Everyone is going to doubt you; don't be one of them.
Getting your foot through the door is no easy feat, in any industry - but especially in the creative industry. Even for those who choose a creative course as their route to study, the competition is immense, because there is always going to be someone better than you. There is always going to be someone way more qualified than you. There is always going to be someone who’s won more awards than you. But that’s okay - you just have to remember that they aren’t you. That is what you are selling. You and your being. Your creative output, it's something that no one will be able to replicate.
When applying for jobs, companies like to feel like they are the only one you are talking to. It’s like finding a prospective partner - you might be on every jobsite and recruitment agency going, but they don’t want to know that. They want to know that your application to them is the only one you’ve ever submitted in your life. Tell them why you want to work at their company so much. What sets them apart. Tell them which particular work they’ve done that inspires you. Let them know that your creative thinking and skill set would be a perfect match for them. Your answers, your cover letter, your portfolio should always match the company you are sending to.
It’s no use just changing the ‘Dear Sir’ in your header. They need more than that. It’s what will set you apart, so they will know that you’ve had to put in work to get your cover letter to that point. It’s not easy. But, again, be careful - as in a rush to submit an application to a company - I have also accidentally told them that I loved the work that they did with on a campaign. - only to realise it wasn’t done by them.
Being where I am, I’ve learnt a lot, and I’ve made mistakes. Some more costly than others, like the week before leaving university in my third year - when we had a chance to showcase our work to some industry people and companies, in the chance of getting a job. We displayed our best bit of work, we mingled, networked. By the end of the evening I had given out all my business cards. Talk about winner! So, in the following weeks, I was getting a bit agitated that I had no responses as I’m certain that a few people were going to contact me for interviews.
And they did, I just didn’t see the emails, as on my business card I had written .com instead of .co.uk. Yup. At least 10 prospective job offers down the drain that I didn't know about until months down the line, when the other Donya Davis contacted me. Who was also from Jamaica, like me. True story.
So just a word of warning, whatever you send out or write, just make sure someone with fresh eyes goes over it. As you just never know. I mean, my boyfriend at the time was dyslexic, so that definitely wasn't of help.
How I got to where I am now? As senior designer of freuds? Well I didn’t ever apply for a job here - in all honesty, I’d never even heard of freuds. But the Creative Director at my previous to job - took me with him. When I first got that call from him, I was shocked - even though I’d worked with him on a couple of projects - in my head that didn’t warrant enough for him to think ‘Oh I need a new designer - let me call Donya’. But that’s because I didn't know he was watching from the sidelines. All those late nights I had. Deadlines I broke my neck to make. Work that I knew I spent a lot of time and put a lot of effort into, work that I thought went unnoticed – but wasn’t. That was refreshing.
Your next job. Your next opportunity, might not hit you when you are expecting it to - so you have to just stay ready. Continue doing your best, even when you think that no one can see. It will pay off.
Which ever way you look at it I’m usually the minority. I’m either one of two females in a team, or I’m the only ethnic minority. So while sometimes this can be highly annoying, as everyone has expected me to have listened to the ‘new Kendrick’ album as soon as its out (I mean I do, but please don't assume) - - I allow this to be my superpower.
With my upbringing and somewhat chaotic education, life has peppered me with experiences, stories and observations that are usually a lifetime away from those of my fellow colleagues - and I need to remember that more often than not, the only way they can gain insight into that life is through me. There has been a couple of times, whilst sat in a brainstorm - and someone has made a suggestion - but in the back of my head, I thought if this actually happened - Black twitter ( yes it actually exists) would be all over it. So I speak up. I ensure my voice gets heard as much as it can in creative sessions and brainstorms. Life is all about learning, and sometimes it’s about teaching - and finding yourself in a workplace where you are unicorn, you’ll find that there is a lot to teach. You just need to find the patience. Because at the end of it - you all win.
From departing from university and entering the job world - there have been many times in my life where work was not fulfilling me creatively. Work isn’t always interesting briefs, and high-powered brainstorms. There are some times where you will be bored. There are some menial tasks that don’t use an inch of creativity - like tidying up a presentation or creating a save the date that has to be done in arial pt. 14 with no pictures or colour. There was one time that for a whole week i spent renaming image files that we needed for an online campaign. Mind-numbing to say the least. But it’s in those mind-numbing moments that I knew I needed more - and if work isn't going to give it to me, I was going to find it for myself.
I believe that in the space of 4 years, I’ve had countless hobbies and even more countless blogs about those hobbies. I started knitting, I read more. I had a dedicated food blog (the most successful of the lot - if I say so myself - I received countless free Vapianos dinners because of it.
Then came the start of 2017 - I decided to teach myself hand-lettering - and once i started, i couldn't stop. Morning. Noon. night I was practicing. Love live life. Love wins - all that usual stuff you see.
But I mean, those words were not me. Then I started experimenting with Curse words. To be specific, Jamaican curse words. Calligraphy x Jamaican slang. It felt like my calling. Then one days someone said you should make cards - which was suddenly the eureka moment. It all made sense, all my previous experience of making cards for my friends came together and ‘Word to Ya mother’ was born.
I spent my evenings and any spare time on Word to Ya Mother. I was able to fulfil myself creatively in a way that I wasn’t getting from work. Work over the years taught me important lessons, such as how to interrogate a brief, how to deliver on time, which has become important to the running of my new venture. This ‘side hustle’ for lack of a better term, was an extension of my creative abilities. It’s something I love, that I am able grow and learn from - which I have now managed to weave into my day to day.
But then - low and behold, nearly a year later, my creative juices needed topping up again. That's when I started on my second side project, with a group of like-minded friends.. I’ve always been one to enjoy plays and exhibitions and read books - but enjoy it even more so if the narrative drew parallels with my life and cultural background.
Whenever I was in conversation about a new play/book/exhibition - i would always hear either ‘ ahhh i didn’t know that was on I would've gone, or ‘I don't even have anyone to go with’. We all know how hard it is to make plans in group chat on a good day, but it’s even worse when time is of the essence and tickets are high in demand. That’s when #ForTheCulture was born, alongside #CultureClub. It’s a meet-up for like minded individuals to get together and see a play or exhibition without ever needing to ‘find friends’. You just order a ticket for the predetermined day and you turn up. At the very least you get to watch the play you’ve wanted to - but an added bonus is that you might leave there with a new friend.
Work cannot supply you with all the creative stimulation you need, but you don’t necessarily need to leave your 9-6 to get it. And let’s be honest, most of us can’t afford to. You need to just go out in this big ass thing we call the world, and figure out what it is that sets you on fire. You aren’t going to get it right at the first stop - but when you do - it’s such a pleasure. The excitement and creativity is going to spill into your day job, and in turn you’ll learn new things in, which you can feed into your side hobby. It’s just an endless cycle of sharing knowledge and growing.
The world is ready for you and the mark you want to leave on it - whether it be knitting, coding, nursing, or even being a professional image renamer. Or maybe you’re still trying to figure it out, as you don’t know what it is… yet. But that's the beauty - the journey, the power of the unknown. It might not be on the horizon now, but you just have to have the confidence and tenacity that it just hasn't happened yet. The world is ready for you to leave your mark on it.
And remember. Everyone is going to doubt you, don't be one of them.
* The above was a talk given at the Creative Futures evening at @popBrixton on September 18th, 2018,