“Where do I start?”

This has been my most agitated week of the year. Despite this, as I ran from one place to another, racing to secure employment, I noticed that I wasn’t accomplishing much at all. There’s a unique sort of glorification reserved for being on edge and busy all the time, but what about when all your work doesn’t end in reaching your goals? I’ve grappled with the tension between believing that I am either delusionally ambitious or that I am trying to talk myself out of my own plans, and I am beginning to understand why.

Ambition is the drive to accomplish. Put a driver who doesn’t know what turns to take to get where they’re trying to get and you’ve got someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. But what about someone who does know where they’re going and doesn’t seem to be moving forward at all?

There are barriers, inside and out. For some, there is a social privilege that allows them the luxury of entirely by-passing certain barriers to opportunity. The (arguably) most important barrier of all to accessing opportunity happens to be the easiest to remove. That is the barrier to first steps. So many socio-economically disadvantaged people, particularly people who fall into this group and first generation immigrants or their children, don’t know where to start.

The more I think about this, the more I begin to see it everywhere I go. I’ll give you an example. For the longest time, I didn’t know that you could get funding for art projects. The concept was foreign to me. You’re thinking, “Whatever. It’s not really something people talk about”. It’s something you’d think you would know of, though, when one of your parents is an artist, yet he was just as surprised as I was. Many art communities are  very niche. Networking is important, yes, but there is a very specific-unspecific trajectory that leads to timely interactions. These interactions lead to a broader audience and the sincere consideration of a person’s work.

When you aren’t born into the social context of success, the “specific-unspecific” trajectory I mention above becomes even murkier. To be specifically unspecific in the face of opportunity means to be different while remaining in line with norms of the culture in which you are participating. In other words, it means to be qualified but to be more, too. There are three things that happen first when you face barriers to the first step.

  1. You don’t know what the first step to take is.
  2. You can’t take the first step because you don’t know how to.
  3. You can’t take the risks that give you the “more” factor because you don’t have.

The first step is always the hardest, but for a lot of people, it’s near impossible. I can’t help but wonder how many people have been needlessly prevented from giving whatever it is they had to offer because they didn’t get the chance to start.

This is not something we should be setting out to remedy: it’s a structure that we have to undo. I’m not calling for a restart of social capital. It’s just the rerouting of information and opportunity transmission, and many people are doing just that by offering representation for groups that tend to be left behind, and mentoring young people and acting as positive role models. I’m grateful for the people in my life who played those parts. If you’ve also had that privilege, consider paying it forward in your community. Together we’re better.