Today I am reflecting on the years I’ve spent working with interns. Some interns walk into a situation, get an intuitive grasp of what it is you need, and get to it. This is not the most common result. Other interns need to have a prioritized, written list of tasks, due dates and explicit instructions. The there is a third type of intern. This person is so excited to be in the building they might just leave a puddle on the floor. At the same time, they know well, everything about everything including what you need to do today, what you didn’t do yesterday and what the big picture strategy for your firm in the next five years ought to be. Sound familiar?
At some point in our lives each of us has been on both sides of the intern/manager of intern equation. I had forgotten some of the things I’ve written here until I reflected on my own behavior recently in a potential consulting relationship.
I have made a big career change. Not because I wanted to, but because the winds of change blew, and the business I was in fell hard and splintered into pieces. For the first year following the “fall” I consulted for one client who needed the exact work I’d been doing before. It wasn’t exciting but it did pay the rent, and gave me a base of security to plan from. My plans didn’t veer far from what I’d done in the past, they just sort of re-packaged me, so that my services could be sold to other companies. I liked the idea of consulting. Mostly of having some power in the equation, and on some level choosing who I wanted to work for. Long story short, my consulting business didn’t operate far enough away from the business I’d worked in for 13 years, it catered to the edges, to the folks who still pined away working on a much smaller piece of the pie. Clients started being smaller and more eccentric. More difficult to work for. Harder to get paid by. Eventually it stopped being a viable concern. What did I do then? I moved 2 hours upstate to a house that wasn’t really winter ready and started trying to re-imagine my future. I got a big sweet dog, I tried my hand at being a housewife. I began to walk the earth.
One day it came to me, I wanted to work at making the world a better place. At this particular moment in time the world was crashing around me, the stock market plummeted, businesses big and small went down. Poverty went up. It seemed like the universe was in a state of turmoil I had never seen before. I returned to a way of thinking about the world I had abandoned after my undergraduate studies were over. I stopped being a person who was idealistic and deeply cared about the plight of those I didn’t know. I morphed into a character I call “Career Bitch”. This persona got me promoted and helped me earn an excellent living, but at a great cost to my personal life. I got married and soon divorced, long time friends “broke up with me” because it was obvious to anyone in my orbit that I cared only about work and being successful at it. One day my boss asked me to lunch. I asked if it was personal or business, he said personal;. I responded by saying I didn’t have time for personal lunches, that all my time and energy had to go towards the work. I was so twisted at this point that my response seemed absolutely logical and right minded to my ears. When that business faltered, so did I. I didn’t know who I was or if I was worth anything outside the parameters of that business. My only friends were business associates, and all of us had been tossed to the wind.
Back to walking the earth. It came to me during a 5 mile trek with my devoted canine companion. I wanted to do work that was socially responsible. Work that had meaning. This changed my life. I started writing letters furiously, writing every organization I could find whose mission was to help heal the world. After a few months, someone finally answered and was interested. I ended up getting a job at a company where they donated 1/2 of their profits to charitable causes. For the first time in a long time I felt like I was doing something right, and I began to develop an identity again. As things will, this business changed. They hit a setback, and 9 months into my new life, I hit a speed bump. Once again I was tossed out into the lost and found pile. I found out rather quickly that the world of Cause Marketing was not only very new but also severely underfunded. I found several companies who were happy to have me come and work for them, but they did not have the means to actually pay me for my work. Again tossed into a world of financial insecurity and fear. I did the only thing I knew how to do. I kept writing letters to companies in the same space who seemed better funded.
I got a call from one of the letters I wrote. A company that had the ideals I was looking for was expanding their proposition and wanted to expand in New York. I almost didn’t believe my ears, and actually I chose to only hear part of what was being said to me. They were thinking of hiring someone in New York, but needed about 3 weeks to figure out how the new and larger company would be organized.
What did I do? I acted like that over eager and annoying intern. In the course of 24 hours I wrote no less than 5 emails offering to help them do things they had not asked of me. This did not please my potential new employer. While they “appreciated my enthusiasm”, they needed me to show my ability to temper that enthusiasm with mature thinking and step by step follow through. When I read the last email I received from them I was crushed. I was humiliated and immediately realized how foolish and green my behavior had seemed. I wrote a short reply, apologizing for my overly eager actions. Now it’s up to me to behave like the adult I am and do exactly what they have asked of me, no more no less, and report back on it. I still have a chance to make this thing right, I just have to control my inner puppy and keep it from piddling on the floor instead of showing it knows how to sit, stay and come when called.