Usually when a person is laid off, it has dramatic psychological effects difficult to overcome. The blow is too hard to absorb. This is happening around the world even as we speak, as the economic turmoil deepens. Millions of people are getting the pink slip and the lines of jobless persons are growing like grass in springtime.
All of the above is true for people who don’t have the entrepreneur spirit. Entrepreneurs don’t need a job provided by someone else, they are job creators. They are passionate in what they do, and won’t take no for an answer. No idea is too crazy and no mountain is too steep or high to climb. They just do it.
This is the attitude that I saw in a young man that sold coconut water under a bridge at one of the most heavily congested traffic areas of Panama City. This is the intersection between the Transisthmian Highway and Via Ricardo J. Alfaro, most commonly known as Tumba Muerto.
What caught my attention was the way he raced to the cars with a foam glass in his hands selling coconut water. Up and down, down and up he ran desperately serving his cool water before the traffic light turned green. He never stopped and was always smiling, as if smiling gave him extra energy. Maybe it did.
Yesterday I decided to meet him and ask him a few questions about his business. This is a brief extract of our conversation under an elevated crossing at approximately 6:00 p.m. at the end of his working day.
—“Hello, do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your business?”
—“Why do you want to know?”
—“Well, I’m impressed by the way you race through the cars to serve the coconut water, always with a smile on your face. You show a lot of passion in what you do.”
He thought for a brief moment and said, “O.K., ask your questions. Only make it quick, I have a bus to take shortly.”
—“Great. What’s your name?”
—“How old are you Cristian?”
—“Are you married?”
—“Nope, I’m living with a woman, the mother of my two children—a son and a daughter.”
—“What is your education level?”
—“I only got to third year of high school, then I dropped out. Classes were too boring, plus I wanted to work to help my parents. I come from a poor family in San Lorenzo, Chiriqui. I was tired of only eating rice and beans every day.”
—”Cristian, how long have you had this coconut water stand and how many employees do you have, if any?”
—”Four years and I have three employees. We all live by selling cold coconut water to thirsty drivers when the sun is hot.”
—”Do you have another job besides selling coconut water?”
—”No, this is what I do to bring food to the table. I have another stand on the other side of the street. I don’t want to work for anybody. I want to be my own boss.” He smiled as he said that. I smiled too.
—”What do you plan to do during the next five years, Cristian?”
—”I want to have several stands like this one all over the city. I want to be a great man, like the managers I see on TV with a nice coat and tie and inside a large air condition office. I want to be a big shot.” He laughed again, this time loudly.
—”Do you want your children to study and obtain a college degree?”
—”Yes. You have to study to be somebody in life. They need to study to take care of my business when I get old. I want them to be big shots too. I don’t want them to work for anybody. I want them to be their own bosses.”
—”Thank you Cristian for your time. Do you mind if I take a few pictures of you and your stand? I would like to publish them in a site I have on the Internet. Many people around the world will know you. Is that O.K. with you?”
His eyes sparkled and said “Yes”, without hesitation, before I changed my mind.
Below are four pictures of Cristian beside one of his two small coconut water stands in San Miguelito. Here we go.
Photograph of Cristian offering me a coconut late afternoon yesterday. The sign on his stand reads, "Refresh your kidneys with a glass of natural coconut water." (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Photo of Cristian with a pile of empty coconuts at the end of a business day. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Cristian proudly posing for the camera holding a coconut in his hands. This is the bread and butter of his family and his other three employees. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of an entrepreneur in San Miguelito. Who knows? Maybe Cristian could be in a cover of Times Magazine in a few years. Where there's a will, there's a way. Just ask Barack Obama. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Yesterday was a good day. Cristian made it good for me. Seeing a young man with such passion to break his way through life not asking for a bailout, but rather creating a job for himself and three other employees is a sign of hope for this young country. Good luck with your chain of coconut water business, Cristian. “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams”. Good Day.
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