If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Is There's a universe of opportunity out there for those with the same sort of ambition and drive that I had, but only if you follow the right path and don't go astray.

By Steve Tobak

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After college I found myself with a useless degree in physics and no real prospects for a decent job. I moved back into my parent's Brooklyn apartment and worked part time for minimum wage as a vault attendant in a neighborhood bank.

It was the most depressing time in my life. I remember not being able to sleep and watching late night infomercials full of inspirational "you too can live the life of your dreams" self-help nonsense that just made me more depressed.

Truth is, the whole Tony Robbins/Tim Ferriss "unleash the sleeping giant within, escape 9-to-5 and join the new rich" genre has always made my skin crawl because, well, I guess I've always known self-serving BS when I hear it.

Even then I knew that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

No matter how you spin it, success that's built entirely on selling people a book or a seminar that promises the secret to success is just a self-help-style Ponzi or pyramid scheme. It's like a perpetual-motion machine for making money: no friction, no products, no expertise, and yet everyone gets rich. I don't think so.

Related: The Key to Happiness: More Work and Less Stuff

The very thought that I might have bought into that baloney in a moment of weakness and become a disciple of the shyster way gives me the creeps. What's scary is that I probably would have been damn good at it. I can motivate like nobody's business. Selling is in my blood.

But I didn't. Instead I put myself out there, learned about the coming digital age, trusted my gut, got a Master's degree in electrical engineering, found my way into the high-tech industry, and the rest is history.

To this day I thank my lucky stars for the work ethic my dad taught me, the brains to think critically and the instincts that can only come from growing up on the streets of New York. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to earn a good living by providing real products and services that genuinely help businesses and people.

When I look at the data on Millennials being perhaps the most underemployed, unemployed and indebted generation in history, I can't help but feel a strong sense of empathy. I may be in a Baby Boomer body but my experience right after college was Gen Y all the way. And I want to help.

Related: 6 Epic Online Fails and How to Avoid Them

From this vantage point I can honestly say there's a universe of opportunity out there for those with the same sort of ambition and drive that I had, but only if you follow the right path and don't go astray. Here's my advice for accomplishing that, in a nutshell:

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Not only would I skip the empty promises of the self-help/personal development genre, I'd also steer clear of the entire Web 2.0, social media, user-generated content space. Nobody makes a living there except Google and Facebook. If that's news to you, check out this excerpt of "You Are Not A Gadget" by Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier.

2. Make your own luck.

Successful people make their own luck by putting themselves out there, listening to their instincts and taking decisive action, even if it seems risky or impulsive at the time. And that means getting out from behind your computer, talking to real business leaders and making smart career decisions that make sense.

3. Rinse and repeat.

Once you get out, gain some experience and start to learn how the real business world works, you'll begin to observe certain patterns. Perhaps the most basic of these is that opportunity can't find you if you're not where the action is and nothing good will happen if you don't take action. Be there, listen and act. Turn the crank. Simple as that.

Related: 7 Things Successful Entrepreneurs Do

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.

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