It was a great January day. My supervisor called me to his office to tell me I was getting an intern. Intern-owner is a status reserved for the powerful people, people who are so great at their jobs and who are so busy with their work that other people actually submit their nicely-padded and glowing resumes to demonstrate why they would be perfect for the job, who arrive on interview day in freshly purchased interview suits, who offer bribes if they could just be chosen for the job. And they are willing to do this for free.
My first thought was, “She is so going to be my bitch.” My second through forty-third thoughts involved all of the ways this wretched unlucky person was going to make my life easier at the expense of her own sanity and physical health. She was going to follow me everywhere holding a notepad and taking tiny scampering little steps to keep up with my very powerful stomp. This person wasn’t just going to fetch coffee and dry cleaning, no, that’s for amateur intern supervisors. My intern was going to file my taxes, repaint whole rooms of my house, and somehow manage to get the root canal that I was supposed to have but it would still make my tooth better. I didn’t think that one through all the way, but it was a lot of fun to envision.
Then I met the intern. And she’s a great person, which did give me a little bit of a guilty feeling becaue I was still plotting all the ways my life would become awesome while simultaneously making her hate the concept of being alive. But then she handed me a book.
“What’s this?” I asked pleasantly. We were still in the honeymoon phase of this working partnership, meaning I’d known her for four minutes.
“It’s your book,” she answered, opening it to the table of contents and showing me all of the guidelines that were to be upheld for this program, as well as all of the requirements I would have to meet. My stomach roiled with the disappointment.
This manual contained the basic framework of a contract that said I couldn’t abuse this person. There were forms I had to fill out; I had to do paperwork! Even worse, I was going to have to not lose this book! The whole point of the intern was to make my life better, but instead I had more work to do!
Any dream of making this person do random chores was shattered. This manual was the Geneva Convention of internship. It detailed all the ways I had to pet and pamper this other human being. I was to be supportive and encouraging and teach her all kinds of things about my job so she could one day replace me. There were whole chapters on specific things I could not make her do, and trust me, some of the things on that list I never wanted her to do in the first place but it still stung to see it in print that I was forbidden to do that. Thanks a lot, Monica Lewinsky.
The intern has been here a month and overall, I’m unimpressed with her performance. I had to provide her with a desk and move my lava lamp so she could plug in her laptop. I caved in to the pressure and ugly looks from my co-workers and moved my bottles of flavored coffee creamers in the office fridge so there was room for her insulin. When we go to lunch, I have to drive so she can send overly-chatty text messages to some dialysis clinic somewhere. There goes my plan to make her give me a kidney if I ever need it.
I’m sure there are great working relationships out there where recent college graduates are forced to do mind-numbing and humiliating tasks as a stepping stone to beginning their careers. Maybe that only exists in the movies, like Santa Claus and gorgeous international spies (the good-guy kind) on cruise ships who need a pre-makeover soccer mom to be their cover girlfriends for the duration of the voyage.
I just hope someday the reality of how incompetent my intern is hits her full in the face. Maybe she’ll go on to a career in this field, be given her own intern, and will use that opportunity to get it right and ruin some young person’s life. One can only hope we are exacting change for the future.