Debtor to CEO

Why Debt is a Catalyst to Success

Careers  |  3 min read

I revealed in a recent episode in my “Overdue Advice” podcast that I was once a debtor. 

It was sort of a spontaneous mic-drop moment. I hadn’t really planned on saying it, and it’s not something I’ve ever made public before. But nor is it something I’m ashamed of.

It’s part of my story.

Here’s the most important take-away:without that experience, I could not be where I am today

Life is not a smooth, easy path from birth to death. (That would be terrible!) True growth comes from developing the skills to handle adversity. When I amassed a large amount of student debt, with no clear means of paying it back, I was at a crossroads.

I got a call from a debt collector, and realized: “Hey—I could do that.” 

And as it turned out, I could do it really well. Instead of the union job I was headed toward, I set my sights on leading, then owning MetCredit. And from that place as a young debtor with zero collection agency experience, I got there.

No question, there were some stressful times. I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be in those boots, and it’s why I’ve been so steadfast in advocating Respect as the cornerstone of MetCredit’s Code of Ethics. We’re in a people business, and each and every debtor is a real person with unique problems to solve. 

Stress, I’ve learned, comes from the things you haven’t done or faced. The thought of bills piling up causes stress. The fear of taking a call from a debt collector causes stress. Not having any of the answers causes huge stress. 


And you know what relieves stress? Taking action. Making progress. Succeeding.

When MetCredit collectors make a call, they are doing more than setting out to collect. They’re helping people resolve significant problems. If you struggle to understand that, watch the videos we’ve created about some of our team members: Zak, Katrina, Quinn and TsiTsi. Strikingly different people, who have become highly successful at their jobs because they excel at helping people to solve problems and develop important life skills.

Stress comes from the things you haven’t done or faced: bills piling up, taking a call from a debt collector, or not having the answers. 

What fixes it? Taking action. Making progress.

Guess what: none of those employees had their success handed over on a silver platter. They worked at it, and more than one had first-hand experience with sizeable debt. 

It’s not uncommon for a former debtor to become an excellent debt collector. I’ve seen it happen numerous times, and it still never fails to inspire me. Those people have been there, felt the despair, confronted and solved their own problem—and are well positioned to compassionately, effectively help others do the same. They have empathy but don’t take excuses, because they know with conviction that the problem NEEDS to be solved in order for the person in debt to advance and succeed in life-changing ways.

My own experience with debt made me a better collector, a better business leader, and more of a well-rounded person. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming to excel in a career without ever having some serious run-ins with adversity. 

Learning to handle money properly sets a person up for life. And once you’ve tackled a gut-wrenching problem head-on and clawed your way out, you immediately become less fearful, more confident and prepared to take on the next big challenge. It’s a process of emboldenment, problem-solving, application and validation: key ingredients in the recipe for personal and career success.

That is how we as humans grow emotionally and intellectually. Solving problems not only moves us past the immediate challenge, it puts new real-world knowledge in our heads and powerful new tools in our belts. 

If you can live without debt, do it. If you’re in debt, work hard to get out. And use what you learn to create success in other parts of your life.

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Brian Summerflet Author: Brian Summerfelt

President and CEO of MetCredit, Canada's top-performing consumer and commercial collection agency

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