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“Just the Intern”

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Thomas Martino
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Published on April 7, 2014

This is a guest post by Suzanne De Vita for Student Stories.

“Please reflect on your internship experience.”

These instructions followed many of us upon completion of an internship for academic credit – all-too-familiar words prompting you to describe the lessons you learned while interning. (I recall writing a rather lengthy essay on learning to dress appropriately for an office environment. Really profound stuff.) While there’s certainly value in those “lessons learned”-arriving late to work is generally not an accepted practice-they also could have been taught at any first-time gig.

What did working as an intern really teach me?

I got my first internship in the public relations department of a non-profit organization near my school. I was surprised at how easy it was – there was no arduous interview process, no reference checks, no anxiety waiting to hear back. Those all should have been red flags, but being inexperienced in the complex world of internships, I happily accepted.
I arrived on my first day with the highest hopes. I envisioned writing every day, having lunch with my new co-workers, making an impact so utterly amazing that the execs would just have to hire me.

In reality, I spent five months doing “scut work”, the affectionate term used to describe often tedious tasks that are necessary to keep a business running smoothly. My scut work consisted of poring over pages and pages of environmental legislation so as to fact-check press releases. I was contributing, but hardly in the way I had imagined.

The truth was, I saw numerous opportunities to take on more difficult work. I recognized several areas of the organization that needed attention, projects that I could surely manage on my own. My supervisor was easy-going enough, and she gave me no indication that my ideas were unwelcome. So why didn’t I pursue those opportunities? Why didn’t I offer to take on more responsibilities? Why didn’t I just ask? Something stopped me.

I’m only an intern, I thought. What value could my ideas possibly have? No one will take me seriously. I’ll just wait for her to ask me. The fear of standing out, of being shot down, of trying and failing, kept me confined to my desk for the duration of the internship.

My third internship was in marketing at a regional magazine publisher. I was charged with duties a bit higher on the spectrum than grunt work, but still felt I wasn’t making worthwhile contributions. Almost immediately after starting, I felt that familiar self-doubt that plagued me during my first go-around. I shrank into my corner cubicle, hiding from my co-workers, keeping my nose the grindstone. Once again, I saw opportunities to seek out more work. And, once again, I silenced my thoughts, convincing myself that if my supervisors wanted me to do more, they would ask. I allowed self-doubt to creep in and make itself at home for those three months, too.
This time, there was fallout beyond the professional setbacks I experienced in my first internship. By not having the courage to approach my supervisors, I shut myself off from other social interactions, as well. Who knows what possibilities I may have inadvertently limited myself to simply because I was afraid to have a voice.

“Please reflect on your internship experience.”

I’d like to change my response. I’ve had my fair share of long hours, micro-managing supervisors and thankless tasks-all obstacles with their own takeaways. But the most challenging obstacle, I found, was myself.

My “lesson learned” is not to play nice with others or take criticism well. It’s not to stay organized, meet deadlines or wear grey slacks.

It’s to be too confident.

Cease downplaying your abilities. Have the nerve to go after what you want. Speak up! Stay self-assured. Know your worth. Take pride in the work you produce, no matter how menial. Quit second-guessing your thoughts. Believe in yourself. And never dismiss yourself as “just the intern”.

About the Author:

Suzanne De Vita is an online editor and content producer. Exceptionally vocal, she’s often found belting “The Star-Spangled Banner” or chanting “Roll Tide!” at her television. Her greatest loves are The Temptations, barnyard animals and cajun cuisine. She’s contributed to Chicken Soup for the Soul and the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans, and received her BA from Quinnipiac University. Her email is suzdev27@gmail.com.

 

Thomas Martino

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