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Souad Saied: Owning Your Identity to Become Your Best Self

With a perfectly articulated British-Australian accent and attentive listening skills, Souad Christina Saied is a born mentor. She’s also Vice President and Director of Sales and Marketing at brand experiential agency Jack Morton Worldwide, where she builds client relationships and leads the organisation's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts from the Singapore office. But beyond the stellar career credentials, Souad is a writer and thinker who is wise beyond her years; it makes her outlook all the more inspiring. Mavens corresponded with Souad to learn what she’s thinking (and writing) right now.

Since the age of 13, you’ve worked in retail, hospitality and even a law firm. You’ve also had many academic options, having graduated from the University of Nottingham with honours. Why did you choose a career in advertising and marketing?

From a young age I was fascinated by creative careers in art, design, film, fashion and writing. However, whilst broadly creative, I didn't have a particular passion area and as I was academically strong, I was being encouraged down a more traditional path.

When I was a young teen, I saw Kit Kat's 'Salmon' advert featuring Jason Statham, and I fell in love with advertising (and Jason!). Advertising seemed like the perfect home for someone with a blend of creative, strategic and analytical capabilities.

Following my degree I went through a multi-round interview for a graduate job at Kit Kat's agency, JWT, but before the program even started I found myself in Australia, embracing the summer lifestyle. Without a working visa or industry experience I hustled to find an entry-level position at a small start-up agency. To this day I have never made a TV advert, but I've never looked back.

You’re currently based in the Singapore office. What’s it like being so far from home in a global pandemic? How are you taking care of yourself?

When I moved to Singapore in January 2020, I envisaged an energetic lifestyle with new challenges and weekends exploring Asia. Almost two years later and the reality is very different.

I have cycled through many emotions including sadness, loneliness and frustration, but I have also had moments of immense gratitude, peace and clarity. I'm a big believer in focusing on what you can control, and early in the pandemic I made a conscious decision to reframe my situation. I asked myself, "If you knew you had to live like this for the next 2 years, what would you want to leave with?".

As a result, my Singapore chapter has become a time of self-care and discovery. I have spent more time reflecting, journaling, meditating, reading, writing and learning. I'm physically healthier than I have ever been and I know myself better than I ever have. So whilst my Singapore experience hasn't been the one I wanted, I am certain it's the one I needed.

Mavens loves your drive for self-improvement and personal development, and your website Lost x Found. Can you tell us about the project and your intentions behind it?

Our twenties and thirties are formative decades that define our future. We experience this immense pressure to make the 'right' choices and create our best lives. We compare ourselves to others, and have no idea how to navigate our personal and professional paths. So until we burnout, have a mid-life crisis or quit our jobs to start a pottery business, we remain lost.

I believe that to be successful future leaders, we need to start investing in ourselves sooner. We must begin cultivating self-awareness and emotional maturity much earlier in our adult lives, so that we can make the right (and wrong) choices sooner, rather than later. When I think about being young, that’s what it’s all about - improving ourselves merely for the sake of improving. It’s making shifts today, not in ten years when we wake up and realise we’ve spent the best part of our life working towards something that would never make us happy.

I write Lostxfound with the intention of sharing learnings and strategies to help others live more fulfilling lives. I want to make personal development more relevant and accessible to 20 and 30-somethings, and would love to see future generations embrace self-improvement from a younger age.

Your writing reveals a unique and nuanced personal development philosophy, so it’s no surprise that you’ve been building on your coaching and mentoring abilities. Are you currently coaching? And if so, how are you helping your clients in their pursuit of success?

I was fortunate enough to work with a coach throughout my early twenties, and it transformed my life. Since then I've always aspired to share wisdom and knowledge with others, and have since trained as a professional coach myself.

Over the past two years I have coached clients from various walks of life and from all over the world, and whilst every person is unique in their journey and challenges, I find that they all share an underlying hunger to find what's right for them. In a world where everything and everyone wants to tell us what we should have, be or do, I help my clients to look inward and to discover exactly what realising their potential means for them and what it is they need to live a fulfilling life.

You recently spoke with Judith Stewart on her brilliant podcast about your experience with chronic discrimination. Can you tell us how this has impacted your identity?

I have struggled with my identity since I was a little girl. From trying to scrub my skin white as a child, improving my elocution, shortening and anglifying my name for others' convenience and suppressing my Algerian background, I have spent much of my life disguising my true self, just to “fit” in. At the time it seemed smarter to flow with the current rather than swim against it. But as I became older I started to realise the profound emotional and psychological impact that living out of alignment was having on me.

My Mother has always been my closest ally, largest advocate and most important role model. She taught me to be exactly who you are and to own your differences even if it's a rockier path. And whilst I previously chose the path of least resistance, there has always been a tension between who I know I am, and who I think I need to be.

I am now in a process of healing, unlearning and rediscovering. At times this is a confronting process, but I know it's a necessary one, not only so I can live a life that's authentically me, but so that I can help to show young women of colour that we need not hide ourselves.

As the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lead for your employer, you founded an internal mental health program that is now used globally. Can you tell us more about the program?

In 2017, a small group of us in Australia created an internal program called ‘Balance Your Inner Orange’ in response to the growing mental health crisis in the creative industries. It’s a homegrown initiative offering a series of mental wellness engagements to support and encourage mental health awareness in the agency. It continues to be adopted and adapted by our teams around the world and has included speaker sessions, workshops, wellness-based activities, and group discussions. Something we found particularly effective was holding lunchtime discussions, prompted by TED talks on the topics of stress, anxiety, depression, connection, loneliness and more.

Who are your favourite female role model(s)?

I am inspired by women who have overcome adversity to achieve incredible things, and remained true to themselves in the process. I soak up the wisdom of women such as Glennon Doyle, Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nora Ephron and Joan Didion. I have also devoured what feels like every word Oprah has ever uttered! But my most important role model is my Mother.

My Mother is a disabled Polish woman who transformed her life from a pregnant and homeless immigrant to self-employed solicitor acting on behalf of those who have been discriminated against on the grounds of gender, race or disability. She did this whilst raising 2 young children and fighting for her own equal opportunities throughout her career. She is undoubtedly the best role model I have.

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