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The American Dream

All this summer I’ve been working with Tio on his studying. It’s been okay for the most part. He’s been cooperative, if not enthusiastic (who can blame him) and done what was asked. We’ve covered topics like inventions, rap & jazz music, differences between the sexes and whatever I could dream up for about an hour a day.

Last week we were working on what it takes to succeed in college, and what it might take to get into a good college. I’m working hard to get him to understand how important it will be to do the best when he gets to high school. So we’ve been reverse engineering from a good career, backwards to what to study in college, to what it takes to get to the college he wants. I think it’s finally sinking in that the next few years are not going to be a breeze if he really wants to get a job and career that will pay.

When we talked about people who got ahead without college, Bill Gates and a few other entrepreneurs came up. Exceptions, I said, not the norm. You need an original idea, original plan, and some serious talent to be the exception.

“What about flutemaking?” he asked. “You’ve always gone your own way with success. I could learn to make flutes and take over your business.”

Flattering as it would be to consider the possibility, I had to pour water on the idea. “First, my company is me and me alone. People buy what I do because I do it, not someone else. Second,” and this was the real pill that I have to accept, “American flutemaking is a dying industry. All the mass manufacturing has folded and the handmade companies are moving their production overseas. They make their signature instrument here and the rest in China. In the next generation, there will be no American made flutes. You’d have to learn the trade, establish a small plant with a few employees and then go to China to build a factory. That’s where the money is.”

I would love nothing better than to have someone in the family learn my trade and carry it on. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. Flutes, like every other manufacturing industry, go where the jobs are cheap so the product can be less expensive. Even if you just get your parts and basic assembly done elsewhere, it’s essential to keeping costs down.  My overhead is low because I work alone - but I can never really grow. A choice I made many years ago, but not a choice an ambitious young man starting out wants to make.

It really illustrates how much tougher it will be for Tio and his brothers to find their way. It’s a global world wrapped in a local market. The competition for American jobs is fierce and getting fiercer. The choices he starts making soon are going to narrow the choices he has later.

I tell ya. The American dream isn’t out there waiting to get plucked. You gotta want it bad.