It’s the first week of your first internship in New York City. You’ve set five alarms on your iPhone each morning. You’ve managed to make it to work without your Tory Burch flats getting mortally pummeled on the 4-5. Your goals are pretty simple: don’t look stupid and don’t get in the way. An over-accessorized girl in PR asks if you could run and grab her a coffee. Before you can even say yes, she’s described the shade of brown she wants her coffee to be with a savantish precision usually reserved for a lipstick salesgirl at Sephora. You force a smile and say you would be happy to — now talking to her back because she’s already swiveled around to her screen. (The 19 bangles on her wrist will continue to rattle for about 27 more seconds.) You grab your iPhone and make your way down West 37th. How hard could such a menial task be? Shit. Hot coffee or iced? You think you should wing it and get her an iced coffee on this humid day, but you stop yourself and call the office.
Hot. She wants hot.
This was me three summers ago. I learned two important things that day: always ask questions and never make assumptions — especially when it comes to coffee.
A coffee run may feel belittling, but only if you conceive of it as your end game or a punishment. A coffee run isn’t just a hazing ritual: it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re not an idiot, build relationships, and earn trust. The girl in PR with more brass on her wrist than the Buena Vista Social Club takes on tour ended up giving me some of the best assignments I had all summer. If it hadn’t been for my countless errands — including one where I was sent out three times because each time I brought back the client the wrong Greek yogurt — then I would not have the professional relationships I have today or the ensuing experiences made possible by them.
Whether the most mundane task or the most challenging project, it’s up to you to believe in yourself, pull energy out of your ass, and prove that you’re capable of anything.
Steve Jobs said something that I reminded myself of during every internship: “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.” When interns would sit around watching paint dry, I would ask my mentor for a challenging project. When the marketing team was stuck on a design for an upcoming email blast, I worked late to create one for them. When the sales team was faced with down time, I created a list of stores I was familiar with that they could reach out to. The difference between a just-OK intern and a stellar intern is the desire to do meaningful work and the drive to back it up. Believe in yourself. And work your ass off.
An internship isn’t the real world, so much as your final step before jumping into the real world — the pre-real world, if you will. It’s an opportunity to try things on and see what fits — both from industry to industry and in terms of roles within a company.
It’s also a chance to garner lessons you can’t get in a classroom. This includes making decisions without a teacher looking over your shoulder — decisions that have ramifications other than your grade going up or down. It also includes self-reliance, because your classmates and friends won’t be in the thick of it with you. And it’s a great opportunity to hone your communication skills — asking questions will make you look smart, not dumb.
I want The Coffee Run: And Other Internship Need-to-Knows to be a go-to guide for everything internship — in other words, the book I wish I could have read before my first internship. It’s an honest documentation of both my personal experience as well as those I’ve been steadily collecting from fellow students. While my internships were in fashion, the lessons are applicable to any industry and I think extend beyond internships into the full-on “real world.”
Throughout my three-and-a-half years in college, I have received countless questions on internships from my best friends all the way to high school students I had never met. These questions inspired me to write The Coffee Run to share the untold stories that will prepare any student in any industry to succeed in their internship of choice. When you begin to doubt what the hell it is you want to do with your life, intern and begin to discover yourself.