A Valuable Lesson I Learned From My Last Summer Internship

By Tyler M. Bryant

When I was a wee Junior in college (a whopping 370 days ago), I was concerned not only with finding a summer internship, but with finding a particular opportunity that I would excel at (you know, so I can know the destiny of the rest of my future so that Aunt Mabel can stop spreading rumors about me).

Why couldn't he just be a blacksmith like my grandfather?(Dreamstime.com)
Why couldn’t he just be a blacksmith like my grandfather?(Dreamstime.com)

I remember thinking at the time that I was wholly unqualified to work for a real company that has to handle real money. However, if I could just come off as friendly and likable enough, I was sure my lack of experience would be totally inconspicuous.

Earlier today, I was thinking about why I wasn’t planning on returning to that job. Although the work was stressful, it was nothing I couldn’t bare during the winter and spring off seasons. I guess I felt like I didn’t seamlessly integrate into my work environment. One particular incident sticks out in my memory.

I had generally been known among the AroundCampus intern with a smooth, jovial “telephone voice” that I used to persuade clients to give their approvals for planner advertisements. One day though, I remember being quite behind on my work. I had just had a birthday during the peak season of work, and since we were required to take four scheduled days off, I chose that time. When I had got back to work, I had emails and phone messages from clients and coworkers in the double digits. To top it all off, my grandmother had just passed away in New York City this particular day.

Anyways, I was speaking with a particularly irate customer. This customer wasn’t going to have their ad appear in the university planners as she desired because someone on the sales staff erroneously told her she had much more time that she really did to submit artwork. I had told her again and again that there is nothing I can personally do, but I could transfer her to a manager with more authority. She wouldn’t budge. She wanted me to fix the issue, but I (the fresh-faced intern) can’t make the assembly line in Chine put everything on hold because some tanning salon owner in Indiana wants to change the Comic Sans MS font on her ad.

I snapped. I told her that if she won’t speak to my manager then there was nothing I could do for her. During that call, for the first time in my entire professional career (including my summers as an ice cream man), I had raised my voice with a customer, and I had lost my cool.

From that day forward, my coworkers and bosses seemed to treat me differently; I felt like people started talking to me there as if I was emotionally fragile. People knew I had the capacity to be kind and easy to get along with, but several of my fellow interns told me that after that day, they knew I was also capable of losing my cool. My bosses began meeting with me more frequently to help me manage my time, and coworkers ate lunch with me less frequently.

In short, I guess the biggest lesson that I learned was that when it came to confirming accounts, getting phone approvals, and performing the tasks of my job (regardless if I did so successfully), I couldn’t recall how effective I was, and I certainly don’t beat myself up for lapses in that field. However, it’s the lack of emotional intelligence that I displayed on the day I lost my cool on the phone that continues to haunt me.

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