One of my first blog posts and one that got the most attention so far it’s titled “What I’ve learned from my first week at university“.
So as I got my first work experience placement at a PR agency in Birmingham, I taught this would be a great opportunity to share my story with you, along with all the things I’ve learnt this week.
And if I take no other lesson from this when I re-read it in the future than the fact that I should wake up more often, that will be enough.
Because the sky is really most beautiful when there are less people around to watch. Mysterious and shy. Open yet so guarded.
The sky looks promising today. So many nuances. So many directions. So many opportunities.
Google maps guides me to a random street in this yet unknown city. And I follow it blindly.
I arrive in front of this opposing white house. The size of it is intimidating. But the dark wooden door holds out some hope that maybe not everything is spotless in there. Maybe there is room for me too. Just for a week.
And the big sign with the company logo confirms I am at the right place. So why am I still doubting and questioning if I am where I’m suppose to be and delaying my entrance. Why this wave of uncertainty when the confirmation is right in front of me?
I pretend for a second I am not as nervous as I hate to admit to myself I am and I walk in. Head held high. Lunch bag in my hand. It’s that middle school feeling all over again.
The receptionist greets me before I get a chance to scan the place and familiarizing myself with the surroundings.
“Work experience?” she asks almost wanting to know if that’s my name.
“Yes.” I say. Isn’t that why I’m here? To gain some actual experience. To be thrown in a room full of people who are doing what I want to do in the future and learn what I can in a short spam of time.
She asks me to sign a ledger and I fidget over the date and I temporarily forget my name. But I’m safe. She seems preoccupied by a piece of paper in her hands.
I am guided in an open office and shown to a little cubicle. The child of me is doing back-flips. My own cubicle. I am one of them now. Right?
I say hi and try to imagine myself through their eyes. I must look like a lost Bambi, and even worse, I’m on heels. I’m wearing a white button down shirt and black jeans. For a second there I feel like a kid in an adult’s clothes.
I am greeted by one of their lovely employees and she already has a task for me. Good. It will keep me busy. And it sounds like something I can do. I feel relieved as I settle in and get to work, as funny as that sounds in my head.
It the first 20 minutes I am asked if I want something to drink more often than I was asked in the last six months of my life. I politely refuse every time, as I notice this common courtesy spreading around the office, like an unspoken agreement that when you get up to make a tea or a coffee for yourself, you ask others if they want one as well.
There’s a subtle life lesson in that. We often hear that we should learn to put others in front of us. But we often forget to even treat them as equals. And most of the time we end up utterly failing to … try. Too many of us are polite. Too few kind.
Before lunch I am introduced to everyone, and I try to remember their names as I am paraded through the fancy office. A celebrity is the only thing missing from turning this into a fanfiction. And maybe my charm is missing as well, as I reply shyly to the hellos and force myself into acting like the social butterfly I never was.
The lunch room is equipped with unique items such as a foosball table around which some of the men of the office gather around and begin to play, flooding the room with loud noises and occasional cheers.
And I don’t detect a trace of stress on their faces the whole day. They are working hard, but it hardly feels like they are working.
They scoop their heads out of the laptop to start random topics such as TV shows and workouts. At one point I look over and someone is on the floor, demonstrating how to do a crunch of some sort.
The atmosphere is loose and finally comfortable until someone freaks out over a hacker who got access to some private information. No dramatic scene is made, but I hear the words “I tracked his IP. He’s from New York.” and wonder why is everyone so calm, while I’m stating there waiting for CIA to show up at any point.
I watch too many crime movies.I shake my head and turn my attention to my laptop which won’t turn on. I’m starting to have a panic attack of my own. It’s the first day. Did I broke something already? I try all the known ways to turn on a computer, but I finally give up and ask for help only to find out the charger wasn’t plugged in to begin with. I can breathe again.
Another life lesson here. Don’t be so afraid to ask for help. But only after you’ve checked the power socket.
A nice rhythm is setting in as I move through what I have to do at a constant pace. I catch snippets of conversations here and there. Adults talking at their work place. About work. About life. And I now apart of their world. Just for a while.
And for today, just for 2 more minutes as I make my way out, only to discover the door I came in through is now closed. I stumble back in the main office and ask for the help of the first person I see. By now I’ve learned my lesson.
He leads me out through the staff exit and asks me if I’ll be back tomorrow.
“Yes.” I say and thank him. “Yes” I slowly acknowledge for myself once more. I am not yet done learning. I am not yet done experimenting.
The sky is tamer today. Like the world is giving me a chance.
Day two finds me commuting from university as I’m trying to get back to what I now like to call “the little white house of Birmingham”.
Having some place to go always made me feel like an adult. Even if they were silly little errands. Maybe that’s the secret of maturity – finding your purpose. Feeling like you not only belong somewhere, but having the responsibility of securing your own place, wherever that might be, in the world.
By now, I already know what I have to do, and the fact that I don’t have to wait for someone’s instructions makes me feel I can handle… life on my own.
Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” is playing on the background on the radio and soon after I hear Kim Kardashian’s name thrown around. But the conversation quickly turns to more important and urgent matters, as people make calls to the actual clients using terms I am not yet familiar with.
I soon emerge into the work I have to do and just for a little while I allow myself permission to not be there, while plugging in my headphones and turning the music on.
By the end of the night I get the chance to practice my writing while putting together two press releases. And even though it feel like my brain automatically blocks out every word that has over three syllables, I manage to get it done.
The thing about unpaid work experience is that no matter how hard or how much your work, you still don’t get paid. It’s a lovely thing. And yet, here I am, trying my hardest to prove something to me rather than to others.
Two full days passed and I didn’t screw anything up. People thank me for my hard work as I take off. Maybe I’m the one who should be thankful.
It rains today, but I refuse to let it cloud my day.
Halfway through the week and my excitement is not yet dimmed. I have always found comfort in the rain.
It so happens that I arrive once again on time, a great way to start my day and quite a miracle when it comes to me. I sit at my little cubicle like I’ve been working there for a lifetime, and start my previously set routine.
More people kindly ask me if I want a drink on their way to the kitchen, and I feel like if I don’t say yes, just this once, they are never going to stop asking. I request a tea, but I express my dislike in the typical British tea by refusing milk and asking for extra sugar. I get quite some laughs at my indecisiveness to get either 3 or 4 sugars, and I end up burning my tongue from the first zip. Typical.
But soon, my day is looking up. Literally. As I successfully finish another task I am upgraded to join the Consumer PR team in the upper deck office. More people, more chatter and soon enough another completed task.
I leave satisfied and excited to come back the next day. Another challenge awaits.