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Ten Lessons From my First Real Job

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

For the last 11 years, I have spent July and August at summer camp. I began as a shy seven-year-old, crying for my mom and fearing the deep green lake, and ended as a 19-year-old unit head, leading over 100 campers of my own. These summers, while sometimes exhausting, were comfortable. Between challenging school years, changes in friend groups, and the ebbs and flows of teenage confidence, camp was a constant. This year, I was ready to say goodbye. I applied for an internship in a commercial editing house in Toronto, since I’m a film major at school. When I got the job, I was terrified. I knew absolutely nothing about working nine-to-five in an office downtown. Everything was new. I made it my priority to explore the freshness of the experience, and learn as much as I could. Here are my ten biggest takeaways. 

  1. Sleep > makeup 

For my first few weeks on the job, I would wake up a half hour early to do my makeup. Something about this routine made me feel put together. However, as the summer dragged on, and the 7:30 rise began to feel more and more painful, this routine began to fade. In reflection, I can confidently say that the extra 30 minutes of ‘beauty sleep’ did much more for me than a coat of mascara. 

2. Don’t overdue the coffee 

As a coffee-obsessed, sleep-deprived, anxious 20-year-old, I know how tempting that third coffee is. You roll out of bed at 7 am, and you can barely keep your eyes open. But by 4 pm, the jitters begin, and it is never worth it. Skip coffee number three. Have a matcha instead.

3. Write shit down 

As an intern in a workspace with people much older and more experienced than I was, I often felt I couldn’t say my ideas and thoughts out loud. So write them down! Don’t let the inspiration and spark of knowledge that comes from working with talented people go to waste. Keep track of your ideas, insights, and questions. I promise you will have a use for them in the future. 

4. Go to work parties whenever you can 

About three days into my first week on the job, there was a work party. I was petrified. I had never socialized in a setting like this. What would I wear? Who would I talk to? I felt out of place just thinking about it. But I pushed myself and I went. Sure there were moments when I had nobody to talk to, and inevitably I escaped to the washroom alone. In reflection, however, it was one of the most valuable parts of my experience. I had the chance to talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to, with a type of relaxation and intimacy I would have never had at the office. To further emphasize the importance of these types of events, I wanted to share that through a half-drunk conversation at a work party, my fellow intern ended up being introduced to a project that propelled her into a full-time position at the company. A party that she didn’t even want to go to! So take the chance, there is always something you will get out of it. 

5. Romanticize the mundane 

Sometimes, readjusting your narrative is all it takes to turn an experience from boring and repetitive into beautiful. So make a killer playlist for your morning commute, and positive self-talk your way to the front door. Get that Starbucks on the way to work. Sit outside and eat your lunch alone. Pretend you’re in New York City. Make vlogs for your friends. Do whatever it takes to make yourself love even the tedious parts of your everyday. 

6. It’s okay to cry in the bathroom 

It is impossible to romanticize every moment. Sometimes, it just feels like too much. You’re too tired, and you can’t do anything right. It feels like the longest day in the world, but it’s only 11 am. Whatever it may be, the bathroom floor will be your best friend. Sit down, lock the door, put your head in your hands, and (quietly) cry away. But right after, stand up, wipe your eyes, and go get ’em. 

7. Self fulfilling prophecy is REAL 

As a young person in a workplace, it is normal to feel inconsequential. It is important, however, to talk yourself out of that mindset. The smaller that you feel, the smaller you will make yourself. If you act like an insignificant intern, others will view you that way. So remain confident and remember your value, even when you have to fake it. 

8. It’s okay to advocate for yourself, even as an intern

If you feel there is not enough for you to do, or something is not right, speak up. Everyone appreciates good communication, and a respectfully strong-willed employee. 

9. Find your routine 

Learn the highlights of each day, and remind them to yourself as you get out of bed. Maybe you are excited to say hi to your favourite work friend, or make yourself an oatmilk latte at the office. Trust me, you will need that extra morning push. 

10. Make space for yourself and your brand

No matter how small you feel when you are working as a student, the beauty of being a human being is that no matter the place, there won’t be anyone quite like you. So be authentic, and slowly, you will carve out some room for yourself. Maybe you will introduce your colleagues to a snack or a TV show they have never heard of. As the youngest person at my workplace, I felt I always had insight to provide on popular culture and media. My boss would often have me vet his Instagram posts, or ask my opinion on his new shoes. You, too, can and will find a place of value in your work environment. 

Remember that every experience, good or bad, has benefits. If you can’t see it now, you will see it ten years down the line. Good luck! 

Maya Gelfand

Queen's U '24

Maya Gelfand is a fourth year film and media student at Queens University.