Saturday, September 7, 2013

Everyone Just Calm Down!

Hello ladies, gentlemen and the nest of bees that somehow managed to develop in my coat closet.

As you can tell by that previous statement, it has been an interesting week.

Well aside from dealing with a home invasion by bees, watching a little old lady at the the laundromat teach two gang bangers how to do laundry and seeing a man being chased down the street by cops as he yells, "I have the doughnuts!" the week has been relatively calm.

"Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" has gotten another awesome review from fellow author John Logsdon who writes:

"I think if I were to write up a series of stories about my life, they'd pale in comparison to Allison Hawn's. She has a way of making even the scariest (a 104+ degree temperature comes to mind!) moments quite humorous, though many of her bizarre tales are humorous on their own.

I think my favorite moment was when one of her not-so-bright college dorm mates explained that she had just peed green and Allison replied that the aliens must have gotten to her! So cruel. So mischievous. So...damn...funny.

If you're into reading Dave Barry style articles, "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" is for you."

Well, it is the start of a new school year for most universities and colleges, which means it is also the start of many internships and work study terms. I have spoken to quite a few interns and work study students in the past week (both the ones coming to work for the organization I work for and those placed in various agencies around town), and this pretty much the reaction they have all had:

So I have spent a good chunk of time this week talking to interns and finding out why they looked like someone had just told them they had to fight off the Four Riders of the Apocalypse armed only with a shred of tin-foil and a used toilet scrubber.

I have a feeling that a lot of interns and work studies who are just starting out in their placements feel the same amount of overwhelmed panic that I saw on quite a few faces in the past few days. So, for those of you who are starting out as a work study or intern, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. No one expects you to be perfect.

Everyone understands that you are a college student just getting your feet wet in whatever industry you choose to explore. No one at your placement is going to expect that you are coming into this knowing exactly how to react to every situation and do absolutely everything.

I know it's hard to believe, but the supervisors at your site were not born, fully grown, dressed for business and competent, at their desks. Most of us were exactly where you are once upon a time.

2. You will make mistakes, learn from them.

The one thing that I consistently heard this week was the fear that supervisors were going to be expecting interns and work studies to do this:

When in reality they know that you are sometimes going to do this:

It does not matter if you make a mistake. What matters is how you react to the mistake. If you make a mistake and then either wallow in guilt over it or just continue on doing the same thing that caused the mistake the first time, you will frustrate your supervisor.

Instead, view the mistake as a learning experience and apply it to your time at your placement site. Again, supervisors know you are just learning, so prove to them that you are indeed learning and turn mistakes into usable knowledge.

3. Be proactive and productive.

Just because you are free or extremely cheap labor does not mean you get to sit back on your laurels and watch the world go by like some crazy circus-meets-sitcom show.

The world is a lot smaller than you think. Whether this internship seems valuable to your future career or not, or even if you plan on leaving the area where you are attending school, you never know who your supervisors know or who they will run into. It is in your best interest to prove yourself as competent and useful.

The bare minimum is unacceptable. If you get done with what you've been asked to do, look for something else to do to fill your time. If you can't find anything else to do to fill your time, then ask for something to do.

There is nothing that frustrates a supervisor more than seeing an intern or work study sitting on their phone on Facebook next to a group of clients or customers who are obviously being ignored. There is ALWAYS something to do.

4. Be mindful of how new experiences affect you.

I work in social work, where a constant stream of crazy is kind of the norm. I am pretty used to the sight of tweakers dancing in the street and someone telling me that they want me to find them a job working with vampires.

I also realize, this is not everyone's status quo.

Even if you are not in an internship involving social work, it is likely that you are going to run into situations that are not only new, but a little bracing and outside your wheelhouse. If this happens, talk to your supervisor, ask them about it, see what they would suggest in the future for dealing with what you just experienced. No one expects you to come to your placement like this:

You are going to have moments of feeling out of place and vulnerable and that is perfectly o.k. Just make sure you identify those moments and talk with someone more experienced in the field about them so you can get some perspective and assistance with dealing with it. 

5. Get over yourself.

If you come into your placement thinking that you are the coolest thing since CD's and that the people working at these places are there to focus on you and your education let me be the first to say, "STOP!"

The people at your placement sites will help you and want you to learn and have a good experience. However, their goal in life is not to make you happy. Their goal in life is to do their job and make sure that their clients and/or customers are satisfied.

While you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help, don't be shocked if the employees at your placement seem more interested in getting their jobs done than making sure that they hear your epic half-hour long saga of struggle and strife as you fixed the jam in the copier.

Also, remember, your supervisors are not there to provide you with constant entertainment. Sometimes you are going to have boring things to do. This is a part of life. Believe me, I really don't find filing mass amounts of case notes every week to be the most fun I've ever had in my entire life, but is a part of my job and therefore I have to do it.

Doing entry level work is not an insult, it's a starting point. If you prove that you can do the basics, then you will get to do more interesting things, but don't take it for granted that your supervisors are going to make your placement the Disneyland of work sites.

6. Remember that it is your choice whether this will be a helpful experience or not.

When it comes to internships and work study placements, you only get out what you put into your time at your site.

I was an intern for a police department for a semester during my college career. I could easily have stayed in the back, filing papers and typing up reports. Instead, I jumped at every opportunity I got to experience something new.

Because I invested my energy, was curious and willing to try new things, I got to go on cop car ride-alongs, help interview criminals for intake and learned a ton about how the criminal justice system works on the ground level.  Just don't miss the opportunity to give yourself an awesome experience.

Well, anyways, I hope that helps some of you headed towards your first internship to stop looking like an incoming semi-truck driven by drunk lemurs is heading your way. Good luck!

Remember you can always follow my escapades on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!

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