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“How To Turn Your Passion into a Profession”

I'd seen my friends successfully get interviews and internships at top firms and companies, but I never felt as if things clicked for me. I had an interest in the fields where internships were offered, but my applications were never substantial or strong enough. The minute I saw “you must do an online test as part of the application process”, my brain always used to shut down. If I saw“must have x years’ experience in this field” I would sink into myself, dwelling on the fact that I had zero years’ experience for the field I wanted to go into.

The final straw for me was when I was in the running for a summer internship opportunity for a communications organisation and I failed after the final stage interview. I'd passed the initial application round, I had passed the tests, but at the final stage, I failed. Despite all the challenges I had overcome to get into university, I felt as if I were back at square one, without a plan and, in my head, a failure.

So what did I do? Well first, I cried and cried and cried.

Then my mum asked me “What is your passion?”; I had to pause and think about it.

When I worked at a summer school, I came to realise that I loved talking to the young people; I loved the satisfaction of helping them and guiding their life choices, and I loved being my authentic self around them.

“This is it!” I thought to myself. “I am passionate about helping young people!”. Jackpot.

That day, I made a pledge to myself that regardless of what I did, I was going to make it my mission to be the best.

Almost four years, two university degrees and a wealth of experiences later, I can happily say that I have been true to my mission and I am currently blessed to be working for one of the leading not-for-profit youth organisations in the world.

So, how did I go from distraught undergraduate to turning my passion into my current profession?

1. Being consistent

I've been in the youth empowerment space for 5 years (and counting!). I worked as a Widening Participation Ambassador for my university, I was the Deputy Chair of a National Youth Board that worked to empower young people, I represented my university at numerous university fairs across London and the West Midlands, and I mentored hundreds of young people through my various roles with social mobility programmes.

These are a handful of the roles that I have been lucky to have, but I made a conscious effort to ensure that every experience was linked to my goal. You have to think of it as completing a puzzle – every piece represents one relevant experience and they all eventually add up to create something great. I was recognised as one of the Top 150 Future Leaders in the United Kingdom of African and Caribbean descent for 2019/2020, for my work in Widening Participation and youth mentorship. This would not have happened had I not been consistent in my experiences; all working towards my passion.

2. Being flexible with my experiences

A key piece of advice I was given was “any experience is good experience”.

In this context, “being flexible” does not mean completely abandoning your passions to take on other opportunities - it means taking on a breadth of different experiences to enhance your passions and make yourself more employable.

In my case for example, I was fortunate enough to complete a weeks work experience with a top performing law firm in December 2016. While I did not follow this passion through, I used the skills I learnt during that experience (e.g. research, organisational skills, communication) to get other experiences that enhanced my real passion (i.e. working to empower young people).

3. Be proactive

It's all well and good to identify your passions, but it's much more productive if you identify opportunities and do your homework; that can help you develop those passions further.

This can take form in many ways. You can:

· Read up to make sure you're as well informed as possible.

· Email relevant people in companies for work experience opportunities

· Put yourself forward, take part in careers fairs, virtual events etc.

4. Working to build my brand

Over time I have realised that building your own personal brand is an important way to turn your passion into a profession. Your brand can take form in numerous ways, but the most important thing is that it is consistent and true to you. Focus on the breadth and consistency of your experiences, your brand can market you as an expert in your area.

Your brand is your one liner, what you sell yourself as to other people, the “headline” on your LinkedIn page.

5. Be patient!

It may be incredibly difficult, especially when you see your friends getting opportunities, but put in the work and your time will come.

This journey is similar to the “how it started v how it is going” tweets that have surfaced on our timelines – we tend to forget that most brands have taken months/years to build, but when that moment comes, it can be life changing.

Most importantly, there is a difference between being patient and being idle. None of these changes happen overnight, but it is important to have faith; to know that one day everything will come together.

Three years on, I'm living my dream and I would tell that distraught undergraduate to just keep calm and carry on.

Alexandra Otubanjo

Instagram: @alexotubanjooo