The first time I ever sat foot into an office building was on the first day of my college news internship. Before then, I’d only known what offices were like from sitcom shows and movies. In those shows, the protagonists gossiped with coworkers at water coolers and sat in tiny little cubicles typing away on their computers. They were at ease in this setting, and their coworkers became a pseudo-family to them. 

However, during my first week, I realized I wasn’t the outgoing, likeable protagonist, but the quiet, in-the-background extra. I was painfully shy. Talking to strangers has never been my strong suit, and that first week was a whirlwind. My social battery was drained each day. 

Growing up, my parents always told me to keep my head down and do the work. Don’t ask too many questions; don’t take up too much space. So, going into that internship, I did just that. My well-meaning mentor asked me every week during our one-on-ones if I had any questions to which I replied, “No, I’m good!” 

By the end of the summer, I had a single byline in print. I had created some graphics that were used on a barely visited part of the website, but other than that, I hadn’t really stood out. When I returned to campus in the fall and talked to other friends who’d had summer internships, they talked about getting a byline on the front page and meeting big names in the industry for coffee. I had wasted my golden opportunity. 

Now, looking back on this experience six years later, I ache for my younger self. She didn’t have the tools and scripts she needed to thrive. She didn’t understand all the tiny nuances of office culture. So, if I could go back in time and give her some advice, I’d tell her that she’s allowed to take up space. And, for all of you out there, remember that you’re valued and you deserve to be here. 

Lessons learned from my first office experience:

  • Be vulnerable: No matter if this is a full-time job or an internship, don’t be afraid to tell your manager or mentor you need help. They want you to succeed, so it’s okay to speak up and advocate for yourself.
  • Be curious: Make friends with your coworkers. Ask them questions about their life beyond work and create meaningful connections. Say yes to lunch invitations.
  • Be teachable: None of us know everything starting out. If you’re tasked with doing something you’re unfamiliar with, don’t pretend. Reach out for help from someone experienced and you’ll learn it faster and make a new connection.
  • Be yourself: Don’t mold yourself to fit someone else’s standards. You can grow in new ways - like learning how to do small talk - but you shouldn’t force yourself to be something you’re not. The people around you enjoy who you are, not who you pretend to be.


Originally published May 28, 2024 11:03:59 PM, updated May 29 2024