“Despite what your parents have told you, you’re not special and you’re not perfect—you’re all worthless.”
Those were the words that would forever haunt the 38 interns in the room, who, up until that moment, thought they had their shit all figured out.
To start from the beginning: This summer, I completed an internship at the Fortune 500 company I’d had my heart set on since the semester before the application was even available. Never having had an internship as “big” as this one, the opportunities I dreamt about were as endless as the anxiety attacks I had every time my cell phone rang—or made any noise, for that matter.
Faced with the chance to potentially be hired by a company that not only “looks good on paper,” but also provides their interns with challenging projects and the opportunity to work with seasoned professionals, who wouldn’t be a nervous wreck? So, naturally, when I was offered the position, I couldn’t help but think highly of myself.
From the moment I stepped foot into the modern, eat-off-the-floor-clean building, I felt like I’d made it into the big leagues—the intern equivalent of how a musician would feel playing Madison Square Garden for the first time. By the expressions on the faces of the other interns, I could tell that many, if not all of them, felt exactly the same way—cocky, with a side of self-doubt.
The entire first half of our day-long orientation consisted of the entire HR department, upper management, and selected executives telling us how “lucky we were to be here,” because out of the 8,000 people who had applied, we were the 38 who had made it. We were the 38 kids who had outshone everyone else. We would, of course, be nothing short of perfect employees.
As the summer progressed, we diligently completed our assigned tasks, promptly attended every event that was planned for us, and took every opportunity to network with whomever was willing to listen to us talk about the direct paths we envisioned ourselves walking on, obstacle-free. We felt fully immersed in the corporate culture and genuinely believed that we belonged there.
So, when we were told that we were “worthless,” “flawed,” “inexperienced,” and “nobodies in real life,” one can imagine how big of a blow it was to our egos.
Upon hearing this, everyone in the room took out their phones and, at rapid-fire speed, began writing in the intern-wide GroupMe. “Is this woman for real right now?” someone asked.
She was. In fact, she was so real that a photo of her face next to the definition of “no chill” would probably be the most appropriate way to describe her personality.
The woman went on to say that during the first two years of our right-out-of-college jobs, we would contribute absolutely nothing to the company we work for. We would be, instead, an investment that the company had made in an effort to essentially grow the types of employees they’d like to hire from scratch. It’s not until the third year, she said, that the company achieves its return on investment, and even then, we still wouldn’t deserve bragging rights.
While everyone else sat at the conference table offended, with sour looks on their faces, I felt enlightened. She was completely right.
How dare we walk around the building with the same sense of entitlement as people who’d been working there for over 20 years? Unlike what all the interns believed, and unlike everything everyone else had told us throughout the summer, humility in the workplace is not a sign of weakness. It’s an important stepping stone in the rocky path that eventually (hopefully) leads to success.
Acknowledging that we don’t know more than our hiring manager—despite how badly we want to believe we do—and understanding that there is no shame in receiving directions along the way, gets you to your destination faster. Knowing how to take criticism constructively is a good place to start.