Unsure of your career path? Artists, business leaders and entrepreneurs will gather in Dublin this week to inspire Ireland’s young people, writes
When you’re young and school-going, career choice can be a gnarly topic, especially when punctuated by talk of points, pressure and parental expectation. The fact that the subject generally focuses on college options, brings little joy to anyone.
On March 22, the AIB Future Sparks Festival sets out to inspire Ireland’s young people. Students attending the event at Dublin’s RDS will experience workshops and engage with artists, business leaders and entrepreneurs, keen to inspire and encourage them to reach their career potential, whether on the traditional paths or the roads less taken.
Sarah Keane, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, will be one of the event’s many motivational speakers, as will Úna Burke, whose exquisitely crafted leather designs have been worn by the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, and whose arm-bracelet was proudly worn by Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.
Soulé, is another who’ll inspire Ireland’s young at the career festival. Born in London and raised in the North Dublin seaside town of Balbriggan, the singer songwriter’s innate charisma, talent and electronic dance tunes have garnered her a cool, two million streams on Spotify.
In Soule’s view, the biggest challenges facing young people in Ireland, are not knowing what they want to do after school and not having the right support: “School guidance counsellors often don’t know what advice to give to kids wanting to work in the arts. That should change.” The fact that this sassy, savvy 23 year old is so open about the hurdles she overcame in her journey into the music industry, makes her an excellent choice to inspire students at a crossroads in their lives: “Everyone has obstacles. Mine centred around self-esteem and difficulty believing in myself.
“For me it was a long process getting over those issues. Now that I have, I want to inspire young people to have positive views about themselves. I want them to love themselves.
“To them I say: ‘Push hard if you want something. Don’t give up. Even if you fall 1,000 times, get up again, as that may be the time when you reach your goal.’”
Her sentiments are somewhat echoed by Sarah Keane, who says: “From my personal experience, the main challenges facing young women are generally those we put in front of ourselves. Women sometimes need to be taught to grasp opportunities and believe they’re good enough for them, in a way that perhaps men do not.”
One who has not only grasped career opportunities but created her own is the massively talented Úna Burke. Intriguingly, despite her international acclaim, there’s not a whit of self-importance about this North Roscommon born, London-based artist, who humbly describes herself as ‘a leatherworker.’ What’s Úna’s core message for students?: “You can go wherever you want and do whatever you want, so long as you don’t allow your mind to stop you. Provided you are thick-skinned and hard-working enough, you can make it happen.”
She’s passionate about encouraging youngsters to forge their own paths: “Often students are taught that there’s one way of doing things. This can be limiting. When I started out I was taught that designers draw, then make. That approach didn’t work for me. As I’m a hands-on person, I started with the material, then came back to the drawing-board.” Úna wants kids to know there’s not just one way to do things. To them she says: ‘Tune into what works for you, then allow that to lead your path and process.’”
She has done just that, as has Soulé and Sarah Keane, with the latter having an impressive career journey spanning the legal and sporting professions; arenas typically dominated by men.
Asked whether it’s a man’s world, she replies: “That has never been my experience. I accept that some areas are traditionally more male dominated and I would not belittle the challenges around that. However, it’s my view that things are changing for the better.
“It needs to be less about the one trailblazer and more about critical mass if we really want our young people to believe they can achieve their goals.” As for whether there’s a glass ceiling, she says: “I think there are a lot of people out there, who don’t see these ceilings and we need to protect that, as this attitude frees them to pursue their goals in a very healthy way.
“For me, it’s often about one step at a time, following your passion, standing up for what you believe in, treating people right, working hard and making yourself ready for the opportunities that might come your way. ‘Being ready’ I believe, can be very challenging. Having a good mentor, who’ll someday show you that the next step for you, is actually two to three steps further on than you envisaged yourself, is almost a must.” Her drive and resilience is apparent, not least in the way she overcame the public-speaking challenges she faced as a student.
Describing the ‘significant steps’ she took to do that, she says: “They totally transformed my life and career.”
Positive and pragmatic to the core, she says: “Young people have huge potential. But things won’t always be easy. It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your dreams.”