I was interviewed recently for this article that appeared in the New York Times.

It was a vivid and important look at how young people around the world assess their potential for success in life and what they think is necessary for achieving it.

Perhaps surprisingly, young people in poorer countries were generally more optimistic about their chances of future success than those in more economically developed countries like the United States. Some of this divide may be connected to their perceived access to the kinds of support that will help them along the way.

In the article, Dr. Robert Blum, principal investigator of the Global Early Adolescent Study at Johns Hopkins, used a well-worn metaphor to phrase this question – “What’s my ticket to doing better?”

This notion of a “ticket” as a means to a better end is familiar but we seldom investigate this metaphor and its various types.

Are they lottery tickets that offer cheap hope but little real chance of payout?

Are they the ones of Willy Wonka lore; that are few and far between and hidden under wrappers of candy that distract us when we don’t find the Golden Ticket?

Are they exclusive tickets to see shows like Hamilton on Broadway – unquestionably valuable but out of reach for most financially?

The reality is that seldom is there any one ticket that helps us achieve anything worthwhile. Rather it is the accumulation of tickets that propel us forward.

These tickets are available all around us, with varying degrees of value and access. They can be found in our homes, schools, communities, churches, workplaces and elsewhere. They are called by many names; values, knowledge, connections, faith, skills, opportunities and so on. We have ourselves used these tickets AND handed them out to others – often discriminately based on our own definitions of deservedness or limited spheres of ticket seekers.

Tickets don’t guarantee us anything, but they help us get in the door and give us a chance.

Inherent in this idea is that a ticket must be purchased. There is a price that someone must pay. Does the general public pay for some of these tickets – like in the case of education? Does the individual have to work hard to earn their ticket? Or do parents simply buy it for their children?

When we use phrases like “that was my/his/her/their ticket out” we oversimplify a story that requires a more complete telling. The emphasis on any single ticket obscures our ability to see, support, and share the block of tickets that can open doors and opportunities for more people.

Thanksgiving is around the corner. Use it as an opportunity to remember the many tickets you’ve used to get you where you are today. Thank those who handed you a ticket, celebrate what tickets you’ve earned on your own, and most importantly commit to handing out more tickets to those who could genuinely use one.

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