Uncommon Wisdom for the Entrepreneurial Generation

The most unemployed generation in history - Gen Y - has been sold a bill of goods, but not in the way you might think.

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By Steve Tobak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I just heard from a reader who went to a good school, got a degree, sent out zillions of resumes and couldn't get a single interview, let alone a job. She's tried everything she could think of over the years to no avail. Her conclusion? College was a waste. There were no jobs.

Guess what she got her degree in? History. There's not exactly a hot job market for history majors, now is there?

Funny thing is, my story isn't much different from hers – except for one key decision that dramatically changed the outcome.

Back in the dark ages, I graduated with a degree in physics. After six months living back home with my folks and working part-time as a bank vault attendant for minimum wage, I quit, went to grad school, got a master's degree in electrical engineering, caught the tech boom, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Likewise, I used to have a girlfriend with an art history degree. Couldn't get a job. After beating her head against a wall for a few years, she went back to school, got an MA in education, and has worked as a teacher (and painter, on the side) ever since.

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The point is, college didn't fail that reader. Neither did the job market. The problem is that she wanted to do what she wanted to do, regardless of the realities of supply and demand in that particular field. And when that didn't work, she blamed the system.

What she did next is even more interesting. She started her own business, which also flopped. Now she sells trinkets on Etsy and lives with relatives. And her chances of ever becoming gainfully employed, let alone having a fulfilling career, are woefully slim.

Unfortunately, this poor reader's story is playing out all across the millennial generation. What's really sad is it doesn't have to be that way. The problem is that those of you entering the workforce these days have been sold a bill of goods, although not in the way you might think.

The problem isn't college or the job market. The problem is you've been coddled into believing you're entitled to a well-paying job in your field of choice. And when the harsh realities of the working world stick a pin in that bubble, you go to Utopia Plan B: the entrepreneurial route.

After all, you've been told over and over that you are the entrepreneurial generation, right? Unfortunately, if you didn't have the good sense to segue into a more marketable field, you probably don't have the business savvy to do your own thing, either. So you make a few bucks selling stuff online and go live with mom and dad.

I know that sounds harsh, but everyone's been blowing so much smoke up your you-know-what for so long that somebody has to give it to you straight. And if you don't want to become one of the record number of unemployed young adults living at home, here's some uncommon wisdom to help you make something of your life.

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It comes from Jazz great Miles Davis, who once said, "When you hit a wrong note, it's the next note that makes it good or bad."

That's the lesson that made all the difference in my career and, even though I'm a baby boomer, it just so happens to be the same lesson that Gen Yers need to hear, as well.

Regardless of what anyone's told you, the truth is this: Your generation is no different than any other. You're not special, you're not entitled to anything you didn't earn, and the laws of economics don't just apply to capital markets; they apply to you too.

And, aside from the enormous quantities of Kool-Aid you've been made to drink, you're going to have to work your way out of your situation the same way we all have. Not by feeling sorry for yourself or blaming anyone else, but by coming up with the right next move.

As for what that might be, I would start by getting advice from some really smart people. No, not virtual avatars that call themselves social media gurus and CEOs when, in reality, they're living in their parents' basement and tweeting in their pajamas. I'm talking about real people who've worked hard for a living and actually accomplished things in their lives.

What you want to figure out is two things. First, you want to find a career that sounds interesting, hopefully in an exciting, growing field. Don't worry about whether it's the perfect fit for you. You can use it as a stepping-stone to all that good stuff later.

Then figure out your next step to help you land a good job in the field. Maybe you'll have to go back to school and get a more marketable degree.

In any case, and contrary to popular wisdom, I highly recommend getting a real job and learning how the business world works before striking out on your own. Besides, you'll gain far more exposure to opportunities out in the real world than you will living in one of your parent's bedrooms. You can trust me on that.

Related: 9 Ways to Make Gobs of Money -- Seriously

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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