Sandra Essa, Associate Director of Digital Planning for PHD UAE, was named as one of Campaign’s 2016 Media Faces to Watch. During her short tenure in the world of media, Sandra has quickly made a name for herself as a result of her creativity, fresh-outlook and keen digital insight that she applies to every campaign.

You’ve just finished university and the world is your oyster. The number one thing on your mind is money, but in reality couldn’t be further off. The truth is, you’re meant to be broke in your twenties. Yes, it sucks, but it’s completely necessary, making you hungry for a challenge that will ultimately define who you are and what you’re made of. And it’s during this journey of self-discovery that you will suddenly realize, it’s not you who picks your career. The career picks you. Take my personal experience in the world of media for a better explanation.

I’m a movie buff. I only studied advertising because my parents insisted that film school did not classify as an “education” in their opinion. I did what I was told, graduated and entered the workforce as a bright-eyed marketing executive, full of excitement and optimism, and ready to flex my creative muscles. However, it only took one month to realize that this wasn’t my thing after all, and it was soul-crushing. Everything that I thought I loved and knew about myself – was flat out wrong.

That’s when I was referred to PHD, a media agency that I had been dealing with from the client side. After a long and rigorous interview process, I was brought onboard having absolutely no idea what media planning really was. That didn’t matter though, because not long after, I suddenly had every confidence that this is where I was always meant to be. I was relieved to find that I still loved marketing, but perhaps more so from the pragmatic side of the business that uses scientific approaches to creativity and innovation, as opposed to artistic ones. More importantly, at PHD, I found myself in an environment that constantly encourages curiosity and gives me the necessary tools and support in order to achieve everything I conceive.

Such a journey is inevitable for everyone starting off their careers in their twenties, and it’s one that we all have to take on our own. However, one thing is for certain: you will find yourself in the very end. So rather than approaching your existential crises with “what could have been”, perhaps you should take comfort in knowing that fate will take its own course, no matter what. And having been there, and done that, I wanted to offer five tips that should help you make it through the rollercoaster ride:

  1. Keep an open mind: Grow your knowledge and skills in your first job, not your wallet. Follow this mindset and the long-term payout will be even bigger. This means it’s important to be open to new projects and challenges, which, more often than not, will actually surprise you about what you enjoy and excel at. If the role that helps you grow also happens to be the highest paying one, then by all means, treat your struggling friends to a nice dinner every now and then.
  2. Self-assessment is key: Play the role of your own life coach as it relates to your career (since you certainly can’t afford one), evaluating what motivates you, what you’re good at and what value you bring to an organization. Your preliminary focus should be on aligning what you’re good at with how it benefits your company. If this doesn’t exist, then there is no future for you in the organization. Motivation, on the other hand, is something you can find along the way, varying from monetary incentives to ways of working and the environment etc.
  3. Understand how you like to work: Be it hands-on management, corporate versus start-up or physical versus theoretical work, you need to realize what style of working makes you tick. This is not necessarily something everyone gets taught in a classroom, but it is fundamental to your growth and happiness, and therefore important to discover early on.
  4. Don’t switch on autopilot mode: If you’ve perfected something, then stop doing it. Either automate it or train someone else, so that you can move onto the next item on your list of things to conquer. Remember, the key is to continue growing in your field by taking on new challenges. Otherwise, you’re no longer relevant and may even be outdated one day.
  5. Define your purpose: Understand your company’s mission statement, values, and culture, and assess whether you actually believe it and want to be a part of it. Make that the criteria for what you choose to do and where you choose to be, in order to enjoy what you’re doing and feel that you’re working with a purpose.

So, in summary, be open to the fact that what you end up enjoying and excelling at may actually be very different to what you assumed upon graduating. Keep evaluating yourself and your work throughout the journey. Once you’ve had a few years under your belt, you’ll have an idea on where you want to go in your career. And remember, your twenties are meant to move diagonally until you have a proper sense of it all; it’s in your thirties that you start moving vertically. Until then, best of luck, everyone, and try to remember to enjoy the ride.

This article was featured in 2017 Campaign Middle East’s Graduate Issue.