Flex Mami tells us her best career advice for those starting out

“I did this really dangerous thing where you commodify yourself.”

Having recently begun my journey towards securing a ‘big girl’ job, I’ve been devouring every morsel of career advice I can get my little hands on. One of the people willing to share their advice with me was the all-round successful woman Flex Mami, whose real name is Lillian Ahenkan.

For more advice like this, browse through our Life section.

The Australian media personality, radio presenter, best-selling author, international DJ, influencer and owner of several small businesses needs no introduction. She’s already carved out a prolific career – and she hasn’t even turned 30 yet. Here, Flex shares her top tips for people who are embarking on their careers. 

What do you think are the skills or attributes that are the most critical in professional contexts today?

Initiative. I hate to be that person… but there’s something about just doing your job title that won’t fly. I think sometimes people look at executing work in a very binary sense. The initiative component is like, did you do it well? Did you do it in a comprehensive way? Did you do it in an objectively great way? 

The more mature you get in your career… the less people will give you effective feedback… A lot of the time you have to present yourself and your work to the world [without] anyone to determine whether it’s good but you. 

Do you think it’s important for people to have experienced a range of different roles and fields of work?

It’s a tricky one as a multidisciplinary person… If I’m going to be as objective as possible, I think now, in 2023 and beyond, you’d be better off having varied skills than an exceptional skill set. [What might] happen to you is what happened to photographers when the iPhone came out. People can’t discern between your craft and what an iPhone can do, and therefore your craft [could be] seen as obsolete. 

Do you have any specific values that guide your actions or your choices at work?

I think it’s tricky for me because I did this really dangerous thing where you commodify yourself… If you have to put a value on the priceless nature of your thoughts and your identity… suddenly, you have strangers dictating the price or the value of your existence. I would say for me now, it’s ensuring that the exchange and the transaction is… subject to if I think it’s fair. A lot of what we don’t appreciate about our careers is that we have to do them forever. They need to be self-sustaining in some capacity.

You’ve previously said that earlier phases of your career involved saying ‘yes’ a lot. Would you say you still lean into this? Do you have a different relationship now with saying ‘no’?

Yeah. I stand by that… I think that a lot of the touch points we have to our dream career have been fed to us through entertainment… through a fantasy. And a lot of us think we’re discerning enough to know that fact. But really, we aren’t. 

[My answer is] always a yes, to get to a definite no, eventually. [Unless] you’ve experienced the highs and lows of making decisions… then you’ll never make a good one.

Is there a piece of career advice that you believe to be applicable to every person and the way they approach their careers?

Be the employer, [or] the employee, you want to work with or work for. I just feel like sometimes… you’re like ‘Damn, I’m really the weakest link… because I’m bitter, I’m overworked, I’m tired’ or whatever. It’s like ‘Okay, what about if you were dealing with someone who also [felt that way]? What would you need them to do to not be a terrible person to work with?’

I think it goes back to this idea of self-regulating and also recognising agency. And I think that a lot of the time our peers, our employers, our bosses and our managers create really great archetypes for who we should aspire to be a lot more or a lot less [like].

What would your advice be for people who want to split their time between several jobs or professional ventures?

I don’t know if it’s advice or just a statement [but] a job is a job… even the coolest ones, even the [most fun] ones. Being a DJ internationally kind of feels like being in the office planning a marketing launch for my jewellery brand. The fundamentals are the same, you’ve got to show up, plan, strategise, reflect, you’ve got to audit [and] you’ve got to apply yourself.

If you want to feel good, get a hobby. I feel like the conversation people often don’t have is [about] popping the balloon of their fantasy a little bit, [you can] just add a layer of reality to this concept.

You’ve also spoken about your experience with anxiety. Is there any advice you have about dealing with anxiety in non-traditional careers?

I don’t have any as someone who didn’t experience anxiety until [I was] like 26. But what I will say is that there is a real value in honouring the way you feel… we just don’t give ourselves enough time to do that. 

A lot of us just bulldoze through difficult stuff for a participation award, and we’re not really cognisant of the consequences of that… If you’re able to not live in denial and [instead] acknowledge those feelings… you’ll be able to make decisions that aren’t just rooted in the superficiality of success.

Do you have any tips for how to impress colleagues and employers in your early career?

Do your job. Oh my goodness, just do your job. I’ve just worked with a lot of people who are more concerned with me liking them than doing their job [but] I’m going to like you way more if you just do your job well. If you don’t know if you’re doing your job well, read your job description. 

Watch Flex Mami’s video with Chivas here.