A little over a year ago, I was a tired, moody and “talented, young professional with great potential,” working for a measly $8 an hour as a PR intern at a $700 million company.
Every morning, still half asleep, I struggled to push through the big, fancy, glass doors to greet the security guard still working the night shift. The elevator often beeped to remind me when I was at the 17th floor -- the highest I’d ever get in this company -- and like every other morning, I’d step off and turn on the lights.
I had three hours to send out pitches and try to land features in top-tier publications before anyone else arrived. Then I would be sent on my way to work on more meaningless tasks, like organizing the magazines.
At 9 am, I was an intern; that’s a fact my cubical buddy (I use the term “buddy” lightly), Karen, never let me forget. She wasn’t my boss, but on the days my boss worked from home, which was more often than not, Karen took it upon herself to ensure I had plenty to do.
I was sent on errands, given a list of names for cold calling and pretty much any other activity that would divert me from producing work worthy of being hired full time. I did tasks that, ironically, were on Karen’s to-do list. Whether I was a threat or just an annoyance to Karen, I’ll never know.
Monthly meetings that were once the interns’ only opportunity to shine quickly turned from toasts to roasts. At one meeting in particular, when I had missed a monthly goal, another intern and I were told we would not get the luxury to speak until we met our targets. And speak I did not; I was speechless. That was the last time I cried in a bathroom stall and my last company meeting.
I spent six months at a company that bullied, belittled and berated me just because they could. And I let them.
How could I forget? How could I be so sensitive? This was a great opportunity for a hands-on, real world experience, right? That’s what I told myself every day as I organized the mail.
It was an opportunity other people my age would kill for; it was a way to make connections and network with professionals. Ah yes, I still miss Karen’s glaring eyes darting up over her computer monitor when I asked her how her weekend was, or the jingle of her bracelets as she slammed paperwork on my desk.
Okay, as bitter and sarcastic as I am about this experience, let’s be serious for a minute. I truly did learn some valuable and important lessons that lead me to a life and career path that I am eternally thankful for.
No, I didn’t learn how to write a killer press release, or how to launch a social media campaign. I already knew how to do those things and not once did I get a chance to prove it.
I did learn that authority does not equal intelligence, however, and that a mean girl in a suit coat and heels is the same thing as a mean girl in a schoolyard.
I learned that no one has the right to dictate when I can and cannot speak and no one is allowed to make me feel inferior, no matter how much money he or she makes.
I learned that I don’t want to spend 40 hours a week at a place that sucks every bit of creative passion out of me.
I learned that if this is what a $700 million company is all about, then I want absolutely nothing to do with it.
A year ago, I was defeated. I felt like I failed, like corporate America won. Even though I left with dignity and stuck it out for my last two weeks, I still regret leaving that drafted email to Karen unsent the day I packed up my desk.
Today, despite my sarcasm, I look back on the experience with a grateful heart. I'm grateful that I was given the experience to fuel my fire, make me strive for more and to make me recognize when and where I am appreciated.
After I quit working as an intern, I moved to Hawaii, started my own business and vowed to live life on my own terms. I may not be on the stuffy, 17th floor of a high-rise or making a salary conducive to taking lavish vacations, but I'm living a life I don't need to escape from.
I’m right where I’m meant to be, thanks to the company that bullied, belittled and berated me. Oh, and I can’t forget my best friend, Karen. Aloha!
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