Retire Young

Exporting The American Dream

“It’s understandable if you’re afraid. These are uncertain times. Now that you’ve worked so hard to earn your degree, will you be able to find a job? And, if not, what will you do? These questions must be weighing heavy on your minds…”

So remarked the president of Marymount Manhattan College to my daughter’s graduating class during the commencement ceremony last Friday.

The sentiment was expressed by others throughout the weekend. One friend of my daughter’s, at a graduation party, asked Kaitlin if she planned to stay in New York. “Will you be looking for a job here? Are you worried?” Kaitlin’s fellow graduate asked her.

“No,” Kaitlin explained, “because I’m moving to Panama. I’m going to start a business…”

As the final project for one of her classes this final semester, Kaitlin was asked to create a business plan for an enterprise relevant to her field of study (which was art history).

Kaitlin’s plan was more than rhetorical. She created what she intends to be the actual start-up plan for a tour business to be based between Panama City, Panama, and Medellin, Colombia.

The getting-started budget is negligible–the cost of building a website and paying for local print advertising. Overheads, too, as, at first, the only employee will be Kaitlin herself, and she’ll operate out of her apartment.

The agency will offer history, art, and architectural tours, in English, French, and Spanish. Kaitlin speaks French fluently but not Spanish. That’s her first challenge, therefore–to improve significantly her basic Spanish skills.

Second is creating the tour itineraries, which she’s begun doing while still in New York. She has given herself the summer to accomplish these two objectives. Come September, she hopes to speak Spanish and to have created a tour product line, at least for Panama City.

Meantime, she’s moving from Manhattan to Panama next week.

As a business associate puts it, “Ready, fire, aim.” Kaitlin is firing off her plan. She’s ready, and she’s showing up.

She’ll refine the plan as she works through it. To that end, she’s seeking out contact with others in the tour business in Panama City and Medellin, approaching the undertaking with an open mind. She knows she doesn’t know anything about launching or running a tour business. But she’s young, she’s smart, she’s energetic. She’ll figure it out.

That’s one of the advantages of being an American. We have a great capacity for optimistic confidence. It doesn’t occur to us that there’s something we couldn’t do if we set our minds to it.

Another advantage of being an American in a developing market like Panama is that we can’t help but notice the potential. The market gaps. No one is offering tours like the ones Kaitlin wants to offer in Panama City. I believe Kaitlin is right in thinking that that isn’t necessarily because there’s no market for tours like these. Nobody knows if there’s a market, because nobody’s tried to offer the service.

A 20-something American has such a leg up on the competition almost anywhere in the world. They’ve been genetically engineered to believe in the American Dream. In the idea that a man (or a woman) can do anything, be anything, become anyone he (or she) wants if he’s willing to do two simple things:

Show up. And work hard.

This almost naïve faith in our own ability and our own potential is one of the biggest pluses of the eclectic American gene pool.

This generation of college graduates is worried. As the president of Marymount agreed last Friday, it’s understandable. These are scary times for kids currently coming of age in the USofA.

On the one hand.

On the other hand, these are times of enormous opportunity. Bred to believe in self-determination…to be resourceful…to make their own way…to have faith in the promise of an ever-better tomorrow…American kids have a chance right now to export those American ideas and ideals to…wherever.

Kathleen Peddicord

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