As I sit on my final plane ride of an almost 30 hour trek back to Los Angeles from Singapore, I can't help but worry about the future of America.
Sure, I watched the debates. Watched the House vote to try to bail our country out of pending financial ruin. Watched TV anchors risk whiplash as stock market plunged and surged. Watched the most prestigious institutions drop suddenly like flies. And I won't even get into what it was like to watch tourists taking photos of themselves in front of Lehman Brothers last week when I was in NYC.
Amidst all of this chaos, deep in my heart I believe the American spirit will prevail. What scared me most this week in East Asia though, was literally being surrounded by the global emerging workforce -- graduating students from dozens of countries around the world... and wondering if the spirit of our young people is strong enough to keep us globally competitive into the future. After all the dust settles, will they really be ready to lead?
The government and corporate world aren't the only ones in the US who need to clean up their acts and step up their games... so do millions of young people. For three days in Singapore, I stared, mesmerized, into the fiery eyes of students and teared from listening to the personal mantras of those from Kenya, Nigeria, El Salvador, the Philippines, the Ukraine, Poland, and Egypt watching the future leaders of the world find their voices and commit to joining forces to take on the biggest challenges that plague our world. The Americans in attendance were special indeed, but for all those back home who think they've got the world all figured out in their teens and twenties, I have to say, most don't have a clue what they are up against.
Before you start to question my patriotism for the country I love or for its youngest up-and-coming members, you have to know that I've dedicated the past 15 years to helping young people cultivate success in their lives, careers and communities. I've worked with thousands of them, and seen the best of what the younger generations have to offer. Every day they inspire me with their ambitions. But this past week, I met their competition, and it was awe inspiring and terrifying all at once. It wasn't pretty. It was fierce.
Putting aside the mounting issues of entitlement, self indulgence, job hopping, deteriorating professional readiness, delayed adulthood, "everyone's a leader" and "what's in it for me" mentality that are now being reported about young people in America almost ad naseaum -- it is time for some real perspective.
The world is a big place, yet so many kids in our country can't see beyond their own immediate environment, let alone our national boarders. They can't identify unmarked countries on a map. They study world history in school, but not world events unfolding every day. They wouldn't be caught dead watching the BBC over the Hills... let alone CNN. And they're not traveling abroad and exploring the larger world. At the center of their own universe they're getting far too comfortable. While this is in no way representative of all kids in the US, the numbers it does represent are staggering. We must, as a country, start to impress upon our young people the importance of becoming more globally aware, let alone savvy and curious.
Young people from other countries are hungry, passionate, and proudly training to become true global citizens. Young Americans should be no different. If the events of the past month have made anything perfectly clear it's that none of us can afford to rest on our laurels. This is the time when we all need to step up, expect more of ourselves, expand our perspectives, build our networks and embrace the different cultures, practices and people of the world. Those just launching their careers need to heed this warning (and seize the inherent opportunities) more than anyone.
Our ability to remain globally competitive as a country depends on it.
To learn more about the extraordinary students I met in Singapore, check out Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) or come meet some of the most ambitious young people on the planet from over 110 countries at YSN.com.