When I graduated from college over 20 years ago working for any of the big five blue-chip companies was the end game: you got a good salary, opportunities to travel extensively, a car loan, a housing allowance, and a business card with your own name on it (how cool!).
Gainful employment was the ultimate measure of success and the longer you held onto your job, the more successful you were deemed to be. Big companies scoured universities for the management trainees and instant employment offers were made at annual career fairs. If you could not land a job within a few months from graduation you became a social outcast, a pariah, a black sheep.
And what about entrepreneurship or self-employment? How were these viewed back in the day?
Honestly, entrepreneurship was the last thing one wanted to get into. Entrepreneurs were viewed as failed potential employees, school dropouts, broke, rebellious, and out of touch with reality. To be self-employed when many corporates were offering one a chance to travel the World and earn good money, meant one had failed where so many people were making it. Entrepreneurship was a last stab effort at self-sustenance and there was no glory or sense of social pride in being one. It was your silent cross to bear.
Then in 1997, a techie nerd, college drop-out, and entrepreneur by the name of Bill Gates became the richest man in the World with a net worth of $ 40 billion. All of a sudden a new day had dawned for entrepreneurs. Now they TOO could do it, change the world, make something of themselves and break free from the restraints of a self-sustenance existence. They mattered, they had arrived!
Fast forward to 2022 when the sentiment of the empowered entrepreneur has grown tremendously and I cannot help but think that every corporate or employer, big or small needs to think deeply about their millennial employee experience because the fact of the matter is millenials don't really need YOU, Mr. Employer.
Millennials more than ever know they can be the next big brand and contrary to popular belief they give personal creative freedom greater priority over money.
Because it does intrigue me how one person works for another behind a desk for over 30 years and retires broke with a mug and golden pen as a corporate 'thank-you' gift whilst another is a dollar multimillionaire thanks in part to her YouTube channel chronichling her natural hair journey to her over 1,000,000 subscribers.
What do I know, an old guy as I am right? So I took some time to connect with a bunch of 20 somethings, understanding their values, what drives them and where they see themselves in this tech-driven utopia we call life.
Stacey 'Hennesey' Mariah (*name altered for privacy) is 23 and a social media influencer. She completed college last year, acquiring a marketing degree but is currently enrolled in a shorter course relating to beauty treatment. She enrolled for the course partly out of curiosity and partly to kill time. Her parents catered for her college tuition but she pays for her current course plus her studio apartment.
Where does she get the money? 'Oh gigs and stuff. It is so easy to get money these days, the hard thing is the time and dedication. I hate working full time and having someone 'boss' over me with deadlines even if they are paying me.'
Tell us about some of these gigs? 'Mostly tech. Everything is tech these days. So, like on Instagram I am an influencer and help with brand placement and stuff. The rare times I am fortunate enough to land corporate contracts, I make between $750 to $ 1,500 a month net. On my own, directly approaching companies I make about anything between $200 to $800 per month, on average. They pay me for promoting their products on my page to my followers.'
So what are the upsides and downsides of being an influencer? 'My phone has allowed me to live the life I want and to have some freedom from my parents - meet people, hang out, have my own place, and buy my own clothes. The challenge of gigs is that they are tiring, you have to be on your phone 24-7 and at times you can go for months with no offers.'
Tell us about the other popular platforms? 'Well, I also earn from transcription gigs, helping people with their coursework online, features on Podcast and YouTube. Features are interesting but not sustainable. YouTube is major if done right. I'm not big on YouTube because I do not have the strength to put in the work but I get paid about $100 a week to help channel owners get subscribers.'
Wait, what about 'buying' subscribers? Is that a thing? 'It is if you are naive. You can buy subscribers, followers, and likes but be sure those numbers will 'expire' over the next few weeks and your popularity will go back to what it was. Also, you risk account closure because platforms can tell if you have falsified the following.'
Would you consider employment? 'No way. Never. There are too many opportunities in the World to waste my time working for someone else. Even if I do, it would be for a short period. Just to move on to the next thing. I hate being managed.'
Not even with the right amount of money - a million dollars even? 'Let me put it this way. No amount of money can replace my potential. I have used my creativity to help me time and time again. The few times I have worked for someone I have experienced negative energy and an unwillingness to pay or delay in payment. I would rather be in control of my future.'
Where do you see yourself a year or up to five years from now? 'To be honest I have not thought that far. My mind focuses on today or the next month. I am always thinking of a lot of things. Even now, during this meeting, I just got a new business idea. My mind can't rest. I know I will make something of myself eventually but in the meantime, I am enjoying the hustle.'
What is it that drives you, your mantra? 'Opportunity. That no one can tell me who I can be and that it all depends on me and how I play my cards. Things can work exceedingly in my favor.'
Finally, how do you see the World? 'The World is a strange place. Life is hard but it is also exciting. Me and my friends, we focus on what makes us happy. My mom told me to buy a home as my first asset but the first major thing I want to buy is a car - because I love traveling, meeting people, and getting ideas. As long as one is prepared to hustle, go out and be creative and fearless, they can achieve so much more. I love life and it is what it is.'
I walked away fascinated by Hennesey's mindset. So different from my own and what I was used to but also, I believe necessary in this new world of opportunities.
Millennials aren't some misguided, lost race in space. They are a generation blessed to be born into one of the most opportunistic eras in the history of mankind. They are doing what a lot of us failed to do - following their hearts' desire, and they are reaping the benefits of this bravery, tech-enabled and all.
The author, Jan Okonji is an entrepreneur, speaker, coach, and Founder of the Pan-African accelerator BGS – Business Growth Solutions.
Jan is passionate about helping employees transition safely into entrepreneurship whilst turning their great ideas into profitable businesses and has helped entrepreneurs collectively grow their revenue to over $ 10 Million in the course of running BGS.
Get in touch with him and book a personal session HERE
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