Eric Samson is the founder of Group8A, a boutique consulting firm focused on developing and executing integrated marketing and digital solutions for companies of all sizes.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the average class of 2015 graduate owes about $35,000 in student loans, and the rates of unemployment and underemployment are still on the rise, despite recent improvements in the economy. Saddled with debt and faced with an uncertain future, it is easy for young professionals to believe their dream of owning their own business could forever remain a fantasy.
Regardless of the macro-level struggles that recent college grads and junior employees have to face, the pressure these days to be fiscally responsible, successful and somehow have a full social life is higher than ever. As an entrepreneur myself, here are some tips for recent or soon-to-be graduates to get ahead in your career while staying sane and avoiding burnout.
1. Follow your passions responsibly.
Be responsible and find a balance between doing something you like while being able to afford your lifestyle. When deciding on a career path, make a pros and cons list about each step that you intend to take towards achieving your long-term goals. Even if the first or second job you take out of college isn't financially rewarding, use it as a learning opportunity. As George Stephanopoulos said, "Relax. Almost nothing you're worried about today will define your tomorrow. Down the road, don't be afraid to take a pay cut to follow your passion. But do stash a few bucks in a 401(k) now."
Personally, I've always sought to mitigate my risk by diversifying income streams instead of going "all in" on any one idea, project or job. When I founded, launched and grew my earlier startups, I always had a day job that helped me cover my expenses. Although I was most passionate about building new businesses, I knew it would be financially irresponsible to not have a stable job and income while I was starting out.
2. Partner with the right employer.
Deciding on the right company to work with can be hard; the decision becomes even more difficult when you have a few offers on the table.
Consider the factors that are weighing heavy on you: Does flexibility matter more than environment? Do you value your company's size over your job title? Take a quick inventory of your own values.
Throughout my career, I've chosen opportunities that have provided two things that will always remain important to me. The first one is the chance to learn and hone new skills. The other is a healthy work-life balance that would allow me to have enough personal time to pursue projects I am passionate about.
3. Forget about perfectionism.
Once you've got the job, leave your perfectionistic attitude at the door. When you were in college, perhaps you had a go-getter mindset, always wanting to get an "A" on your assignment or praise from your professor. In real life as an employee, this approach will burn you out. If you see every mistake as a personal failure, your self-esteem and eventually your motivation will suffer -- but failure is actually an opportunity for growth. (This is something entrepreneurs know all too well, as I wrote about here.)
The reality is, you will make mistakes as a newbie, and that is okay. Most employers will view mistakes as part of the learning experience, especially if you are fresh out of college. The good news? This is probably the one time in your life that you'll get away with it.
4. Build a budget.
Unfortunately, with all of your newfound freedom and independence comes responsibility. Use a service like Mint to make a budget every month. The app allows you to enter estimates for your monthly rent, utilities, food, transportation, student loans and other expenses while allowing you the flexibility to create savings goals and budget in some days when you just have to treat yourself.
Just remember that there is no shortage of $100 business ideas, so start saving early to be able to invest in your next company.
5. Take care of yourself.
Being an entry-level employee at any company is hard. On one hand, you feel like you need to make big moves to stand out in your firm, and yet perhaps you do not have the abilities or the creativity to do so because you need to learn the ropes first.
To decrease the risk of burnout and overwhelming stress, take short breaks in between work sessions to re-center and ground yourself. Consider using a yoga or meditation app like Daily Yoga or Headspace. Invest in a gym that you would actually want to go to or read a chapter from The Book of Life to get yourself out of your own head. By feeling refreshed and ready for the day, you will find that you can churn out new ideas in no time.
7. Do not benchmark yourself against others.
When you see someone announce their new promotion on LinkedIn, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to them. You may even come to the conclusion that you are not as smart, happy or successful as they seem to be. However, it is safe to say that almost everyone is as self-conscious as you are and, as a result, they usually put their best selves forward on social media. If you are in a low place, though, it might be difficult to remember this. So instead, if you are struggling, compare yourself to a time in your life where you also struggled but still managed to persevere. That way, you'll remind yourself that you are just as resilient and amazing as you have always been.
Apply the same philosophy to your business. When you launch a company, have realistic expectations. Startup unicorns with $1 billion valuations are rare, and while building a million-dollar business is very possible, most entrepreneurial successes do not happen overnight or at the same pace as others.
8. Enjoy life.
This may be the only time you get to explore your options and try out whatever you want with relatively little responsibility or consequence. Make good career, financial and social decisions, and do not let stress, anxiety and peer pressure dictate what your personal and professional goals.