The kick of giving back

Last Wednesday, Merel (17), winner of the Young Lady Business Academy 2.0, and I boarded an airplane to Washington DC. I lost count of how many times I have flown to America, but Merel had never been on an airplane, even though she owns two companies: ‘Vroege Vogel’ (Early Bird) and ‘Aan Tafel’ (At the Table). Apart from the high end meetings I was looking forward to, just being with Merel at Schiphol and letting her have this completely new experience made me feel elated. Her beaming face and unadulterated enthusiasm amplified that unique feeling I get when I am about to leave for America: to be at the brink of a sea of opportunities.

I can already give away now that during the entire trip this smile never left my face.

From the start America showed itself as the America that I love. General Managers, Directors of Sales and even lobbyists from Capitol Hill: all of them embraced Merel without reserve and showed the utmost respect for what she already has accomplished at such a young age. It felt as if they wanted to lay out ten red carpets for her. So motivating! And vastly different from our Dutch culture, where starting your own business is often met with worries and frowns.

I really enjoyed how Merel, right after her maiden flight over the Atlantic, introduced herself to all these people in high places. She added her own question to the script: how would you like a customer to remember your hotel or restaurant? By improvising, Merel left her comfort zone and also forced the managers she was talking to out of their comfort zone (they didn’t have a ready answer for her question). She illustrated an important lesson from the Academy: staying in your comfort zone will not help your idea or business further ahead.

From Washington DC Merel and I rode the Amtrak to Philadelphia. I noticed how eager she absorbed every detail of the new environment, just as I had done once. Going with Merel’s flow I fell in love with Philadelphia myself, with all its cultural and culinary surprises. Our field visit with the Vice President of Steven Starr-restaurants – we toured seven locations and were explained everything about themes, lay out and atmosphere  – was the highlight of the trip for Merel, because she is creating a themed pop up-diner with her second company ‘At the Table’.

Back on Dutch soil, when I see the sparkle and  inspiration in Merel as we say our goodbyes, I am so happy that I started the Young Lady Business Academy one year ago. Infected with the positive opportunism that is so characteristic for the USA, I am certain that Merel will work even harder and more confident towards her dreams. And that she in her turn will become an inspiration for other girls.

I’ll always remember this trip: how I got to see my beloved America fresh anew through her eyes and how I was reminded of what drives me, of the kick I get out of giving back.

Thank you, Merel.