Reports of robust job openings in the U.S. labor market have been misleading for recent Gen-Z college graduates looking to start their employment journeys. After a drastic downturn in job availability during the pandemic, the new round of Gen-Z hopefuls is now facing job openings in sectors looking to fill positions less to their liking.
According to a Time Magazine report of June 2022 findings, employment improved for graduates as the economy reopened, but the gap widened again. Even as the overall unemployment for the general population dipped to 3.5% in the spring, the graduate unemployment percentage rose to 4.1%.
Although many employers have positions that need filling, according to Business Insider, many jobs in companies are different from what recent graduates find appealing. Some traditional workplaces do not represent environments that align with what matters to them [recent graduates] in work-life balance or sustainable goals.
Either way, a disconnect between what employers think they are offering and what the younger generation wants results in fewer recent graduates taking positions in more traditional job settings. As a result, this lack of conventional employment pursuit has energized recent graduates to explore the gig economy and entrepreneurial efforts with financial and general freedom as their north star.
Lured in by the recent swell of the entrepreneur wave, many graduates today are leaving school with a determination to make it on their own instead of looking to corporate answers for employment.
Keyan Chang has had a similar story, where his pursuit of a bigger paycheck and more financial freedom post-college led him to entrepreneurship. Chang’s story, from being a graduate to becoming a highly successful real estate investor, has been punctuated with what he calls delusional optimism.
Chang’s journey started as a graduate of electrical engineering who realized how much he needed financial freedom after his parents divorced. His journey led him from engineering to sales and eventually to real estate, where he is now part owner of a Mortgage Brokerage company, Motto Mortgage.
This reporter sat down with Chang to hear his story of hard work, pivots, and a self-proclaimed delusional optimism that has brought him success and might inspire others who wish to follow similar paths.
Rod Berger: How would you describe the Keyan Chang story? Basically, what would be your pitch if you were to enter a room and give a synopsis?
Keyan Chang: I am a real estate and sales expert. I have a job in sales and a business in real estate, and I’m part owner of 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 $3000 to my name, so making money became essential to me early on. It was that need that really drove me from job to job and eventually to real estate.
Berger: Expanding on the financial pressures on your life, how did that affect your choice of study and subsequent entry into the job market that eventually led you to real estate?
Chang: Well, I studied electrical engineering because someone told my 18-year-old self the career had the greatest money 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 resembled Cisco. I quickly realized the salespeople seemed much happier than the engineers and made more money, which further piqued my interest in sales.
I eventually transitioned to Crowdstrike, a full-fledged sales company, and that was how my journey in sales started. I finally made enough money to buy my first real estate property, and the journey has been great.
Berger: What was it like transitioning from sales to real estate? Was there a eureka moment that made you feel you needed to invest in real estate?
Chang: Well, not really. What happened was that I had wanted to buy a Tesla for the longest time. When I started making a fair amount of money, I considered the car purchase but kept seeing these videos online warning me that buying a car would ruin me financially. These videos were advising me to buy property so that I could earn monthly rental income.
Around the same time, I had a friend attending Brigham Young University (BYU). He told me about the school’s accommodation rule where unmarried students were required to live in BYU-approved accommodations, which essentially meant housing within one mile of the school.
The rule made it somewhat difficult for the students, so I went online and found a five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath condo within the area. My friend and I decided to go in together and bought the property. My friend moved into the house and rented the rooms out to his friends. After a year, we bought the house next door. That was how I initially got into real estate. I just saw an opportunity and jumped on it.
Berger: You’ve mentioned this concept of delusional optimism. Can you explain how this mantra drives you?
Chang: I know the term sounds a bit absurd. It means having and pursuing a big vision without figuring out the dedicated next steps to get there. It’s following a dream and knowing that you will figure it out as you go along. It’s like faith, where you see the picture so clearly that you are willing to stake everything on it and chase it, even if you don’t know how to get there.
Berger: Has this form of optimism helped you from your days as a graduate? How would you say it has shaped your overall life story?
Chang: It has served me quite well. When I started working full-time in sales, I had this crazy belief that I could make it in sales. My belief was so strong that while my colleagues made 30 to 70 cold calls daily, I made 100 to 200.
Delusional optimism means that you are so adamant about the vision that it shows in how crazily you pursue it. That is what makes it delusional, in a sense. Optimism is one thing, but if you follow it like crazy, it tends to come to pass. I have never seen anyone who sacrificed everything to pursue a goal that didn’t make it. I still work the sales job and have grown to senior accounts officer in the company, but that crazy pursuit has also led me to build a substantial real estate portfolio.
Berger: How has your mindset and pursuit specifically helped you overcome obstacles in your real estate business?
Chang: I entered the real estate market the same way 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 property markets were already being affected. But it didn’t make any sense not to buy it. I could put a 10% down payment and pay around $1000 a month – it just made sense.
However, soon after buying that property, I ran out of money. All my money was tied to the two properties, and I didn’t have enough liquidity to do another deal. I quickly learned that those types of properties were unique, and it was rare to buy a 5-room condo for $250,000.
I was effectively out of the market, but I had a massive vision for my success in real estate. After brainstorming, the next step became apparent. I began leveraging my success with the two properties to upsell my consultancy service. I called on partners to put up money with me to purchase property and make rental income.
Soon enough, I had more partners, and we bought two duplexes and one fourplex in Ohio. My partners were excited about making 15% to 20% in cash on their investments. As the news spread, my co-workers became interested and invested in my business. We bought more fourplexes, and more co-workers began putting up 100% of the money while I just chose the properties and shared profits.
The journey has led me to own and manage Airbnb and apartment complexes. We now own and operate about 68 real estate units with our partners. These units generate monthly revenue of about $87,000, which results in 30-37K profit after expenses and maintenance. The point is that with delusional optimism, the next steps will eventually become evident if we keep pushing.
Berger: What do you think hinders young people from developing this mindset? Can this form of optimism and drive be advanced in some fashion?
Chang: The first key is desire and a strong need to succeed. When I started working in sales, many of my colleagues were financially better off than me, so they might not have needed it as badly. I had no option but to succeed. It’s most likely why I could make hundreds of cold calls a day.
Also, young people need to become comfortable with rejection because it’s the only way to sustain tempo when pursuing goals. I got rejected so much on cold calls that I got desensitized to rejection.
Failure teaches you so much. The cold calls and those rejections made me a better negotiator. I could tell whether someone was interested or not, even by how they breathed on the phone or paused before answering. I still do most of my real estate deals remotely, so you can imagine how much these skills have served me. I have failed forward every single time.
Many of today’s graduates are entering the changing job market with a mindset shaped by entrepreneurial success stories that have come before them. They are propelled by dreams of having their own businesses or organizations that speak to various interests and work-life balance goals.
Keyan Chang’s story highlights that it takes more than delusional optimism to make the journey a reality. Tenacity, grit, perseverance, and handling rejection are key factors shaping any successful entrepreneurial journey.
To achieve financial and personal independence, a combination of learning pathways intersect from education and internship to work experience and professional partnerships. Inevitably, as Chang demonstrated, it often takes many licks off the proverbial lollipop of job pursuits and experiences to eventually find the answer.
Dreams matter but hard work and the ability to overcome failure are often hallmarks of success for anyone looking to sustain it for the long haul.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.