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How to Make the Tough Choices After You leave School

Should I look for a job, which is not guaranteed? Or should I start a business, which is not guaranteed to succeed either? Should I focus on acquiring skills and experience or should I go after the money? These are some of the tough decisions you’ll have to make when you are out of school. And none of these choices is guaranteed. You are 80 percent likely to fail in business within 18 months, and 85 percent less likely to get a dream high paying job. How do you make the right decisions under these uncertainties?

You see, one thing we all crave from life is a certainty. You want to be certain that studying a particular course in school will offer you opportunities to at least make a living or at most make a fortune. It’s why you endure 4 to 8 years of study, paying those school fees. Your future will appear less uncertain without formal education. People invest in pension plans because they want a level of certainty for life after work. The craving for certainty is why most people take little risk through life; because taking a risk means daring the uncertain. But ‘it is those who are willing to lose that get’s to win’

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If you are caught between making the tough decisions after school, I want to share some lessons I believe you’ll find valuable.

Career or Business?

Should I get a job or should I start a business? People who are career-oriented already know what they want. People who are business-oriented also already know what they want. The society needs both people to function. But if you are still contemplating on which path to take, for most people, you are better off getting a job. And I say that for specific reasons. I’ve never had a regular job since leaving school. I had a few gigs here and there in different industries; then went fully into starting a business. Look, building a business without an alternative source of income and a red bank account is not for the faint-hearted.

Don’t be deceived by the glamorous pictures of entrepreneurs you see on the media. For every success story you read, there are untold stories of thousands who threw in the towel and many hitting the rocks. Even if what you want is to be your own boss and own a business, you’ll often be better off starting in someone else’s business. If you work in the right place, with the right people, you’ll learn a lot about how to and how not to run a business. You will gain relationships that will serve as a springboard when you eventually start your business.

Don’t make the mistake of starting a business just because you want to be your own boss and identify as a business owner or CEO. But if you have the staying power to make the sacrifices business requires, then, by all means, go for it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all decision. It’s about what fits into your overall ambition. It’s okay to be a professional working on other people’s business, as long as you want to be there. It’s okay to start with a job and then move into starting a business. It’s also okay to start with a business if you have the resolve to make it work or die trying. Just don’t fall for unnecessary hype.

Money or Value?

Should I take a path that offers high pay but little room for growth or should I take the job that offers opportunities to acquire and grow skills and experience, even if the payment is small? The choice here is pretty simple. Do you want short term or long term results?

If you have to choose between hunting and gardening for a living, which would you choose? Before you choose let me create a picture of what both professions look like. A hunter wakes up in the morning and heads into the forest with his gun to kill a wild animal. Some days, he kills a game, other days he returns home empty-handed. The hunter’s survival depends on his frequent hunting activity. You don’t hunt, you don’t eat.

Now, let’s look at the gardener. The gardener acquires or leases a piece of land, and starts cultivating the land with crops of choice. For the first few months, it’s all work for the gardener with little to show for it. After months of cultivating, and tending his garden, his work starts paying off. He has a variety of food to harvest with little effort.

Making your earlier career decisions solely on monetary benefit without considering the return on your growth and value is like hunting. You may get the quick paycheck, but you are not building anything tangible. A lose of the paycheck and you have nothing to fall back on. Focusing instead on developing transferable values is like gardening. You choose the path that makes your effort incrementally valuable over a period of time.

It’s the love for what you do or the love of the significance of what you do, that will keep you going at the darkest moments. Whether you choose to pursue a career or to start a business, make adding value and meeting a need your primary motivation. Money goes where value is. If you start a business to solve an existing problem and remain efficiently consistent at it, the money will come. That also applies to pursue a career to learn and grow. There will always be a place to put your skill and knowledge to use.

Dealing with Lack of Experience

If you decide to get a job after school, almost every job you apply for will have this disclaimer, “minimum of 3 to 5 years experience”. How would you get experience when no one is willing to give you a job? This is the reality of the job market. It is what it is. You can’t change that. The question is how do you prepare for this? If you are still a student, start making productive use of your holidays, strikes, lockdown and industrial attachment. Look for side jobs. If you have graduated, look for an internship position, even if you have to work for free. Remember your goal is to gain experience for better opportunities.

Dealing with Rejection

Your job applications are going to be rejected; lots of it without explanation. If you are recruited as a marketer (which is usually the most common jobs around), a lot of people are going to say NO to you. If you announce your new business on social media, people are going to do a good job of telling you why it will not succeed. People close to you will tell you pursuing your dream is unrealistic.

When a student, you may have uncles and relatives you reach out to for periodic pocket money and allowance. Most of these people could stop taking your calls. That uncle that promised you a job, or study abroad for your masters could go silent on you. You must get ready to deal with rejection. The mystery and beauty of life are hidden in its uncertainties. Prepare the worst but hope for the best. You must understand that no one owns you anything and that you are responsible for your life. Don’t expect everyone to understand your dreams, not even you dearest parents and siblings. Look for and surround yourself with like-minded people. Embrace the uncertainties of life, and submit to its surprises but never stop demanding more from life.

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