Three months ago, I had a very particular image in my head of what an intern was supposed to look like: a frazzled, sleep-deprived 20-something juggling cups of coffee, fighting with jammed printers, and being at the beck and call of a demanding boss. I thought that an internship would amount to no more than a stress-filled summer, a bullet point on a resume, a necessary evil.
But when I joined the team at Emerging Prairie, a local nonprofit dedicated to connecting and celebrating Fargo’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, as a writing intern in May, that image changed. My summer as an intern has been one of the most valuable of my life thus far. Here are just a few of the things I learned:
People always come before progress.
When I sat down for my first staff meeting at Emerging Prairie, I was thrown off by the first topic of discussion. We did not talk about finances or upcoming events. We talked about ourselves. Emerging Prairie is a small team – only eight people counting interns – and when you interact with the same seven people every day, it is important (and inevitable) that you get to know them on a personal level. And so, every Monday morning, we kicked off our staff meetings with personal updates. We talked about highlights from our weekends and hardships in our lives; we talked about sick pets and new relationships and our favorite songs, and knowing these things about each other helped us work together more effectively. Progress will come naturally when you love what you do, and you love the people you do it with.
Count yourself in.
While my loud laugh and enthusiasm for campus events may lead people to believe otherwise, I am an introvert (Myers and Briggs even told me so). Meeting new people and going to new places are frightening and exhausting for me – and as an intern, I was expected to do a lot of both. But, as an intern, I also learned that the hardest part is simply showing up. Do not worry about going to an event and not knowing anyone; just show up. Do not worry about fitting into a group; just count yourself in.
Networking is way less intimidating if you don’t call it “networking.”
Since we’re on the topic of introversion, let me just say one thing: networking is scary, but it does not have to be. The key is in reimagining it. If you imagine networking as a group of strangers standing around, hors d’oeuvres in one hand and business cards in the other, comparing salaries and success stories, of course it will be intimidating! One of my supervisors, Annie Wood, taught all of the interns to instead imagine it as an opportunity to have genuine conversations, make connections, and find ways to contribute to our community. That’s not so scary, is it?
Not everything you write will be the best thing – and that is OK.
We are all our own worst critics. I, personally, have unrealistic expectations for my writing: if an article, a blog post, or even a tweet is not the best combination of words I have ever concocted, it must be the worst. I spent hours of my summer editing, more than once going back to a story after it had already been published to omit a comma or replace a word with something a bit more eloquent. But when you are writing up to three stories a week like I was, those hours are better spent conducting interviews and working toward the next deadline. Every piece of writing does not need to be the best you have ever written; it only needs to be the best thing you can write that day. And, as my boss Greg Tehven would say: “Perfect is good. On time is better.”
Your job description doesn’t matter.
I joined Emerging Prairie under the title of Writing Intern, but during my time there I accrued the unofficial responsibilities of Social Media Intern, Speaking Coach Intern, and Stamp and Stuff These 300 Gift Bags Intern. I was thrown tasks that had little to do with my position, but I did them anyway – and I usually had a great time doing them. I learned that the phrase “but that’s not my job,” beyond being exceptionally rude, only prevents potential opportunities. So, I removed it from my vocabulary.
Be a go-giver.
Being the English nerd that I am, I was hyped when, on my first day, I was assigned a summer book read. It was "The Go-Giver" by Bob Burg and John David Mann, and I read it in three days. "The Go-Giver" tells the story of Joe, an ambitious young businessman who has found himself in a rut. His hard work and go-getter attitude have not gotten him anywhere, so he turns to Pindar, a business mogul, for advice. Pindar teaches him five laws: The Law of Value, The Law of Compensation, The Law of Influence, The Law of Authenticity, and The Law of Receptivity. Basically, these laws teach him that how much you give – of your time, of your energy, and of yourself – determines how much you receive. In order to experience true success, you must be a go-giver rather than a go-getter.
You don’t have to give up your summer.
One of my biggest fears going into this internship was that my precious summer months would fly by in a 9-to-5 blur. Luckily, that was not the case; I still had my evenings and weekends to go to the lake, hang out with friends, and see some of my favorite artists in concert. Better yet, I got to enjoy my summer while I was at work. We celebrated birthdays with piñatas and rubber band archery and took part in the greasy awesomeness of the Fargo Street Fair. We even went on a staff retreat to Fort Ransom, where we hiked, slept in yurts, and bonded as a team.
So, sure, I did drink a lot of coffee and I did try (unsuccessfully) to change toner once. But those memories are not the ones I will take away from this summer; I will remember becoming close friends with my co-workers, attending world-class conferences, and interviewing everyone from an 18-year-old entrepreneur to a U.S. senator. An internship is what you make of it, so I urge you to toss out any preconceived ideas you may have, find one in your field, and see what you can learn.
Katie Beedy '18 is a communication studies and multimedia journalism double major.