1st to 1st: Abu’s Story

by Abu Ngauja, Senior Brand Manager, Venables Bell & Partners

First day of undergrad to first day of entry-level…how I transitioned from college to the real-world.

I think a lot of times in life you’ll find yourself in a situation just like the one I’m in now —  coaxed by an invisible force, an almost physical sensation, as real as the pebble rattling in the pit of a stomach or the stinging pressure behind they eyes. Like someone is pushing you deep and stern at the small of your back. Precise. Unwavering.

You’ll never quite be able to place what it is, or why it comes when it comes, but I’d like to think that it’s a feeling struggling to be understood – one you’ll never quite find the words to explain until you’re in the moment it truly surfaces.

I’m so used to it now I almost expect it — but I remember a time where I didn’t, in the days I was a college freshman struggling to grasp the concept of “the rest of my life.” It’s a tough place to be in, those 4-6 years of self-realization, where you think you know yourself but you don’t know yourself at all and your daily routine is trial-and-error and poor decisions.

For me, the biggest issue was deciding on what I wanted my life to mean. I was indecisive in college—still am, a bit—and couldn’t pinpoint a future. I was fascinated by stories, the many ways they were told and the many ways they moved people, and was also in love with creativity and how it came to life. I explored creative writing, magazine journalism, global studies and political science as majors, awash in indecision, before finally deciding I needed guidance by way of a mentor. A mentor is key. A mentor is clutch. A mentor is a real life testament and the best way to find a sense of direction. Find one, anywhere, anyhow and convince them to right your ship. Impress them. Bribe them. Sway them.

My mentor just happened to be a professor of advertising.

She saw a light in me and the uncertainty that shrouded it, and said, “Have you ever considered advertising?” At 21, I responded “Bish what?” Because at that point, my parents were at the point of “Choose a major or give us our money back.” She shot back: “Take Ad 101. It’s open to everyone. You’ll love it.” I said: “I’ll hate it.”

I loved it.

This is crucial to the journey, and an expression of how important it is to find a mentor — they are invested in you for the sole purpose of seeing you succeed. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. And their guidance is solely for your benefit. My mentor, Joan as I call her affectionately (and because it’s her first name), saw my future before I could even peep the crystal ball. Advertising was that thing I’d been looking for but not hard enough, that entry gate to a path I’d never want to leave.


Step 1: Find a Mentor

Step 2: Find a Passion

Step 3: Find a Network

Step 3 was 100% luck. Step 3 might be 100% luck for you, too. My mentor invested in me. My mentor wanted me to be a giant. My mentor was a supporter of the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, and mentioned it to me. To reiterate— find a mentor that wants to see you be great. Greatness will follow. I explored the program, sought her guidance every step of the way, applied and cried. I also got a placement. And with that placement, exposed myself to a network of like-minded people who wanted to blow up the industry. My biggest career asset to date is the community I found myself embracing through programs developed by organizations like the AAF, and my biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to make it in the industry would be to find that family. They’re the difference between and internship and a full-time job. The difference between a temp role and a contract. They’ll hold you up, fight for you, find you a seat at the table.

From Florida to Chicago, I walked into my first internship with the ignorance of a newborn, drinking everything about the industry up—the good, the bad, the ugly. I learned what I loved and what I didn’t love. I learned what I hated. And the people I met along the way taught me things I apply today. Tenacity. Ferociousness. To think before I speak. To speak without restraint.

And when the internship was over, I’d developed close bonds with people who would see me soar. My network shone—I found a confidant and an ally in one woman particularly, an HR director and a warm soul, and after my internship she was there to point me to the next chapter of my journey when it felt like my story had come to an end. There’s no feeling like receiving a job offer when you’re still in school. It feels like glory. And I won’t share the trials and woes of year one in entry-level, because every story is different, but I will say this: I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a team.