finance," she said. "I just knew that finance was something that had a little bit more prestige behind it, and I chose finance.

"I like math, and I like money, and so I was like, 'Oh, finances, that thing that merges those two,' " Williams said.

Hashtag: someone else's goals

Photographer is my life.

Social messaging plays a huge role in ordinary life events, Williams says. Posts such as "I just got my first house," accompanied by #firstTimeHomebuyers, convey that everyone should do this, want this — even when it's not someone's goal.

Ask yourself if society is telling you that you need to do certain things. "Passive income is the new cool thing, and real estate," Williams said. "There's all these buzzwords around what people think are the things they need to be doing, but they might not actually have any interest."

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TUNE IN: The Tokyo Olympics begin July 24 on NBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.