How to Follow Your Dreams - While Still Paying Your Bills

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By Hannah Morgan

Younger Americans feel it's harder to eke out a living today, but it doesn't mean you have to give up your dream.

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Sixty-eight percent of younger Americans think they have a harder time starting out than previous generations, while 80 percent of older Americans agree that getting started today is harder than when they were at the same point of life, according to the 23rd Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll, released earlier this month.

"Young people want the 'American Dream' of homeownership, career and financial security, though they're working hard to achieve it on different paths compared to their parents and other generations," says Troy Hawkes, field senior vice president of Allstate, in a press release for the poll.While it is encouraging to hear young Americans want to buck the trends, new graduates may want to proceed with caution.

Take off those rose-colored glasses. Seventy percent of younger Americans believe their personal financial situation will be better by this time next year, according to the Heartland Monitor poll. This optimism is admirable, but perhaps unrealistic. The best, and perhaps only, way to improve your financial situation is to secure a job. The reality is: You lack proof that you can perform in the workplace. So, in order to acquire work experience quickly, you may need to sacrifice your quest for an enjoyable job and take one that earns money.

Your older and wiser counterparts blazed a proven path of taking on lower level jobs, which you may not want to dismiss. For example, Yahoo CEO Melissa Meyer worked as a grocery store checkout clerk, and Michael Dell, of Dell computers, began his career as a dishwasher. Every job you hold teaches you something, and employers want to see you what you can do. Without any work experience, you don't have a track record, which makes it harder to land a job.

Start repaying loans. The Heartland Monitor poll found that 45 percent of younger Americans have student loan debt, compared to 28 percent of older Americans who had debt when first starting out. The sooner you start drawing a paycheck, the easier it will be to chip away at your student loans.

The odds of landing a job solely by applying through a job board are slim – under 16 percent according to the 2014 CareerXroads Source of Hire Report. Use a referral, visit the company's career page and be persistent. Don't forget: You could take a temp job, sell your professional services on Craigslist or other sites for freelancers and even ask a past employer for your old job back.

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Find your spot. While it may be tempting and make short-term financial sense to live with Mom and Dad, relocating to a new city with more work opportunities may be a smarter step. According to the Heartland Monitor poll, half your young American peers think moving to a different part of the country is a better career strategy. Research cities that are hiring for the types of jobs you are interested in, recognized hubs for industry growth or have the right community and volunteerism culture.

There are so many factors to consider when relocating, but you're in luck. There's literally a website called findyourspot.com that can help narrow down the choices based on what you're looking for. If you don't have connections in a new city, consider rallying some friends to relocate with you for instant roommates.

Have a plan. Whichever path you end up taking, make sure you make an informed decision and understand the short- and long-term financial implications. Choosing a career for its intrinsic reward is fine – as long as you can repay your debt and cover your bills.

Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She is the author of "The Infographic Résumé" and co-author of "Social Networking for Business Success."
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