Editor's note: This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.
HANNIBAL — Joel Booth, 25, believes learning about his ancestry perpetuates his belief in the American Dream. He describes those at the roots of his family tree as “honest, hard-working people who didn’t have a lot of money,” who put family first and lived off what they could afford. Ties to the logging industries of Washington state and Louisiana that date back to the early 1900s opened his eyes to the legacy of hard work, strong families and the value of a good education that have been passed down from generation to generation. Booth works as a loan officer at a bank in Hannibal and says his American Dream is “achieving what you want, but also helping other people out along the way.” He tells his story:
I think that as an independent young man, my career comes first right now. I’m not opposed to marriage, but it’s not in the forefront of my mind. I’m not really thinking about it, whereas maybe 30 years ago, a family would’ve come first. I would eventually like to get a home, someplace to call my own. I’d like a family. I’d want to continue in my career and make more of a difference for people. For some people owning their own home is a big part of their American Dream, and I want to be able to help people do that.
It’s so ingrained in us as a culture; it’s almost like a natural progression. Originally it was graduate from high school, get married, get a house, work. Now it’s changing. Our generation is changing things to where it’s graduate from high school, go to college, find yourself, get a job, then, maybe on down the, road find a house.
Our generation has been given more than any other generation, and we have to retrain our thinking. Instead of being expected to be given something, we have to expect to earn what we’re gonna get.
I think the expectation comes from our parents. A majority of our parents are a little bit more educated. They have a little bit more income. They have been able to give us a little bit more. And so I think because we’ve had a little bit more all of our lives, we tend to expect it. We really do. We expect to be given everything we want right now.
(For example) everybody’s going to have college debt. College is expensive. It’s just a part of life. And you don’t have to have the $250,000 house for your first house. Your first house can be a $30,000 fixer-upper. Pay your college debt off. Have a smaller house and go on from there. Everybody else did it. They may not have had to pay as much because college has become more expensive, but your parents paid for their college.
I don’t think we’re opposed to hard work. I just think we don’t realize we have to do it.
When I was in college, I thought that it would be a breeze and I could get through college easily. It took me about the first couple tests – actually failing on those tests – to realize this isn’t high school anymore. They’re not going to hold my hand through this. I have to study. It’s dependent on me to put in the time and study and really pass this class. It took me a couple failures to realize that.
Every day you do things that could very well be a mistake. How are you going to learn a lesson from that mistake if you’re not allowed to experience that? If you learn the lesson from that mistake and you change, then you’re a better person because of it.
Look at Sam Walton and how many times he failed before he found something that worked. Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison – everybody that failed and then finally kept trying and trying until they found that one thing that kicked it in for them.
I think it’s a big part of our history and who we are. We see that it’s OK to fail, but the thing is, like the old adage says, "It’s what you do from that failure that really determines what kind of person you’re going to be."