As the economic recovery in the United States stumbles along, some recent college graduates are looking ahead at a tough job market. Studies last year showed that unemployment among recent graduates was at 7.9 percent. That’s not terrible, but it certainly isn’t good. More troubling is the finding that half of college grads were working in jobs that didn’t even require a college degree.
Faced with such a bleak landscape, buried under a small mound of debt from student loans and perhaps forced to move back in with mom and dad, many wouldn’t be blamed for giving up. But many aren’t giving up; they are taking matters into their own hands. Look around and you may find some little glimmers of optimism among our newest entrants into the labor force. Many of them are deciding to go it on their own and start their own businesses.
Across the Atlantic, England was faced with a similar youth situation. That country has responded positively to the trend of young entrepreneurship. Do a Google search today for something like “more young people starting their own business” and many of the top hits will be news stories and resources from the UK.
Highlighting the trend are recent comments from one of Britain’s richest and highest profile entrepreneurs, Richard Branson. Branson’s comments may prove prescient for the youth of today as many decide to forgo the traditional, seeming security of a corporate job in the dreaded cubicle. Current estimates are that one-in-three people in the work force are freelancers or work independently. Branson thinks that number will grow to 50 percent in the future.
Last year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously pulled her employees back to their cubicles, ending a years-long work-from-home policy. Branson shot back from his blog that the decision would likely ultimately be a bad one, musing on his blog that “one day offices will be a thing of the past.”
Not all of today’s youth are going to become as rich as Branson. There can only be so many Mark Zuckerbergs. Most people really only need one Facebook, after all. But getting rich may not be the main goal for this new generation of entrepreneurs. Work-life balance, freedom to come and go as one pleases, and self-direction may be the new rich. You know, a life instead of a career.
At the end of his book Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens drove home that idea and quoted Hungarian dissident George Konrad:
Have a lived life instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses. . . . If you don’t like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.
Indeed, when one thinks of the word freelancer, one typically thinks “freelance writer.” Writing is rapidly becoming an outlet for the young - especially those who may be paying off the loans that purchased their high-priced but undervalued liberal arts degrees. The days of agents and publicists are not over for successful writers, but getting started in the business is not as hard as it once was.
If one has a laptop, an iPhone, and a Starbucks nearby, one has a pretty decent little office with really big windows. Not a bad way to start out. It pays the bills, especially if one is living with the parents for a short time. It also allows for loads of freedom. In this age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, initial advertising costs are low or non-existent. One can create one’s own personal brand rather easily, and the internet is packed with opportunities for aspiring scribes.
But not everybody can write. It’s a small segment of the population going out and doing that. Besides, if everyone was writing, there wouldn’t be much of an economy.
Young entrepreneurs are contributing to the rest of the economy too. They are producing things and they are selling those things. If you live in an area that has a farmers’ market, pay attention to who is toiling away in those booths. Many of them are young people, passionate about a certain type of food or passionate about the natural food movement in general. Farmers’ markets have really caught on in the last decade. Spurred on by concerns over industrial food production, many are looking to these neighborhood markets for healthy alternatives to supermarket-purchased food.
While owning enough land to grow enough organic broccoli to pay an electric bill may be out of reach for someone just out of school, there are less expensive businesses one can set up with far lower initial investment. One outgrowth of the still popular but previously very popular raw food movement is that of fermented foods. Creating one’s own brand of sauerkraut, with a flavorful twist to a personal recipe, is relatively easy to do. The startup cost is low. And just as was the case with writers, social networking sites can be the farmer’s friend when it comes to creating a brand.
Writing and farming aren’t necessarily the future engines of the new economy. The possibilities for new businesses are truly endless for people who want to hoe their own row. New entrepreneurs are finding ways to turn their hobbies and passions into a business they can enjoy. If someone has a knack for decorating, home decorating business could be started fairly easily, and cheaply. If you worked in a flower shop in college and enjoyed working with your hands and making people happy. There is likely a great opportunity to start a business doing floral arrangements for weddings.
All of these businesses mentioned can be started from home or a small, cheap space. What’s more, all them can grow into very lucrative businesses with storefronts, showrooms, and employees. Many in the current generation of young people, the first generation in America that it seems might not be as well off as their parents, are turning their little ideas and passions into businesses. And those businesses are providing jobs for them; jobs they can be passionate about and don't require missing dinner dates with the significant other or toiling away in that old cubicle.
They are just doing it. This year, right now, people are finding their own way. There’s a reason Richard Branson just dubbed 2014 “The Year of the Entrepreneur.”
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