Would it be embarrassing for me to state here on this blog that I didn’t know how to operate a coffee machine? I have interned for a city councilman, and I have interned for the Mayor of San Diego – yet, I was never asked to get anyone coffee! Have I failed as an intern? Perhaps I have shed the stereotypical mold of the “coffee-bringing intern.” Regardless, my first coffee request came in last week when we were preparing for a large committee meeting with business leaders of the energy and infrastructure industries. Prior to the meeting, my intern director told me to refill the two coffee machines should they run out during the meeting – it would provide a loud screeching sound should it be empty.
“Do you know how to use this machine?” she asked. My answer was a blank stare. Luckily, well, in theory, refilling the coffee machine was fairly simple. But perhaps it was stage fright, because during the meeting I constantly had an eye on the coffee machine. Every time someone took a refill, my anxiety spiked. Luckily, the coffee machine never ran out, sparing me the potential embarrassment of not knowing how to operate the coffee machine in front of a room full of potential connections.
The coffee fiasco highlighted an issue that I have faced as an intern and I know many others have faced in their internships and professional lives – we don’t know how to do very practical and simple tasks. It’s far more commonplace than one would like to think – in fact, a few days later I was tasked with giving a new intern a tour of our office. The new intern asked me how to operate the coffee machine – and we proceeded to spend the next five minutes finally understanding how to use the coffee machine!
I would attribute this relative lack of practical skills in us as interns to a profound sense of embarrassment that we may feel in admitting we don’t know how to do certain things. Ultimately, the coffee situation taught me that we have to be willing to cast aside any feeling of embarrassment if we don’t know how to accomplish certain tasks. We have to be willing to admit that we’re wrong, and willing to ask for help if we are to succeed in our professional careers. After all, that’s the point of an internship, isn’t it? It’s a “learning” experience!