Stories

SINK OR SWIM

Eric*, 24, learned what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger when he started his first full-time job and was quickly forced to become his own full-time leader.

My last semester of college, I got an internship offer to work for an e-commerce brand. It was by far my favorite internship — decent wage, enough to cover shots after class.
But what I really loved was my manager. She and I established a bond right away. She was a wonderful mentor — she approached training so well, knew exactly how much work to give so I wasn’t stressed out, and knew which questions to ask.

When they offered me a full-time role, I chose to accept it over other offers. Great, I know what I’m getting into — I’d worked with her for a whole semester. I knew that I would grow because I had already been doing a lot of the same tasks. I felt confident I would do a good job.

About a month in, my manager told me she was leaving the company. My heart sank. I felt like I was lied to. I guess she never told me that she would be there forever and it was natural for her to leave, but I hadn’t even thought about that.

All of a sudden, all of her roles transferred to me. I was 21 years old, straight out of college with a liberal arts degree and suddenly I was the lead on calls to our counterparts in Europe. I remember being in the office, the last person to leave. My director told me to go home when I was there late, but if I didn’t do the work, who else would?

I always felt comfortable in the past, letting my manager lead the way, but suddenly it was up to me to figure it out.

At my next job, the same thing happened, where my director and manager quit within two weeks of my start date.

I realized that sort of pressure also brought out the best in me. I had to really be on my toes. It was a total fake it-or-make it situation.

I learned to be assertive. When you’re an intern, you’re not calling any shots but when I didn’t have a manager, I was pushed into things headfirst.

My biggest advice is the buddy system — make friends with people in various departments, especially your counterparts. Set deadlines, set expectations and push back when you need to. Communicate and let your team know how best to support your mission. Value people and stay in touch — you never know who you will encounter down the line in your career. And sometimes, you just need to say no.

*Name changed to protect his privacy.

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