I had breakfast in Times Square this morning with an old friend who is now in the music business. For a kid from Colorado, TSQ still feels like an awfully odd place to eat a meal. I suppose it feels odd not just to kids from Colorado but to most humans ... but I digress.
We got to talking about my idea that it seems like a ton of kids who graduate college with the "brightest futures" and "most opportunities," those kids from the Harvards, Yales, Princetons, etc, act as if they are constrained to a small number of choices - namely consulting, banking, med school or law school. It's like this privileged group of "future leaders" feel they only have four choices. Andrew Yang of Venture For America has written persuasively about this. Consider this fact: roughly 2/3 of Harvard's class of 2011 went into one of four fields upon graduation. Never have so many had so many choices and so little vision. I say that not as a holier than thou statement. I say that as one of the many ...
My friend told me a story about his brother that captured this idea so well for me. His brother grew up wanting to be a sports announcer, specifically a golf announcer. He wanted to be the next Jim Nantz, the golf commentator for CBS. Now I don't watch golf so it's a little hard for me to relate, but golf was big in their family growing up and the boys loved it. All throughout junior high and high school they would go out to play on the weekends and my friend's brother would narrate the whole match, beginning with his own version of those dramatic pre-match intros filled with music and solemn voiceovers that make watching sports on TV feel like an epic and noble way to spend your time.
My friend's brother continued to want to be the next Jim Nantz through college at an Ivy League school. But when he graduated, instead of pursuing that, he ... went to law school. So he became a corporate lawyer. Fast forward five years and he realizes he's never liked practicing law. So he quits and ... becomes a management consultant. In between he's gotten married. He and his wife start having kids. They need to keep the job to keep up the lifestyle to care for the kids. Finally, in his late thirties he quits consulting and breaks out with a partner to try something more entrepreneurial. He never went after the golf announcing.
What's ironic is that apparently his parents were neighbors and friends with the head of sports programming for one of the big four networks. Literally THE guy. But instead of seeing if he could talk to that neighbor and get a start in some entry-level role and work his way up, our friend followed the Way of Less Resistance, a.k.a. The Path of Prestige. Now this isn't a total tragedy. He's doing okay, has several kids, a good marriage and a start-up business that may do well. But he still feels like there's an itch he never scratched.
Why have so many of us lived with our itch? Why do we make the same choices? We have dreams. But we don't pursue them. We take more conventional paths. We lead respectable, safe careers. And we itch. I want to capture more of these stories. And I want to talk about how we start to scratch.