Dani Fruehan, photographed in New York City, July 31, 2018.

7 Takeaways for the Intimidated Intern

By Danielle Fruehan, Copywriting Intern, Razorfish Health, Philadelphia

Allow me to get real for a minute. I’m intimidated by pretty much everyone. I guess I’d be more embarrassed about that admission, except I’ve recently learned it’s not just me. Maybe you’re completely new to an industry, maybe you’re the kind of person who refers to making your own doctors appointments as “adulting,” maybe you have no idea why you were picked for a job because you feel unqualified and assume everyone else is a super-genius. That’ll all change with time, mistakes, accomplishments, and maybe even with some encouragement from someone who’s already been there.

Here are a few quick takeaways from a small (Razor)fish in a big (Publicis) pond on how to deal with feeling like an intimidated intern.

Confidence doesn’t always translate.

You are constantly reinventing yourself. You’ve gone from the scared freshman to the scary senior. You’ve moved from dorm room homesickness to calling your college apartment home. You’ve gone from trainee to trainer in your part-time job. You’d consider yourself confident, right? Self-assured? Fearless? Reconsider. Let yourself be new. Let yourself feel behind. Learn that you have something to learn from everyone. It’s only going to help you grow. There’s confidence (and humility) to be gained in lacking confidence.

You’re not the only one who’s intimidated.

If there’s anything that eating lunch with my fellow interns on the 9th floor atrium taught me, it’s that we’re all vulnerable to intimidation. We all get down on ourselves, we all rant about our frustrations and fears, we all get lost navigating the Wanamaker building. (Wait, how do I get to PHM again?) At the midpoint of the internship, we had a purpose workshop, and we were all encouraged to dig deep and learn more about ourselves as professionals. We evaluated our individual purpose with Publicis, as well as our strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. We made a short list of attributes we wanted to improve in ourselves throughout the internship. Then we were prompted to break into small groups and find something from this list that we all had in common. To my surprise, my group all felt we lacked confidence. We all felt some sort of disconnect between our personal selves and our professional selves. We were sometimes afraid to speak up in meetings, we didn’t feel like we knew what we were doing, and we were worried to present in front of our coworkers. Not only did my group have that in common, but numerous other groups said the same thing. We all brainstormed ways that we could gain workplace confidence in our internship through personal learning experiences, educational instruction, and on-the-job opportunities. The main takeaway from most groups: force yourself out of your comfort zone whenever possible.

We’re not competitors, we’re colleagues.

The internship search can be so discouraging and selective, designed to make us all feel like we’re constantly in competition with one another. Heck, most things surrounding the progress of our generation have taught us that. Naturally, then, I didn’t walk into this internship orientation expecting to be surrounded by friends; I walked in expecting to be intimidated, my lack of knowledge in the ad world highlighted for everyone to judge. I expected to have to fight for recognition, when in reality there was more than enough to go around because the 84 of us were chosen out of a 4,000 applicant pool. These people may have been my competition in the application phase, but once we all entered the door, they were my colleagues and coworkers. No one looks like the best candidate for a job by trying to be better than the other candidates; he or she will look like the best candidate by being a team player. Which brings me to my next point …

It’s much easier to be a small fish in a large pond when you’re swimming together.

We’re all small fish now. Some interns may be on their second or third internship, some have graduated college already, some have an awesome portfolio, some have an extensive list of technical skills and known softwares, and some — like me, for example — are rookies to it all. Either way, we all have something to learn from each other. Instead of looking at other interns as people who know more than you think you know, see them as a wealth of resources at your fingertips. For instance, as a copywriter who didn’t have a portfolio, I collaborated with a fellow art direction intern to enhance each other’s portfolios. She helped me create a site and redesigned my résumé, and I rewrote the copy on her site. So sure, maybe we don’t all know PhotoShop, or not all of us have stellar writing skills, but that’s why we have coworkers. We’re a team, a support network, and the only people who can truly understand each other’s hardships and accomplishments throughout this internship. We’re here to help each other. By combining skills and expertise with one another, our personal growth will be exponential.

Don’t compromise yourself. Bring yourself.

Remember that you’re not the stereotypical as-seen-on-TV intern, only here to make coffee runs, take notes during meetings, and file paperwork. You’re here to contribute yourself and be heard. You’re here because the company values you. We’re told early on to bring our whole selves to work. The benefit of working at a company like Publicis Health is that they genuinely mean it. They don’t want you to fall into a cookie-cutter definition of a young professional. They’re not looking for one specific person. They’re authentic in the way they value diversity. Embrace your background, your college major, your quirks, your style. Show off the skills you have, and own up to the ones you don’t. Dress how you dress. Talk how you talk. Be transparent about your goals and what you want to gain from the internship.

Fake it ’til you make it.

Being an intern will teach you many things you need to know about yourself, but it won’t teach you everything. Remember that you’re still exploring, still networking, still developing your portfolio with all of the reasons you’re great. And it’s OK to feel like you don’t yet truly know yourself.

Early in my internship, my fellow Razorfish Health interns and I had to present to the Executive Leadership Team about ourselves: who we are, where we’re from, what we study at school, our favorite ad campaign, and our favorite charity or cause. We were all scrambling for two weeks to create a presentation that accurately summed up ourselves as professionals and as humans in general. I could tell that we all had fears before presenting, and when I spoke to other interns, I learned that they also had a hard time pinning down what makes them, them. How could we brag about ourselves without sounding like we were bragging about ourselves? Let alone, how could we brag about ourselves if we weren’t sure there was anything to brag about? I dug deep into my interests and hobbies while designing my presentation, and when I had gaps to fill, I faked it until I believed myself. When I presented, I pushed past my anxieties and shaky hands and presented like I knew myself inside and out. At the end, the leadership team gave the interns an incredible ego boost, complimenting each of our presentations individually and emphasized that we all brought a completely different skillset to the table. We all left the room beaming like we owned the place. That was one of the many times I had felt like I made it.

Grow with the flow.

The age-old saying, “One day at a time,” comes to mind here. Every day will offer you a new skillset, a new conversation, a new opportunity to show up and grow up. When you find yourself constantly thinking of yourself in future tense, worried about what happens tomorrow, what happens Thursday, what happens if you don’t finish your exhaustive to-do list by 5 pm, tell yourself that you can only live in the present. Breathe. Practice mindfulness whenever you can, because no matter how much you get done by 5 pm, you’re taking steps every second to become your best self. And that, above all, is what I wish for you.

Danielle (Dani) Fruehan is a 2018 Copywriting Intern at Razorfish Health in Philadelphia. After the internship, she will return to Penn State University, where she will graduate in May 2019 with a BA and MA in creative writing (poetry). Her passions include education, connection, and self-expression. During the school year, you can find Dani in the writing center, tutoring and giving creative writing workshops, and in the classroom teaching the freshman English composition class. Outside of work and class, she enjoys watercolor and oil painting, attending open mic nights in cute coffee shops, reading contemporary poetry, and watching the latest Netflix obsession with her friends (right now it’s Queer Eye, but always open to suggestions). Connect with her on LinkedIn.