The 30 Year Old Intern

How I managed the late switch of becoming an intern at 30 years old and transitioned into a new career in the digital advertising industry.

You might be wondering why on earth would anyone take on an internship at this age? I know, right? Most people think of a fresh-faced, energetic graduate, the bearer of coffee cups who takes phone calls and runs errands whenever the word ‘intern’ is muttered. Shouldn’t one be settled into, or pursuing the career that is clearly laid out in the linear life path we are told to aspire to? The answer for me is a firm no and the journey I’ve encountered in my life has taken many twists and turns as I’ve progressed (a little more on that to follow). A few of my friends laughed at me and told me that I was crazy. My family, no doubt had their reservations about my plan, but I was determined to follow my dream.

Back in 2011, while working in a marketing role for an international agricultural company, I had succumbed to the temptation and desire to spread my wings. I decided to leave everything behind in search of adventure, to travel and experience the world outside of the confines of South Africa’s borders. Fast forward 9 months and I found myself surrounded by 40 teenagers in a classroom teaching English in the South Korean countryside. A new language, food, surroundings, interesting people and exciting, new adventures were now staring me in the face.

The shift out of my comfort zone (and country) challenged me daily. Changes like this have since become a key feature of my modus operandi that has fueled me in the ensuing years. This type of change or progress continues to both scare and excite me.

Two years later, and after being inspired by how people across the Asian continent consumed digital media like nothing I had ever seen before (and following some extensive research), I decided it was time for another change. I would set off on a new adventure back to South Africa to explore a new career in digital advertising. Excitement again filled me and met me at the airport.

The next destination: A little paradise I now call home, Cape Town, South Africa.

The challenge/s:

1. Leave the comforts of a cushy salary and international traveling pleasures to chase a dream.

2. Enter a totally new industry with no experience.

3. Taking a step backward to eventually move forward in the right direction.

The goal: Learn and grow as much as I can in order to leave my mark on the industry.

The how-to / starter kit:

Coupled with all of my research into the field, I had picked up two years of writing for the web along the way, reviewing new music releases in my spare time for an underground music scene back home in South Africa — a solid foundation upon which to lay the starting blocks of my next venture (or at least I had hoped so). I also read extensively, consuming every free online resource I could access to help me prepare adequately for the next step.

A couple of weeks after returning home for a pit stop to touch base with my family in Pietermaritzburg, I set out preparing job applications. I began firing them off at will in the hope that somebody would recognize my hunger and desire. I bought a one way ticket to Cape Town in search of an opportunity to learn from some of the industry’s best agencies — with some good fortune on my side and after an intense interview process, I was able to land a place in a graduate placement programme at a leading digital agency within a few weeks of arriving. I was ecstatic, and eager to get the ball rolling on my new education. The rest as they say, is now history.

The learning process:

Knowing that the agency had taken a gamble on me over a young candidate coming straight out of university, I resorted to using the work ethic and discipline I had witnessed first hand in South Korea, from the people I had met on my travels to help me achieve my goals. I was exposed to a whole new world I could only have dreamt of just a few months earlier and proceeded to soak up as much knowledge as I could. My role as an intern and later as a Client Service apprentice allowed me touch every facet of the business, helping me gain access to knowledge of the entire digital ecosystem. I was able to learn from experienced leaders in the following areas during my 12-month stint in the graduate programme:

Client Services / Account Management

Operations and Project Management

Content Creation and Social Media Management

Web Development and Content Management Systems

SEO and Paid Media

Digital Marketing Strategy

User Experience Design

The humble pie:

All of the above sounds like a pretty interesting and fun learning opportunity doesn’t it? It certainly was, and I’m eternally grateful for it! It was also a humbling experience I had to go through to follow through on the execution of my long term planning. Learning to live off an intern’s salary takes some getting used to and is something you definitely need to prepare for. Accepting that your decisions will take you on a different path to that of your friends is not an easy one either, as you have to scale back on your expenditure and sometimes fun with an eye on the end goal.

The tools I developed to pull it off:

There is an element of risk taking involved in making a decision to follow through on a late career switch like this. The most important qualities I developed for myself have been the self-belief and perseverance often spoken of by entrepreneurs. At times I’ve needed to adopt an almost single-minded focus to push through and overcome the challenges I’ve faced. I’ve used the journey over the past few years to develop myself further and grow into a much stronger individual, backing myself 100% at each point of uncertainty.

The added results / benefits:

In the 3 years since my move to Cape Town, I have learned more than I could have imagined about the digital industry and myself. I continue to learn everyday. I’m surrounded by some of the most talented, creative and intelligent team members who push me closer on a daily basis to achieving great things. I have moved onto a new and exciting role in the industry since completing my internship, where I feel at home.

The one thing I cherish most and value above all else are the relationships I’ve established with the people I’ve met on my digital journey thus far. Gary Vee has an interesting take on this aspect of the internship, which I had the pleasure of reading recently. Deciding to pursue my dream has easily been the most daunting and rewarding decision of my life so far. This will hopefully lead to me one day achieving something great that inspires others and showcases an example of possibility each day.

Feel free to reach out to me on any of the below if you would like know more:

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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