One Big Surprise I Got in My Internship
(The following article is from Tina Mata, who serves as an intern with us at Growing Leaders. She came as a college graduate, serving the months before her graduate work begins. Thanks, Tina, for the candid insights on your internship!)
It wasn’t until I joined the Growing Leaders team as in Intern in August of 2014 that I was able to grasp the definition of a great atmosphere that fosters growth. In my past internships, I believed the way I had performed or presented myself would be acceptable here. Boy, was I wrong! I was about to move up to a new level.
Professionalism. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “professionalism” is, “the skill, good judgment and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” The key term here is “good judgment”. Through my experiences, I thought I understood the concept of professionalism. However, when I sat down with our Vice President, she gently communicated three small details that would make a huge difference. My self-awareness and social awareness jumped immediately.
Lesson One is how we present ourselves, before we say a word. For example, as a woman, I quickly saw that you never want to draw too much attention to yourself with how you dress (especially in the wrong places). Whether it’s a revealing top or leggings, it can be distracting to clients. Even when you’re comfortable and don’t believe you are drawing attention to yourself, you never know if the person next to you is uncomfortable. The dorm room is very different than the boardroom.
A second detail she revealed was about language and how team members present themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, the way you text your friends or what you post on social media won’t necessarily fit in the workplace. I learned to think more before I spoke or wrote something. In a professional environment, certain comments and opinions need to be presented in a respectful matter and with excellence. You must be clear and communicative. Despite the old adage about sticks and stones—words can indeed hurt you. And they can hurt your personal brand.
Lastly, I began to see the big picture of what work and career are all about. It isn’t just about me, my progress, or my platform. It’s about serving the team and the mission. You must SERVE others. I learned that team members must support and equip one another to be the best they can be. Every interaction is an opportunity for growth, and our emotional muscles grow as we serve. It can be as simple as asking your President or Vice President if they would like a Coke Zero during lunchtime!
When I arrived at Growing Leaders, I was pretty confident in myself when it came to working in a professional environment. (You might be too!) It wasn’t until certain situations came up that I mentally and physically realized I was not prepared. The biggest value of this internship was that it provided me with a safe place to grow. It was a proving ground, a training ground, and a playground for my development. The way I presented myself to others, the way I responded to emails, how I prepared for projects, even how I kept things organized — all were tested. Most importantly, the people here cared and challenged me to grow into my best self. Yes, there were times that were very hard. I sat and quietly reflected on everything that got me to where I am right now. I asked myself, did I even learn anything in college that translates into career skills? Then I paused and realized I did learn this in college. My experiences outside of classes gave me the power to think and perform beyond the textbooks. All the extra co-curricular activities shaped my skills and abilities. This is the purpose of internships. They answer these questions for you. You are constantly growing and learning outside the classroom and thinking outside the box. It is all about personal growth and what YOU make out of it.
There are many other values and lessons that come from an internship. Not only do you learn the benefits of being around a work environment, but you also begin to pay more attention to yourself. You start to analyze your skills, style, strengths, and weaknesses while you adapt to your surroundings. You begin to question your character and your abilities. You begin to LEARN. That’s why I enjoyed the most.
“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” – Brian Herbert
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