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Sunday, January 13, 2013

JR and the Bright Future of America


One of the great things about a traveling job is the people you get to meet. You never know who you get to talk to on the road and what you might learn.  This is particularly true on Southwest Airlines where the Senior Vice President of Don't You Know Who I Am typically won't fly. The remaining passengers tend to be a more friendly and down-to-earth group and chances of a chatty seat mate are higher.

Such was the case last week flying out of LAX to Phoenix where I met a graphic designer/student/entrepreneur/retail worker whose name is Adewale Agboke Jr. , who works professionally by the name "Kjen" but calls himself simply "JR".

Dressed in casual urban clothes with a skull cap that read "Brooklyn", he had the aisle and I had the window toward the rear of the plane.  Our conversation first started when people were getting on the plane late and JR commented about his disdain for people who don't show up on time.  Then the guy behind us got busted by the flight attendant for having his cell phone on.  JR then got started over people who can't follow the rules, especially safety rules.

So now I am interested. That type of old-school work ethic talk isn't usually what you hear from 20-somethings.  For the next 75 minutes on our short flight I got his story: U of Louisville graduate with a low opinion of his Alma mater's academics ("too much money goes to sports and not enough spent in the classroom") so he is currently going to design school while working full-time at CVS.  He wants to be an animator and produce animated comics.  He has spent the last four years developing and redeveloping his animated characters.   Finally, just in the last few weeks, he has them like he wants them. He is on the waiting list for a booth at Comic con. He doesn't want a publishing deal; he would rather sell less and keep his own intellectual property.

So why does this resonate with me?  Since the election we've heard a steady stream of excuses for why the country rejected the greatest barrage of Big Money to ever attempt the purchase of the Presidency. The rationalization narrative is this: those who take from the public trough now outnumber those who contribute to it. The have-not welfare recipients can now vote to tax the job creators until there is nothing left to tax.  America is finished and we can only watch our own slow death.

The problem with this narrative is JR.  Here is a smart, driven entrepreneur with a great work ethic, ambition, and old-fashioned American values in a different wrapper.  He isn't the exception. I spent most of last month interviewing candidates for an high-potential internship program in our company and see the same traits in a diverse array of young candidates.

The American opportunity culture is not dying. It just looks different and white Christian men don't get to say who plays anymore. That's not all bad.

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