Since completing my internship at AEI, I have had some time to reflect upon my experiences, all I learned, and what my next steps may be. It is surreal to know that my time in DC this summer has come to a close, but I know that I will be back one day. I set out on this adventure to learn all I could, but I had no conception of the breadth of knowledge I would gain—knowledge that is applicable both personally and professionally. I went in with a series of goals, but my primary goal was to learn as much as possible. Therefore, for my final blog post, I’ve highlighted a few of these lessons I have learned. I hope that these lessons may serve as advice to future students planning on interning in this field, and I hope that by recording them, I, too, will remember to live by them.
Lesson 1: See the value in learning outside of your comfort zone.
What I mean by this is simple: When you have the chance to learn something, learn it. It can be totally unrelated to what you want to do, but take the chance and learn for a little while. Ultimately, regardless as to whether or not it ends up being relevant to your career path, it will be another skill in your proverbial tool belt.
For example, one of my co-workers this summer specialized in graphic design, and offered to teach me a few tricks. I accepted skeptically, letting her know that the extent of my knowledge in graphic design was limited to scribbles in Microsoft Paint. A few short weeks later, a vector I designed using Illustrator was featured on AEI’s social media platforms. I was hooked. I even began formatting simple memos in InDesign! Even if I never design another graphic, I am so happy I learned to do something outside of my conventional learning path.
Lesson 2: Make your coworkers’ jobs’ easier.
It is all well and good to be the first one in in the morning, and the last one out at night; however, none of that matters unless you are excelling. One of my fellow interns this summer who had just graduated from college left the office almost daily for job interviews. Although he rarely put in a full day of work, I could see from the way his department treated him that he was a well-respected and valued member of their team. This was because during the time he did spend in the office, the work he did was exceptional: He made his coworkers’ jobs’ easier.
I decided to incorporate this observation into my daily work pattern. For example, instead of just updating the website’s home page and sending it off to the editor, I would take the time to edit my work so that the editor had less to fix. Even small moments of effort, such as this one, can add up.
I applied this same logic to larger tasks, as well. For instance, I took the lead on creating AEI’s Instagram account. AEI had, for some time, considered creating an Instagram account; however, the process took more time than my co-workers had, and it required research to develop a solid marketing strategy. I offered to take on the project and within the month our Instagram account was up and running. In doing so, I was able to alleviate a good deal of stress within the department while AEI settled into the new platform.
Lesson 3: Figure out how to do the things that scare you.
This is not just a re-wording of the classic advice “take risks.” To me, figuring out how to do the things that scare you means to make what is scary into something manageable. Flip it around and do what you have to do.
For example, something I am not entirely comfortable with is DC networking events. The awkwardness of mingling is something that I feel will never leave me. I found myself faced with the necessity of figuring out how to make these events manageable. I realized I was most comfortable when I studied up on a ‘default topic’ for the night. This meant that I always had a topic of conversation to fall back upon when I was at a cringe-worthy loss for words (which was often). Usually my ‘default topic’ was some aspect of the host organization or perhaps a Supreme Court case; regardless, it worked like a charm every time.
All you really need to make something scary into something manageable is an understanding of what makes you feel more secure. Sometimes, this can even make the terrifying a little—dare I say it—fun!
These three tips represent my best practices and experiences from the summer. Each of these lessons allowed me to do my best work, from creating an Instagram account to snagging the right business card. As long as I remember to learn outside of my comfort zone, make my coworkers’ jobs’ easier, and figure out how to do what scares me, I think I’ll be fine. I am proud of what I accomplished at AEI in terms of professional development, I am already looking forward to next summer!
Margot Grubert ’17