21 things creatives wished they'd known aged 21

If you could have a conversation with your 21-year-old self, what would you say? Probably something like this...

Natalie Jahangiry, Rebecca Storry, Vanessa Toby and Jo Birch are friends who all work in advertising and one year ago launched a website, To Work or Play, that discusses life both in and outside of the industry.

As the blog approaches its first birthday on 23rd October, they've taken a step back and asked themselves: 'What pieces of career advice would we give to our 21-year-old selves?'

A good question indeed. And this is how they answered...

Natalie Jahangiry

Nat on her 21st birthday

Designer Natalie is small in height but has a big personality. Half Persian, but with a Geordie accent, she likes "taking ugly things and making them look pretty".

  • Ask questions, lots of them.
  • Don't be scared to ask for help - panicking for an hour is not worth it when you can ask someone more experienced, who will no doubt be more than willing to offer a helping hand. It won't make you look stupid, no-one knows everything!
  • Make yourself known within your company - give yourself a voice. Again, this isn't necessarily about being a loudmouth or an entertainer. The more people you work with or drink with, the more people who know your name, and the more people who'll fight for your development.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. If you don't put your hand up for that new role, that overseas transfer, that opportunity on a different client, then how are people meant to know you want it? It doesn't mean you'll get what you want, but your chances will be much higher than keeping silent.
  • If you're not getting what you want, leave. There's nothing worse than festering unhappily in a company because it's easier than getting out of there. Don't be scared to make the leap into a new world, you will feel so much better for it (and your career will often be accelerated from doing so).
  • Ask for advice. Contact the people who inspire you, ask to take them for a coffee. Chances are they will be flattered and offer some vital advice to help you take a step up on the ladder.

Jo Birch

Jo on her 21st birthday

A Londoner with a northern twang, Jo works as a strategist and wannabe copywriter. She's a singer with minimal talent but bags of enthusiam; a creative strategist with a science degree.

  • People aren't always nice to each other in the working world. Arguments between colleagues are part and parcel of trying to get something great done, and are absolutely not personal. Saying that, be firm and tough when you need to be - but above all be fair and kind.
  • In AdLand, you need an opinion. If you don't have one, get one quickly. Read industry commentary, read debating books, pick your side and argue for it (but not blindly - consider others' arguments too). Winning an argument is 30% facts, 70% confidence.
  • Raise your profile from day one, make yourself invaluable to an agency. Be more than just your job: take every opportunity thrown at you and add real value. It's a self-fulfilling cycle, the more you get involved in, the more you get invited to get involved in.
  • Sometimes luck plays a role in your career development, and sometimes it's about putting yourself in the right places. Don't leave it all to chance. Put your hand up, go to events, contribute to forums and Twitter debates. Get yourself known.
  • Don't be afraid to get things wrong - it's the best way you'll learn. Don't be paralysed by the fear of messing up, because the biggest way to mess up is to do nothing at all. And as long as you keep on learning then that's all you can really ask for. Read this if that strikes a chord with you.

Vanessa Toby

Vanessa on her 21st birthday

Vanessa works in new business and is a self-confessed "scatty blonde who landed in advertising". A keen traveller with no sense of direction, she is also a handbag hoarder with too many shoes.

  • When going into a new job – use the opportunity to reinvent yourself, better yourself and throw yourself in at the deep end. Just roll with it - no one knows you're anything less than who you say you are, especially if you don't act it.
  • Build your network, make an effort to go to events and work on your little black book – people wouldn't say 'it's about who you know rather than what you know' if it wasn't true.
  • Speak up and be heard. This is NOT a case of 'he who shouts the loudest', this is about having a perspective and presenting it professionally whenever possible.
  • Dress to impress goddamn it! I'm not saying wear a suit - but there is no reason you can’t look super trendy, stylish and presentable. Power heels never hurt anyone.
  • Read everything. I've harped on about this before (read here) but the reason I'm repeating it again is because it's essential, and has really helped me in my career to date.

Rebecca Storry

Rebecca and Nat at 21

Rebecca works as a marketing manager and is much better at organising others than herself. A foodie aficionado with an unused oven, she has a butter-wouldn’t-melt-face but is frequently NSFW.

  • Job searching will often take its toll on you, particularly in one of the most competitive cities in the world. We’re trained to think that if we go to school and get good grades, we’ll automatically be rewarded with our dream job. Not always true. Keep your head up regardless and know it’s not you.
  • When you do land that job and one day you find you are unhappy, don't be afraid to say so. It's not in their interests to have unhappy staff as you won't work to your full potential. Strive to have an open dialogue with your bosses.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with careers, the job you're in at 21 won’t necessarily be the job you will be in forever. Don’t be afraid to jump around a bit when you are young to find your passion. You only have to look to the career paths of the greatest business titans to see how they didn’t get it right in their first career path.
  • The best you can do is the best you can do. There’s a fine line between learning from others, and trying to be them. Be yourself and define your own definition of success, don’t define it by others. You will exhaust yourself and be downright unhappy otherwise. Embrace where you’re at, and set your own goals. And of course have a wee glass of wine to celebrate when you reach them.
  • Don’t believe there are rules. There is only advice. There is only opinion. Not everyone will love your work. Not everyone will even like your work. Some people will downright hate your work. Don’t put energy into pursuing the fantasy of universal adoration. You’ll get your heartbroken and your work will suffer as a result.

What advice would you give a 21-year-old creative? Let us know in the comments below!