I had lunch with a friend from work last week who was feeling glum. She had had to chide her intern on account of intern-y behavior, namely, watching Youtube at work in view of his boss
when he should have been hiding it better.
This sent me back to my days of interning and made me appreciate the delicate position my friend was in. On the one hand, she hated being the bad guy. I remember getting "bad guy" talks during my time as an intern in college. I loathed getting them, whether they were the type of talks that were meant to be educational (of which there were a few) or just kind of mean and dickish (I got a couple of those as well.) The talks made me burn with embarrassment and yearn to be better, yet they made me feel rather hopeless. I remember feeling like I was supposed to be up for any type of work, but demonstrating that I had free time on my hands and didn't know what to do with it was also discouraged. So then I was stuck with the dumb-dog feeling of "I should be doing something...but what?" At Dateline NBC, where I was a bigger intern failure than I was at NewCity Chicago, this manifested itself in me using the NBC computer system to instant message any and all NBC staff who were online, seeing who would respond (Katie Couric did, and even remembered me when I went to go see her at 30 Rockefeller Plaza during a one-day "work trip" there, and so I will always love her for being kind and funny.)
Being an intern is about getting work experience but not just the kind that manifests itself in great clips and contacts. I feel like it's just an express train to young-jerk-in-the-first-job experience. Nah, most interns, despite what they promise to do as they scrape and elbow their ways into their positions, probably won't anticipate every need, raise their hands constantly, contribute greatly to the work environment. At best they stay out of the way and help with little things that nobody wants to do. But their sweet reward is getting to experience early that wonderful "welcome to the real world" message. Now that I'm slightly on the other side of that hill (or maybe just getting to the top of it) I realize that nobody can really get around it. People bitch and moan about millennials and their entitled attitudes but isn't that every new young group entering the workforce? They haven't learned about paying their dues yet because they simply havne't had to do it. They hate getting chided by a boss because they have never gotten yelled at by anyone but a teacher or a parent or a coach. They don't know what's appropriate because they haven't really figured it out yet--all jobs involve being a perfect angel on your first day, then gradually figuring how much time you can spend messing around, and not crossing that line; new kids frequently go across the line too fast, too soon. (See: Katie Couric.)
After a few years you realize those bops on the nose are just stuff that comes with the territory, and you're suddenly the jerk who is telling the interns they're not doing a good enough job or it's not really cool that they're making their personal calls so loudly, or telling your friend not to feel badly about being the bad guy.
The way I figure it is that while the message isn't so bad, the way it's delivered can mean a lot. Few people like being told to stick to rules for the love of the game. I advised my work friend to yell at her intern but to do it in a way that relayed that she didn't particular love doing it but in the workplace there are certain things we have to do.
Then she and I went back to our cubicles and Gchatted about it some more.