From Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg, the success stories of entrepreneurship have been enticing dreamers to step off the beaten path for generations. But now, more than ever, young people are turning to social media superstars like Gary Vee for inspiration, and the self-employed culture on Twitter seems to be dominated by the idea that you’ll never make it working for The Man. There are college students who’ve fully bought into this lifestyle, such as the University of Maryland student with startup aspirations who dropped out two weeks before graduation because he didn’t want his degree to become a fallback plan. But is there really shame in having a day job?
The rise of the millennial.
“There is even more of a trend to encourage not just young people, but a lot of women in entrepreneurship, a lot greater than when I graduated back in 1996,” says Maggie Georgopoulos, author of Up the Ladder in a Skirt. “The sell on it is that it offers you the lifestyle that you want and that working for someone doesn’t give you this.” But, she says, one of the main issues with this line of thinking is that it’s based off the idea that there’s no flexibility within large companies. “[In truth], organizations are becoming more flexible in order to meet the demands of the millennial, for both attracting and retaining them.”
Georgopoulos adds that not everyone has the right personality for entrepreneurship. But Jerome Katz disagrees. The distinguished professor of entrepreneurship at the St. Louis University John Cook School of Business says, “It’s not a matter of personality, it’s a matter of picking the right business.” He gave the examples of college dropout Rush Limbaugh and astronomer and Ph.D. holder Carl Sagan, who both built media empires and became multimillionaires.
Patience is (sometimes) a virtue.
As far as whether someone should wait or go into business for themselves fresh out of college, Katz says when it comes to developing apps and internet businesses, “young people have better skills and better personal experience on which to build a business.” But when it comes to brick and mortar businesses, being older is better, “particularly for high-tech businesses that generally require advanced degrees and experience.”
Another frequently cited benefit of going to work for someone else is the opportunity to make connections and let someone else pay for your mistakes. Tali Raphaely, owner of the nationwide real estate title company Armour Title Company, advises graduates to “get a job in the field of their interest prior to starting their own business. Establish credibility in your field. Meet others in your field while you’re collecting a paycheck as opposed to doing it while you’re getting your own company ramped up. Learn valuable lessons on someone’s else dime.”
Raphaely also points out that “seeing a company’s policies and systems as an employee will provide you with the opportunity to model your future company’s policies on proven models that work. Don’t reinvent the wheel when instead you can learn from others.”
Don’t fear failure.
Some people will skip climbing the ladder and go straight to building their own ladder because they see entrepreneurship as a shortcut to success, but David Waring, co-founder of FitSmallBusiness.com, says, “It’s likely far easier to get rich working for someone else than it is starting your own business.” After all, many companies fold within the first five years.
Bob Saunders, a partner at OCA Ventures who has worked with more than 200 startups over the last few decades, says, “Entrepreneurship isn’t a path to success by any means. It’s a path to learning.” But fear of failure shouldn’t dissuade anyone from their dreams. Saunders believes there’s value in battle scars and that younger people have a lot less at stake when they start a business, such as children to support or mortgages to manage.
Find your own path.
This is encouraging for anyone who’s dreamed of launching a startup. But young people who aren’t drawn to the startup life shouldn’t feel self-conscious about their choice to go a more traditional route.
Elle Mejia, founder of #PrettyGirlsWork, addressed the self-employment hype: “ ‘If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs,’ right? I think it’s quotes like this that have created this generation of serial entrepreneurs and wannabe bosses, and who have been shamed into thinking there’s something wrong with working the status quo Monday to Friday, 9-5.”
When it comes to finding success in your career, Mejia sums it up best: “Success is self-defined. If you’re working at a job that fulfills and satisfies you, then it doesn’t really matter that it doesn’t fall under someone else’s definition of success. There are a thousand different ways to be happy in this life—just pick yours.”