The Privilege Behind Picking the Right Path

There seem to be two people in this world right now: people who think there are too many opportunities and people who think there are no opportunities.

A well worn set of footpaths in a field crossing at an intersection

Photo by Victor on Unsplash

I’ve been in so many meetings where people have talked about the struggle to find good people.

I’ve probably spent an equal amount of time in rooms with people who feel totally rudderless and like there is no place for them in this world. There’s privilege in picking the right path, but I think often people don’t even get chance to start the journey in the first place.

First, let me introduce the Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

This theory was first outlined in 2004 by Arno Minkkinen, a Finnish-American photographer. His idea was that pursuing a career in photography was a lot like riding a bus out of Helsinki. At Helsinki bus station there are 20+ platforms, all going to different destinations, but for the first kilometre or so they take the same route out of the city.

Say you commit to photography, every bus stop represents a year in your life. You pick the bus on platform one, but three stops later you keep getting told your work isn’t unique and isn’t better than any other photographer.

The truth is that you’re just on the same path but you then have two options: stay on board or get off and head back to the station to try a different route.

This really hit home when I heard Christy Hoskings speak about her experience growing up with dyslexia but with a team in her corner.

She told a story of working with young people and a girl who had dreams of being a singer. After sharing this with her foster parents she was told she would never make it so had better choose a different dream.

Now, I’m not questioning the talent spotting skills of those parents, but why can’t we just do something for its enjoyment alone?

Do kids from different backgrounds get kicked off buses early because an influential adult decides they don’t have the right ticket?

What does this mean for finding good people and our skills gap?

Sometimes it feels like careers advice, whether formal or informally given, is often designed to close doors on folks before they even get started. As a culture it can feel like unless you’re world-class or stand out at the start then you’re better off not wasting your time.

I get why, and the desire to protect people from harm. Not wanting them to waste their time, helping to prevent future disappointment. But isn’t the attempt to protect them harmful in itself?

We live in a time when people are less likely to have hobbies just for the sake of it. Hobbies make us more interesting, help us to meet more people and can lead to exciting adventures.

I’m reminded of the Valleys’ choir that was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York. None of the members (with the greatest respect!) were ever going to be invited to sing there on their own.

Hobbies like these can also pay dividends in developing “soft skills”, building our networks, and competence which can be a transferable skill in the form of confidence.

Emerging industries with high growth potential need these people who might have otherwise disqualified themselves from being eligible. The creative sector as an example isn’t just for world beating acts and talents, there’s a need for carpenters, beauticians, artists and electricians to bring together shows and performances.

In Wales alone the creative industries are worth more to our economy than the traditional, more “realistic” careers in agricultureand is close to the value of tourism — two industries perceived as being at the heart of the Welsh economy.

And of course, when we think about those best creative performances we’ve witnessed, they’ve rarely been by the best singers or most naturally talented people.

There’s a big growth mindset factor in all of this. We can’t compare the finished product with the first iteration.

If we really want industries like the creative sector to thrive, maybe we need to focus our campaigns on the grandparents, aunts and uncles who have such an influential role in enabling or dismantling the ambitions of future generations.

We need to help people to get on buses and see where they end up, sticking at it for any unexpected adventures.

The narrower the niche, the less likely people will pick that path, but we need more people to at least try in order to realise the value of those untaken opportunities.

As always, I’d love to hear from you — have you revisited closed doors later in your life and found joy?

Tweet me, and remember it costs nothing to give a post a couple of claps!

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Gareth I. Jones

Gareth I. Jones

Founder of TownSq, focused on building communities of entrepreneurs, supporting startups and B Corps - businesses that are better for the planet.