An education in hard work and optimism for recent graduate accomplishments

Reports of strong job offers in the U.S. job market have been deceptive for recent Gen Z college graduates looking to begin their professional journeys. After a drastic drop in job availability during the pandemic, the new wave of Gen Z hopefuls are now facing job openings in industries looking to fill positions. less to their liking.

According to a Time magazine June 2022 findings report, graduate employment has improved as the economy reopened, but the gap has widened again. Even though the overall unemployment rate for the general population fell to 3.5% in the spring, the unemployment percentage for graduates rose to 4.1%.

Although many employers have vacanciesaccording to Business Intern, many corporate jobs are different from what young graduates find attractive. Some traditional workplaces does not represent environments that match what matters to them [recent graduates] in work-life balance or sustainable goals.

Either way, a disconnect between what employers think they offer and what the younger generation wants means that fewer recent graduates accept positions in more traditional workplaces. As a result, this lack of a conventional job search has prompted recent graduates to explore gig economy and entrepreneurial endeavors with financial and general freedom as the North Star.

Attracted by the recent swell of wave of entrepreneursmany graduates today leave school determined to succeed on their own instead of turning to corporate solutions to find employment.

Keyan Chang had a similar story, where his quest for a bigger paycheck and greater financial freedom after college led him to entrepreneurship. Chang’s story from college graduate to highly successful real estate investor has been punctuated with what he calls delirious optimism.

Chang’s journey began as an electrical engineering graduate who realized how badly he needed financial freedom after his parents divorced. His journey took him from engineering to sales and finally to real estate, where he is now co-owner of a mortgage brokerage firm, Currency Mortgage.

This reporter sat down with Chang to hear his story of hard work, pivots and a self-proclaimed delirious optimism that brought him success and could inspire others who want to follow similar paths.

Rod Berger: How would you describe the story of Keyan Chang? Basically, what would your pitch be if you had to walk into a room and give a synopsis?

Keyan Chang: I am a real estate and sales expert. I have a sales job and a real estate business, and I co-own a mortgage brokerage company, Motto Mortgage. I was not born with a silver spoon. When I graduated from college, my parents had just divorced and I had $3,000 to my name, so earning money became essential for me early on. It was this need that really drove me from job to job and ultimately to real estate.

Shepherd: As the financial pressures on your life developed, how did this affect your choice of education and subsequent entry into the job market that ultimately led you to real estate?

Chang: Well, I studied electrical engineering because someone told me, when I was 18, that the career had the best financial prospects. So after school I worked with companies like Next Door, Lyft, and Monster Energy. Then I transitioned into an engineering internship at a company called Worldwide Technology, which was similar to Cisco. I quickly realized that the sales people seemed much happier than the engineers and made more money, which further piqued my interest in sales.

I eventually switched to Crowdstrike, a full-fledged sales company, and that’s how my sales journey began. I finally made enough money to buy my first real estate property, and it’s been a great trip.

Shepherd: How was the transition from sales to real estate? Was there a eureka moment that made you feel the need to invest in real estate?

Chang: Well not really. What happened was that I had wanted to buy a Tesla for a very long time. When I started making a good amount of money, I considered buying a car, but I kept seeing these videos online warning me that buying a car would ruin me financially. These videos were advising me to buy a property so that I could earn monthly rental income.

Around the same time, I had a friend who was attending Brigham Young University (BYU). He told me about the school’s housing rule that single students had to live in BYU-approved housing, which basically meant housing within one mile of the school.

The rule made it a bit difficult for college students, so I went online and found a five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom condo in the area. My friend and I decided to enter together and bought the property. My friend moved into the house and rented out the rooms to his friends. After a year, we bought the house next door. That’s how I got into real estate. I just saw an opportunity and jumped on it.

Shepherd: You mentioned this concept of delusional optimism. Can you explain how this mantra animates you?

Chang: I know the term sounds a bit absurd. It means having and pursuing a big vision without determining dedicated next steps to get there. It’s following a dream and knowing you’ll figure it out as you go. It’s like faith, where you see the picture so clearly that you’re willing to bet everything on it and chase it, even if you don’t know how to get there.

Shepherd: Has this form of optimism helped you since your college years? How would you say this shaped your overall life story?

Chang: It has served me well. When I started working full-time in sales, I had this crazy belief that I could be successful in sales. My conviction was so strong that while my colleagues made 30 to 70 phone calls a day, I made 100 to 200.

Delusional optimism means you are so adamant about the vision that it shows how madly you are pursuing it. That’s what makes it delusional, in a way. Optimism is one thing, but if you follow it like crazy, it tends to come true. I have never seen someone who sacrificed everything to pursue an unsuccessful goal. I still work as a salesperson and have become a senior account agent in the business, but this crazy quest has also led me to build a large real estate portfolio.

Shepherd: How specifically has your mindset and quest helped you overcome obstacles in your real estate business?

Chang: I entered the real estate market as I enter anything, with a crazy belief. I remember people warning me against buying that second property near BYU because the pandemic was in full bloom and real estate markets were already affected. But it made no sense not to buy it. I could put down a 10% deposit and pay around $1,000 a month – that made sense.

However, shortly after purchasing this property, I ran out of money. All my money was tied to both properties, and I didn’t have enough cash to make another transaction. I quickly learned that these types of properties were unique and that it was rare to buy a 5 bedroom condo for $250,000.

I was effectively out of the market, but I had a massive vision for my success in real estate. After some brainstorming, the next step became obvious. I started leveraging my success with both properties to sell my consulting service. I called on partners to bring me money to buy a property and make rental income.

Soon I had more partners, and we bought two duplexes and a fourplex in Ohio. My partners were happy to make 15% to 20% cash back on their investments. As word spread, my co-workers became interested and invested in my business. We bought more fourplexes and more co-workers started paying 100% of the money while I just picked the properties and shared the profits.

The journey has taken me to own and manage Airbnb and apartment complexes. We now own and operate approximately 68 real estate units with our partners. These units generate monthly revenue of approximately $87,000, which translates to a profit of 30-37,000 after expenses and maintenance. The point is, with delirious optimism, the next steps will eventually become obvious if we keep pushing.

Shepherd: In your opinion, what prevents young people from developing this state of mind? Can this form of optimism and motivation be advanced in any way?

Chang: The first key is the desire and a strong need to succeed. When I started working in sales, many of my colleagues were financially better off than me, so maybe they didn’t need it as much. I had no choice but to succeed. That’s probably why I could make hundreds of cold calls a day.

Also, young people need to feel comfortable with rejection, because it’s the only way to keep the momentum going when pursuing goals. I’ve been rejected so much on cold calls that I’ve been desensitized to rejection.

Failure teaches you so much. The cold calls and those rejections made me a better negotiator. I could tell if someone was interested or not, even by the way they breathed on the phone or paused before answering. I still do most of my real estate transactions remotely, so you can imagine how well these skills have served me. I failed every time.

Many of today’s graduates are entering the change the job market with a mindset shaped by the entrepreneurial successes that preceded them. They are propelled by the dream of having their own businesses or organizations that cater to diverse interests and work-life balance goals.

Keyan Chang’s story underscores that it takes more than delirious optimism to make travel a reality. Tenacity, courage, perseverance and deal with rejection are key factors that shape any successful entrepreneurial journey.

To achieve financial and personal independence, a combination of learning paths intersect, ranging from education and internship to work experience and professional partnerships. Inevitably, as Chang has demonstrated, it often takes several licks of the proverbial lollipop of job pursuits and experiences to finally find the answer.

Dreams matter, but hard work and the ability to overcome failure are often the mark of success for anyone looking to maintain it over the long term.

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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