Dear 18 year old me,
I love your ambition and commitment to academic success. Don’t stop dreaming. But I know you feel very conflicted when thinking about your future career. You want to do what you love, but you’re scared that you won’t be able to find the right opportunity. Despite the fact that you’re studying Law in University, you already know that you don’t want to practice law because of your love and passion for all aspects of culture – from literature to art, fashion, food, dance, film and music. You dream of being a writer among other things, burying your head in books by Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe and other African writers, but then you’re so afraid of the uncertainties.
I’ve learned several lessons over the past 14 years, but while I can’t state everything in this letter, I’ll state a few that I know will give you the direction and peace you need. These are lessons I wish I knew at 18, but you have the privilege of knowing them now. Trust me, they’ll help you become a woman with a clear mission.
I want you to be patient. I wish someone had told me then, “Tokini, you are young, you cannot have it all figured out and even a few years down the line, you may still not have it all figured out”. The time you spend stressing yourself and trying to come up with a highly detailed plan for your life, is additional stress and pressure that is really unnecessary.
Understand that life happens. You may set plans, but understand that so many things will change along that journey. It is better to set flexible goals and be open to many possibilities that will come your way as opposed to trying to create a rigid plan and then feeling like a failure when you haven’t been able to execute that plan.
Try everything. No matter how many interests you have, try any and everything. When I got my big break 9 years ago working with Moët Hennessy to transform their Hennessy Artistry project, I already had a CV that showed that I had worked on so many different projects in the creative industry, which persuaded the company to take a gamble on me. Hennessy Artistry wasn’t well known then and I knew it was a huge challenge to elevate the brand because I had to run a massive music campaign, from the strategy to the advertising, press, events and more. Those were some of the most exciting 5 months of my life, and after a resoundingly successful campaign I was offered my dream job.
I got this opportunity because for many years prior, I had helped numerous creative talented friends with their projects, and had also being doing internships at a variety of companies, offering myself to work for free in order to learn. Doing this, you can only build up skills and experience that will make you valuable in the future. You also get a taste of what it is like to work in some of the career fields that you are curious about. You may think that you can sit on the internet, read about a company and figure out what it’s like, but there is honestly nothing like actually going into a company, offering your services for free and getting a chance to build your experience while observing the environment and that career path.
Always value your relationships. In the course of my career, I have learnt that absolutely nothing can be achieved alone. You have to galvanise men and women to work with you. It is therefore so important to learn how to accommodate many different types of personalities. Learn how to nurture the different types of people you will meet, especially if you want to end up in a leadership position. When many of us start working as young people, we don’t realise how important relationships are to every project success we want to achieve. Believe in the power of relationships and build them wisely.
Stay positive and recognise that the mind is powerful. After I graduated, I moved back to Nigeria, to do my youth corps. I felt defeated because I still hadn’t worked out a clear plan for my life and by this time, I was two years post-graduation. It was depressing for me because a lot of my friends were already working in very enterprising corporate careers such as investment banking and management consulting. And there I was still holding on to this dream of working in the creative space without real clarity of what that role was going to be. I’ve since learnt that your achievements can only be as big as your dreams. If you limit what you allow yourself to think about, or think that you are not capable, then you are limiting yourself and will never achieve your dreams.
Find a support system. Surround yourself with positive people, people who lift you up and who encourage you to dream big. They can come in all shapes and sizes, from your family to friends, your professors or bosses. You need this because when you eventually take on bigger challenges in your career, these people will prop you up. And in moments of weakness, which will certainly come, these people will help and support you along the journey. They will not let you give up.
Today, I love the impact my work has on the creative sector and on the many talented people we have in Nigeria who are craving the kinds of opportunities my team and I provide through ART X Lagos and our other projects. You may doubt your mission now, but you will eventually get to a point where you no longer doubt it. The years ahead will teach you how to be a leader and how to be one that others feel inspired to follow. Like me, you’ll eventually get to the point where you are excited to go to work every day because you love what you do. Don’t stop dreaming.
P.S. Internships gave me lots of experience during those early years. If there was a company such as mine back then that I could have worked for, it would have been my dream opportunity. So, I’m willing to give one young person who is passionate about the creative industry, a paid internship at my company for three months.
Would you be the one? Apply now
Editor’a s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read more articles.