The first day of my new internship at a bank was set to begin in one week.
I had stress dreams in which I destroyed every shred of career potential and my ability to be hired. I ate too many boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese. You know, logical things to do when you should be preparing yourself and going to Old Navy to buy another pair of khaki pants.
My exhilarating experience was preceded by the most drawn out, shut-in week of my entire existence. The headphones feeding audio from YouTube videos left marks on my ears and I passed the time by flicking crumbs of past meals off my chest, camouflaging themselves in the institutionalized carpeting my landlord so graciously did not replace when I moved in. At the end of that week, I could finally explain the entire plot of Dexter and had burned through more groceries than I care to admit. This out-of-character behavior was my body’s prescribed reaction to a combination of boredom and anxiousness.
Monday arrived. As I locked the door to my apartment, it dawned on me that I literally had not left my apartment for days. I was a few thousand newspaper clippings and 10 cats away from being featured on a TLC episode of Shut-Ins.
The only jobs I’ve ever had allowed me to wear jeans or shorts every single day, and I’ve never had to work in a confined cubicle. It was as my cinematic heroes in Office Space taught me that offices were a personal hell. But beyond the portrayals of an office via a comedy that debuted in theaters when I was just four years old, I knew little of what to really expect. All the information that I had, before showing up with khakis and a tie slapped on, was two phone calls, regarding the address and where to park.
Starting anything new for the first time is an anxiety-ridden experience for me, and that’s multiplied when meeting twenty fellow interns and a whole team of fully functioning adults who know what they’re doing, and expect you to know the same. My hands were stereotypically sweaty, making for those signature first-impression handshakes and my voice cracked a few times introducing myself. These people I had been meeting were my age and beyond who somehow all figured out how to get their lives together. Meanwhile, my mind flashed back to what I had been up to just mere days beforehand. I most definitely did not have my life together.
This anxiety for me gives me this huge doubt in my heart, making myself freak out to the point where I’m seconds away from just phoning in sick and quitting. I’d probably get on the phone and beg them to not hate me for changing my mind, then going back to the regretful and pathetic existence I was the week before.
But, being a junior in college means finally having to put aside personal fears and timidness, and try new things. Also, I was broke and needed the job badly. My more privileged peers were sipping underage margaritas poolside and I was 30 seconds from throwing an exhausting interview process down a sewer drain.
I recall parking my white Chevy Malibu, missing hubcap and all, in a seemingly endless sea of black Mercedes sedans in a stuffy parking garage in downtown Des Moines. I was, after all, working at a bank with a market value of what sounded more like the United States’ debt than a profit margin.
Pulling in, my brakes, in dire need of replacement, squealed. It was as I was getting out of my car that I realized that I had forgotten to eat breakfast and, had forgotten to pack a lunch as well. Off to a what was certainly a solid start, my anxiety surrounding doing something new kept inhibiting my ability to have success. I could have been the Snickers bar spokesperson; I can hear the ad now —“I’m not an effective employee when I’m hungry.”
The garage, adjacent to a construction site in downtown Des Moines, acted as an additional force of the intense June heat that permeated through my Old Navy button-down. It tossed grime and dirt through the air, making my eyes water.
The work that I did that first day was remedial. Setting up the correct form on my email signature and meeting my coworkers consisted of a good portion of the day’s substantive tasks, and meeting with the human resources department about a line item I missed on my W-9 tax form.
Although rudimentary, they were challenging due to the social hurdles associated with working in a conservative and corporate banking environment.
The smell of stale carpet cleaning and wood polish clash, my elbows sliding off the desktop surface due to the overt cleanliness. This was paralleled by how sterile the work environment was. The white noise machine, conveniently hanging from the ceiling tiles above my head isolated me from the chatter in new ‘next door neighbors.’
I was zapped out of 2016 and back to 2001 in my kindergarten class with the amount of co-dependence my coworkers needed with the vice president, who sat among us to ensure our work was done. I was thankful that this was only a temporary assignment, where my classes would resume in the fall. Also resuming in the fall would be the sense of independence and responsibility for myself that had seemingly been lost on communications staff bringing home more than my tuition payment each month.
As summer progressed, season shifting to autumn, the parts of the job that I was at first nervous and, in some cases, even afraid of, got easier and in some instances, became some of my favorite parts of going to work for eight hours each day. Most of my fears apparently surrounded my physical first impressions rather than letting my work speak for itself.
The important take away from this is that this job taught me how to deal with people more than it taught me about the housing markets, mortgages, writing press releases or participating in meetings. In the hindsight of this first day of work, yes, many things did not go as well as they could have. But, on the other hand, I could have gotten fired, I could have been underdressed, I could have forgotten to go to a meeting. It has been nearly five months since that first day, but this inherent fear sticks in the back of my head. Only one way to move, and that is forwards.