The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Are you enjoying the ride?

Helsinki bus and cyclists
Rebekah Allison
Fri 04 Oct

Have you ever started a new job full of enthusiasm, excited about all the prospects it will bring? You go in, give it your all and at first, you’re really enjoying it. Then one day something changes – maybe you’ve been working in the same role for a while, maybe you’ve got a new boss, or maybe you’re just bored –whatever it is, this little voice starts to creep inside your head and ask you questions like, ‘is this where you want to be?', ‘are you doing what you really want to be doing?’ and ‘why don’t you just leave?’ But you quash that voice for now, until it rears its head again... 

So, what do you do?

In order to answer this, I’d like to start by exploring the ‘Helsinki Bus Station Theory’, a concept that was derived by Finnish-American photographer Arno Minkkinen during his commencement speech at a graduation ceremony in 2004. In short, the theory suggests that the key to a successful and fulfilling career lies in understanding the complexities of Helsinki's main bus station. 

“Huh?” you say, let me explain...

According to Minkkinen, there are two dozen platforms at Helsinki’s main bus station from which several different bus lines depart. For the first few kilometres, all the lines leaving from the station will take the same route and stop at the same stops. It’s only after the first few stops that the buses start to diverge and head off in different directions. 

For many first-time commuters, this can be a confusing journey and makes you wonder whether you’ve hopped on the wrong bus.  So, rather than waiting it out, you decide to jump off at the next stop and head back to the station, only to discover that the same thing happens again, and thus the cycle repeats itself. 

So, what’s the answer? 

According to Mikkinen, it’s quite simple, "stay on the fucking bus" because if you do, in time you will reap the benefits. Translation – if you’re in a job and you want to leave – don’t, because in the long run, you will be better for it. 

Now, I’ve given a lot of thought to this theory over the last couple of years, in fact I’ve even let it take me hostage, but what I realised is that for me, it never represented the end goal, it was more about being resilient and not throwing in the towel too soon, or when things got tough. So, in those moments of doubt, I would say to myself, “just stay on the fucking bus!” and it worked. It kept me going...It kept me sane. 

But over time it became harder to quieten those voices in my head and eventually I would ask myself if I really did want to stay on the bus anymore. After all, the scenery had become uninspiring, the traffic was horrendous and despite having driven for hours, I felt like I was nowhere closer to reaching my destination. However, when it came time to hitting the stop button, I hesitated and sat back down. It would take me a few more stops to muster up the strength to finally hit that button and when I did – it felt amazing, it felt right. 

Truth is, sometimes you have to get off the bus and sometimes it’s sooner than you expected, other times it takes you longer than you would have liked, but that’s ok, because you never know where that next bus could take you. Afterall not every station is Helsinki! It’s a good lesson for work, but it’s also a great lesson for life. Deep down we all know what’s right for us, it’s just whether we choose to listen.

For some staying on the bus is right. That's what their inner voice is telling them. But I would advise that long gone are the days where you would work your way up from the mailroom to the boardroom. The workplace has changed, companies are constantly looking to diversify, and you should too. I’m not suggesting you work in a role for a few months and then quit, the timeline is up to you, but it’s acknowledging that if it doesn’t feel right, you have the choice to leave - whether that’s at six months, or six years. But forcing yourself to stay in a job because you feel you should, is not the answer.

After all if you're on a bus in Helsinki, the imperative is that you're enjoying the ride and looking forward to the destination.