Drawing Power from Your Own Inexperience

Power through serenity

A month into my summer internship, I booted up my work PC for the first time.

No computer for a month at a software engineering internship? At the time, the company was hiring new employees faster than the support team could set up computers. Days passed, weeks passed, as I waited for a PC to magically appear in my office. I twiddled my thumbs, edited the development wiki, and sat in on meetings. The first month of my internship was wasting away as I waited.

Only once did I go downstairs and meekly ask. “When is my PC going to be ready?” The overworked tech support team told me to be patient.

Now, I take full responsibility for this wasted month.

I ought to have explained I was there for a three month internship, and I needed a PC immediately in order to even get started. But in my head, I had a voice telling me the actual employees had priority. They could produce real work, and I couldn’t. So why should I care if my computer arrived on time? They had more important things to worry about.

I thought being an intern meant I had to accept the wait. In reality, being an intern was one of my greatest assets. People will go out of their way to help the intern. All you have to do is ask.

My poor communication continued into the rest of the internship.

I sent out vague mass emails when trying to get hold of needed files. I journeyed the high-rise, searching through cubicles instead of setting up meetings. I had agreed to a project that was way above my skill level; using statistical analysis to categorize information. But I never made that fact clear to my managers. I was lost.

With my mindset, I couldn’t ask for help without feeling like I was interrupting the real engineers. They were in crunch mode, trying to get their product completed by the holiday season. My little problems couldn’t possibly be worth their time. Going back to my desk and working alone became preferable.

It’s not a surprise the summer ended without a finished project. But I did leave with a lesson. If you feel inexperienced at your job, you can use that to your advantage. Put your inexperience out there like you’re proud of it. You deserve extra help because of it.

Plains Guard

Being Too Agreeable is a Recipe for Chaos

A couple years ago I worked at a smoothie shop on a college campus. More than my juice blending skills, I got to practice my customer interaction skills.

One interaction involved a frantic search for a missing piece of an orange juicer. My efforts were fruitless. Soon the impatient customer demanded a refund, but I had no clue how to issue refunds. Regardless, I spent the next moments panicking and poking at the buttons on the register. When my manager finally showed up to save the day,  she calmly denied the refund, pulled the missing part from the drying rack, and made the juice.

Another time, I arrived at work on a Sunday to find customers waiting outside. We didn’t open for another half-hour, but they were late for some event and I was overly eager to help. I let them in and made their smoothies. At the time, it seemed like I was going above and beyond my obligations as an employee. The customer comes first, right? It took my manager’s scolding afterwards to realize that I had gone beyond what I was allowed to do as an employee.

Being too agreeable is a recipe for chaos. In both cases, my customers would have been better served by bluntness rather than empathy. I should have told the first customer that the orange juicer wasn’t working today. I should have told the early birds that the store was closed. I’m pretty sure by helping them, I further delayed the event they were late to.

Fast food is an endless stream of busywork. With queues out the door and wait times up to ten minutes, it’s difficult to not feel rushed. But being rushed never helped. I would spill smoothies and mix up orders. The more hurried I acted, the more often my customers grew impatient. I had to learn a new mindset. Everyone would get their juice eventually. I could deliver drinks with a smile, and it almost seemed like my customers became more accepting of the wait as well.

It’s worth preserving my serenity over fixing every problem thrown in my path. I learned I can’t please everyone. Setting business boundaries allows me to provide a more consistent service. I’m grateful for this lesson, and hope to remember it often.

Of course, the greatest lesson was how to make a mean smoothie.