It is one of those nights where I can’t sleep because my mind is chasing ideas. I was once told by a sports psychologist who worked with our college tennis team that “your mind and body need to be trained to know that when you are in your bed that it is time to rest.” If your mind is not allowing you to sleep while in that place, then you have to get up and work out that energy! If not, then the bed will no longer be harmonious with sleep.
The thoughts that keep me up at night surprise me. Some nights I can’t sleep because I’m dreaming so heavily in Spanish that I’ll wake up and want to know how to translate some obscure economic term. Other nights I’m restless over ideas and thoughts of how I can create an effective NGO or if I can compile a groundbreaking thesis statement. Or sometimes I’m incapable of sleeping because I ate waaaay too much jamón and paletas.
Tonight, however, I’m out of my bed because I’m inspired. My mom recently sent me a NY Times article about the “Super People.” It discussed how high school graduates need to aspire to be super people in order to make the college cut or even find post-university employment. I remember when I graduated high school in 2000, this super people generation had just begun to really take off. Unlike our elders who attended the top universities with a mediocre resume (by present day standards), it is much less possible to be accepted to a top University without having a whole lot more than just good grades. My high school classmates and I were highly encouraged to do community service, to hold leadership positions in student organizations, play an instrument, and play sports. Not only to participate, but to excel. While in my first year of college, I visited a friend of mine who was studying at Stanford. I remember him telling me that everyone enrolled there was multi-talented but on an incredibly high achieving scale. The super people generation had already begun. In my third year of college, I worked for NCG Porter Novelli where I worked with such clients as the SAT. This was the year that the SAT was in full competition with the ACT in order to promote the creation and implementation of the English writing component in order to effectively test college-bound high schoolers. The new writing component to the SAT definitely added to the push for the budding super people generation to be even more super… at a cost. Could average high schoolers excel in this writing component? What about ESL students? More importantly, who among the aspiring “super people” could afford to take an expensive prep course to prepare for a brand new SAT component? At this time, there was absolutely no sufficient literature on the market to prep students who couldn’t afford the Kaplan courses, for example. When I graduated from college, my sister was entering college. Universities had become heavily impacted (especially public universities in California) and being a super person was more than necessary, unless you had some serious contacts or big-time donors on your side at the private universities. Now, some 6 years later, I doubt if contacts or networking with trustees or the admissions board would even benefit a not so super college candidate unless of course a big donation were to coincide with their application.
I mention all of this because it is very much related to our world today and the economic crisis. As the article reads, “the push is on to compete for places at the top, as the middle disappears.” Of course! Who, after all, really wants to be at the bottom? As my generation is reaching 30 years old and my sister’s is hitting their mid-20s, we are all in a rat race to reach the top as super people. The problem with this is we need a stepping stone or rather a middle-ground. We need jobs – ha, like everyone! – that aren’t unpaid internships and community service work abroad and home-side where we have to pay to participate. In this race to be uber “suber,” many of us are throwing ourselves into more student loan debt with the hopes of getting a graduate degree and thus being the super reason for obtaining employment. (Note to these people: graduate education is often times less expensive abroad and can be just as high of quality!). It seems pretty impossible to jump from zero to the top unless you are super. So what is happening to everyone who can’t afford to be super? Where can the average-achiever land a spot in the US economy, for example?
There is hardly a middle class anymore in the US. How sad is that? According to a graphic I just saw in class the other day, the US boasts the second highest level of inequality of national income dispersion in the world. Ouch. The separation between rich and poor is so great that we have lost our core. And, just imagine, with this breed of super people in the making how much more our national income dispersion will split between the “have a ton” and “have nothing (not even health care!).” I spoke with my French classmate about this. She told me that her mother has worked in a makeup factory her entire life. In fact, my classmate will go to work alongside her mother in this factory each time she returns home. Does the US even have factories anymore? In addition, my classmate told me about how her father and brother both work in small farming of products like milk, grains, and vegetables. Could a small-scale farming operation even succeed stateside? (Side note: Before I left for Spain, I was trying to sell my antique Schwinn. It was one of the last Schwinn’s that had been melded together in Chicago. You know, back in the 1960s when we had factories and outsourcing hadn’t dwindled our stateside middle-income generating workforce. Now, Schwinn’s are manufactured in Asia. Go figure.) This classmate comes from a middle-income family. Other people I have met while in Spain from Argentina, Germany, Spain, Poland, and Hungary tell similar stories. Their families work as blacksmiths, in agriculture or in factories. I haven’t met anyone who is “rich” by US standards. I haven’t even met anyone who is high-middle income by US standards. Yet, I have met tons of people who come from average middle-income families. Most of these people can afford to attend college and grad school, they have health care, and they don’t have to be a “super person” in order to live a high quality life. I’m not saying that other countries are economically better off than the states or that there are more jobs. What I am saying is national income seems to be more evenly dispersed in other countries and their quality of life seems to be just as good if not better.
In route to being a divided nation of poor, super, and very super people, North Americans need to remember their influence on the world. In Latin America and Europe, we are constantly referenced and used as an example. My biggest concern is our influence on the less developed world. If we lose our core, our middle-ground, then what will we be teaching these countries? If we outsource our labor and import all of our food, then how will that resonate with the developing world? We must strengthen our middle and lead by example. While working and volunteering in Central America, I noticed that the need for a strong middle class is essential to the sustainable economic development of these countries. This is what they lack and really need. I am a firm believer that if those who work in international development aid work efficiently to strengthen, educate, and create a middle class, then the middle class will be the catalyst to pull the impoverished from their ranks and help them achieve opportunity. As a whole, the middle class could strengthen a developing countries economy enough for them to be the next Japan or Brazil. Japan and Brazil have made some serious waves. Wouldn’t this be so much more sustainable than only working with the impoverished? What if we could all be “super people” together?
I constantly explore this idea through research and discussion amongst friends. Veronica, by far, is the most inspiring person to me in this realm of thoughts and planning. We are in a constant state of bouncing ideas off of each other and collaborating. She is obsessed with waste, plastic, and how China is the front-runner in this field. She has led me to become obsessed with the idea of creating a stronger middle class in less developed countries through green job creation and elevated social responsibility programs amongst corporations/businesses. I feel that if both factors are in play, then big change can be achieved sustainably. When I mentioned that the US needs to set an example, I often reference this: If we send all of our recyclables to China to be broken down and then resold to us, then what are we teaching the developing world? Nothing. Nothing more than how to not be a sustainable nation. I would love to discover opportunities to create green jobs in this sector and ways for developing countries to make a profit off of something that could potentially be very environmentally sound and economically beneficial to their country.
Hence, I’m going to submit a proposal for this idea and hopefully present at this conference:
I hope I am given a chance to participate and receive some feedback. I’ll keep all of you posted.