What I Learned: My First Internship

One year and nine months ago, I took an intern position at a business marketing firm that also published a county magazine. I had only been in mass communication for a year. I barely knew how to get home from school without my GPS. I was as confident and graceful as a puppy trying to go down a flight of stairs for the first time. Good mental image, right?

Fast forward to last week where I sat at my desk for the last time. No matter what it is, the end of something always makes me nostalgic. The people in this office have seen me grow up and never laughed at me during the awkward process. (Bless them.) I wrote articles and press releases, made phone calls, booked appointments, delivered materials, greeted clients, wrote web copy, and managed the whole office at times. Now, I’m leaving this comfortable seasonal home and going into the unknown.

What has surprised me the most about my time at my first internship is how many of my lessons didn’t necessarily have to do with publishing or marketing. Yes, I have great insight on both of those more now, but it’s the other life lessons that will help me even more in the future.

Mistakes are necessary. I will never forget my first day at my internship because it’s probably one of the most embarrassing, kicking-myself-for-the-rest-of-time days of my life thus far. All I had to do was deliver a package to one of our clients. However, GTC and GGC sound very similar, and when you don’t listen close enough, you end up driving to the one 20 miles away instead of the one 0.8 miles down the road. An hour later, I had realized my mistake. Two hours later, the packaged had been delivered. Three hours later, I had to explain what happened to my supervisor. It was, in all, a very humbling experience. BUT I never got lost ever again and always made sure to double-check locations. When I messed up, it was only once because I knew better after. Also, I became best friends with my Garmin.

Some days are rough, and it’s perfectly normal. For some reason when I think about getting  a job, I always imagine running around to different meetings, constantly answering important phone calls and having a never-ending to-do list. That is very much wrong except for the never-ending to-do list which is very much right. Well, at least for an intern. Some days, everyone needs your help, and your multitasking skills will be vital for your survival. Other days, you will sit at your desk and stare at the same word document for hours because you just don’t know how to end the article. On those days, I had to remind myself that the creative process is always going to be exhausting and annoying, but it gets better. Some days I will feel like I am running the world, and other days I will feel like I can’t even make a cup of coffee correctly. Some days, I really won’t make a cup of coffee correctly. You live through it, and you move on to the next.

You will learn a lot about yourself. When I work on a project, I like to write down all of the thoughts that fill my head, then make an outline and fill in any holes. Only then can I start on my rough draft. Had I not been able to write professional articles and press releases, I would never have learned about my own creative process. I also work better during the first few hours of being awake and work even better once I have had a bagel and coffee. I would rather knock out my to-do list early, so I can sit down and spend more time on the important tasks. You may also learn that going outside to check the mail allows you to clear and calm your mind. Sometimes, you’ll need to go check the mail, that has already come, at least five times a day.

Advice from colleagues is invaluable. Some of the greatest lessons I have ever learned have been from listening to my co-workers’ advice. These people have been in my position before, and there are things they wish they had done differently. Paying attention to those nuggets of advice will and have saved me energy and frustration. I wouldn’t be minoring in marketing or working at my school’s PR firm or getting recommendations for my portfolio if I hadn’t listened to my more seasoned superiors. Most people talk about having “work wives” and “work husbands,” but I had a work family. My work moms and dads and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles who all wanted me to keep them updated about my life and future endeavors. Those goodbyes were some of the hardest I have experienced.

It’s easy to feel like the smallest fish in the sea when you are in an internship. Sometimes you feel like you will never make it to the big leagues, and you’ll always be learning the basic tasks instead of getting to work on the huge assignments. It’s easy to roll your eyes when people tell you about their past experiences because “what do they know?” It’s even easier to dream about your future of having your own office. But you can’t do those things to yourself because you will regret it. You need to listen, and learn, and try to understand, and try your hardest, and screw up, and start over, and suck it up, and focus on the present task in front of you.

Because one day you will meet an intern and share your experiences and the circle of professional life will continue. Make sure you have something worth passing on.

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