Am I wasting my EE degree if I open a cafe/bakery?

I’m 22, just graduated from college with a BS in Electrical Engineering (DSP/Communications Concentration) from a respectable university. I’ve had a hard time finding a job in this recessionary economy, and something that I don’t see recovering anytime soon. So, I’ve been trading stocks in the meantime, but I’ve also looked at the possibility of moving to Taiwan to open up a cafe/bakery shop of some sorts with my aunt, and hopefully eventually opening up a franchise of that store in the US. The only missing piece is the money. My parents aren’t too fond of me using my EE degree to open up a cafe/bakery shop, but for one thing, I like living in Taiwan, and secondly, I don’t see much hope of finding a job anytime soon. Is it ridiculous for me to consider “wasting” my EE degree on something I feel like I’d love to do?

The Harvard MBA says:

It’s never to ridiculous to do something you love (provided it is legal).  But I can understand your parents’ reluctance to bankroll your venture.  I don’t know what the right answer is for you, but here are some things you can think about as you make your decision.

1) Where do you have comparative advantage?

This is probably the main reason your parents are skeptical.  Basic economics argues that people (and nations) should focus their efforts where they have the greatest comparative advantage.  Having a EE degree gives you a much greater comparative advantage for certain jobs; there are far more people who could theoretically be a baker than a digital signal processing engineer.  The EE degree is also helpful for any sort corporate job, since it demonstrates your basic intelligence and capabilities.

2)  Going into business with family

When family and money mix, heartbreak is usually not far behind.  It’s great that you and your aunt get along, but who knows what will happen when you’re working together 20 hours/day, 7 days/week.  It’s also the case that your parents may be reluctant to bankroll other family members, fearing rightly that once they invest anything, they’ll be called upon for further assistance if (or rather when) things go wrong.  Finally, I don’t know what your parents relationship is with your aunt, but it’s possible that they’ve supported her ventures in the past with negative results.

3) Most new restaurants fail.

While restaurants are no more likely to fail than any other new venture, the three-year failure rate is still 59%.  That means that the most likely outcome in three years is that your cafe/bakery will have failed, and your parents (if they invested) would have lost their money.  I don’t know how rich they are, but no one likes to lose money.  More importantly, they don’t want to see their son spend the early years of his career on something that doesn’t advance it.

4) Are you sure that you love the restaurant business?

Research shows that we are terrible at predicting our own happiness.  While running a restaurant may sound fun in principle, you should do whatever you can to confirm or invalidate this believe.  Get a job at a bakery/cafe, and see how you like it.  If you have to, volunteer to work for free for a week.  You should also use the power of surrogacy.  Find someone similar to you who pursued their dream of opening a restaurant, and talk to them.  You may also want to talk to someone who pursued a conventional path.

Now all that being said, life is not about always making the most economically rational choice.  If you consider all these issues, and you still want to move forward with your plan, DO IT!

Life is short and uncertain; if you have clearly identified a calling that you love, and will make you happy, you’re already ahead of the vast majority of humanity.  Seize that opportunity and make the most of it.

3 Comments

  1. Alex
    Posted September 20, 2009 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    good points all around

  2. Wha?
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    Using the term “comparative advantage” makes you sound like someone who wants to be an economist. But, of course, Harvard MBAs are not. Trust me. I know.

  3. David Liu
    Posted August 4, 2010 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    Why not come to Chian to dig the gold?

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