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I was going to write my blog on “5 Feelings You Will Experience at the Beginning of Your Internship” but after discovering the word limit/requirement, I decided to write just one piece of it. So here is feeling #4.
4. You will feel like an idiot.
They told you at the beginning and reminded you along the way: “You’re going to hit the ground running.” And boy, were they serious. By they, I mean of course, Duke Engage. You don’t really get a sense of what that means, though, until your first few days. And then it build up: the embarrassment when you can only remember the names of 2 of the 20 or so staff people, so when they wave with a cheery “Bye Ruoheng!” at the end of the day, you have no choice but to lamely reply, “Bye!” with as much enthusiasm as you can muster up. The feeling of uselessness when you spend an hour and a half figuring out enough functions on Excel to create a visualization that you think will be your first valuable contribution to this grant proposal…only to receive an email that it’s not really suitable for presenting that data. The desire to repeatedly slam your forehead into the desk when your supervisor calls out, “Is Mary there?” but you hear “Is it merry there?” and you respond, “Yeah, everything’s fine,” while confusedly questioning her word choice.
The most important feeling that (I hope) you experience, though, is forgiveness. Not from anyone you’ve wronged, but from yourself. This is probably also the hardest thing to feel, because we’re so used to being our own worst critics. We’re so hard on ourselves. We demand brilliance, excellence. So when we’re tossed into this new environment to learn the ropes and we fail(as we inevitably will with something), it’s easy to feel down about ourselves.
You are here for 8 weeks. Few people go through life without asking someone’s name twice. You will learn everyone’s names, and before the end, they will roll off your tongue like you’re old friends.
You will become adept at working with spreadsheets of data after being asked to do it on a regular basis. Picking out the right graph will become as easy as picking out your morning pastry at the coffeeshop.
You will get used the type of questions you’re asked, and begin anticipating them and thinking of the answers before they finish asking.
(Obviously, these problems may not be relevant to everyone, but you get it.)
You will learn. Nobody starts at new job an expert. The learning curve is steepest at the beginning, and you will stumble. But you will get past this rough patch, and handle future obstacles with grace and finesse. For now, it’s most important to focus on trying, learning, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes along the way.
Replace “you” with “I” and you get a taste of my first week in Seattle. A taste! Not at all the flavor. It’s only about 10% frustration. (The remainder is about 50% wonder/happiness, 20% tiredness, and 20% getting lost in the bus system.) I’ve had a wonderful time here so far, and I love the city and my coworkers.
Author’s Note: My name is Ruoheng and I’m a rising senior at Duke. My community partner is Year Up Puget Sound, a non-profit organization that works to close the opportunity divide between disconnected young adults and employers seeking skilled workers with post-secondary education and training.