Experience trumps education. While I never would have believed that to be true during my undergraduate studies, it was a painful reality that I was forced to face immediately afterward.
And it’s not my experience alone.
The Millennial Generation
I find myself along with the second half of the millennial generation on the brink of a cliff, pushed from behind by society into the terrifying maw of reality. We are suspended in time, eager to prove ourselves before the moment of impact that we have trained and grown, to battle the misconceptions levied against our generation’s work ethic. We walk into our first offices and plop ourselves down, equal parts excited and terrified to commence with our formative years in the workforce. And during our second adolescence of sorts, we are finally free of a guiding structure. Win or lose, the training wheels are completely off. And that’s why the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) has been my chosen landing pad, a nurturing place for me to gain my footing in a world that often doesn’t offer much love to the new guy.
The heavy equipment industry was admittedly never on my horizon in college. My track had prepared me for editorial work, and my future felt confined to the publication world. My first impressions of editorial work felt lackluster, and I began to wonder if I’d selected the right path for myself. I knew that I had marketable talents, I just hadn’t the slightest idea where I could truly enjoy exercising them.
I’d always thought that my place in a market had to be earned, that I had to grind through interviews and self-promote. But having someone sell your skill set face to face means an incredible amount, and having people who know you and what you can do is almost as valuable as being talented. And so, setting aside my stubbornness, I allowed myself to be talked up and received my first internship with AEM.
Life As An Intern
I discovered quickly that being an intern came with a valuable privilege: freedom. Tasks assigned to me were my own, and their success or failure was a full reflection of my abilities. In the eyes of my peers, I was finally considered a somewhat developed worker. Initially, the responsibility terrified me. But I quickly learned another lesson at AEM: every failure eventually led to improvement. Each article that came back full of red marks only pushed me to become better, and soon my mistakes were fewer, and my output was vastly improved.
I was also afforded the opportunity to attend meetings, go out for lunches, and forge workplace relationships. Office life was a massive step up from my previous job of washing dishes, making every second spent in the AEM office feel like heaven. To have some small autonomy over myself and my daily work made ownership and pride in that work pleasurable, not burdensome.
And after a summer of writing for public relations for AEM, I returned the following summer to work with the association’s marketing and communications team. Here I experienced another freedom: creative autonomy. Armed with a list of ideas and themes to explore (in addition to my writings), I was turned loose on the internet to absorb as much knowledge as possible. My findings in social media (a field in which I had no experience) not only expanded my own skill set but showed me that my soft skills (enthusiasm, focus, networking, etc.) were what carried me in the workplace, not how quickly I could edit copy. The ability to understand a problem and craft a creative solution alone made me useful beyond my technical capacity.
Looking Ahead As An Employee
As I enter into an opportunity to work in technical research for AEM’s education department, I see more than anything the importance of connections. Everyone that I’ve met, worked for, or had small side conversations around the office with, have all helped to shape the worker that I’ve become today. Working in a vacuum is impossible: it’s only by operating in the context of those who know my industry inside and out that I’m able to even come close to grasping the importance of my work and the domino effect into which it plays. I owe my own success to myself, but a version of myself that was created through the people and opportunities that AEM afforded me.
My identity as an intern has forever shaped the way that I’ll view work. To be welcomed with open arms into a meaningful company, knowing that I would fail, learn, and grow, being treated as an asset the entire time, has been a massive blessing. And by continuing my work with AEM, I hope to show that I’ve invested into the association, much like they have invested deeply in me: who I am, what I can do, and what I will one day be.