Internship Diary #11 — Discipline is Harder When Things are Easier

A few weeks ago, I traveled home for Thanksgiving break. Like most college students, I was looking forward to using the time to rest and catch up on a few things that had fallen through the cracks at school while I was busy. A day before making the trek home, I messaged back and forth on Slack with Kevin, just discussing a few upcoming meetings, ways for me to get more experience, and how I could get a couple things done on the road. In truth, my mind was mainly focused on spending a week with no assignments due for any classes. 

Over the course of the break, though, I noticed something. For some reason, despite the fact that my schedule was wide open for the week, it was more difficult for me to execute little tasks for my internship. At school, I juggle a lot of responsibilities and a decently busy schedule. But I get everything done at roughly the same time every day, and usually at the same place. Classes end, lunch is over, I land at my desk in my room to hammer out internship work. Not so at home, away from the busyness. For me, and I suspect for a lot of people, discipline is harder when things are easier. 

I live in south Georgia, near-ish to Savannah, in a tiny little nothing town that no one has ever heard of. From Jackson, the drive home takes about nine hours. I love to drive — always have, ever since I got my learner’s permit. There’s somewhat of a running joke in the family about how I never give up the wheel to let anyone else drive, no matter how long the trip. That’s neither here nor there, except that I again insisted on driving home for break despite having several pressing bits of work to do. So, at a gas station next to a coffee shop somewhere near Murfreesboro, while my brother and sister were getting coffee, I pulled out my laptop in the parked car and posted several clips for the Content Machine. I’d been putting it off, wanting to retain control of the driver’s seat (and the aux). It took me no more than 10 minutes.

That’s how things tend to go for me. I imagine a problem — for instance, I want to drive but I also have a little work to do — and then stew on it until I have no motivation to do the thing I need to do. In truth, getting work or homework or chores or whatever done is usually not that difficult. But, for me, it requires creating discipline during times of ease, breaks, and comfort. It’s easy to have a strong work ethic while I’m busy. After all, I’ve already got a lot to do, what’s one more thing? When I’m on break or have a lull in responsibilities, though, all of my mole hill tasks turn into mountain-sized tasks. 

I’m not saying I’m going to start getting up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays or working through all my breaks. I believe strongly in letting down time be down time. The ebb and flow of days and weeks, though, will naturally include both the hectic and the easy. I just don’t want to get lazy when the easy days come.

Internship Diary #10 — Little Crumbs of Payoff as I Get Better

A few weeks ago in this ongoing diary of my internship experience, I talked about a valuable piece of advice I received from my writing professor: “Say yes to every writing opportunity.” Part of my takeaway from that lesson was that, despite the fact that he meant it very literally, the actionable piece for me was to simply write any kind of thing until I became comfortable with it. Obviously, as a college student, a lot of the legwork in that department is done for me. My classes often present me with assignments in areas of writing I’ve never done before. Last year, for my major, I was required to take a Public Relations Writing course. This is not a genre of writing that especially interests me (I’m not convinced that it especially interests anyone), but the experience made me better. What’s more, my newfound comfort with PR writing landed me a few small-time freelance gigs. These were never much at a time, but $50 is $50. Seeing skills translate into money in real time is nice. As anyone who has any sort of semi-specialized skill knows, once other people find out about it, you become that guy in every group you’re part of. My brother, for instance, is “the video guy.” I’m the writing guy. 

These steps in our development produce little crumbs of payoff, even from the outset. After learning how to do PR writing, opportunities for it seemed to be everywhere. My fraternity was conducting a fundraiser, and since I was the writing guy, I wrote the fundraising letter. So on and so forth the process of learning and then doing continued. 

Another little crumb of payoff arrived last week. A non-profit organization that works with Adelsberger asked for a series of fundraising letters to be written on their behalf. Kevin saw fit to let me take the reins on the project and write each letter. If you’re anything like me, you know what it feels like to be asked to do something you’re sort of good at, only now in a higher-stakes setting. All of my fundraising and public relations writing to this experience had been low key. Fraternity brothers are not exactly the New York Times editorial board when it comes to critiquing my work. Now, I won’t pretend writing a letter asking for money is rocket science. Obviously, it’s pretty straightforward. I’m prone to anxiety, though, and there’s nothing more anxiety-inducing than staring at a blank document without a clue if anything you write on it will be correct. I believe this is called overthinking. The point is, my anxiety was quieted, at least a little, by the knowledge that at least this wasn’t entirely foreign. The stakes were raised, but the ground was familiar. 

I wrote the letters. I had plenty of questions to ask, and as usual, Brittany was kind and helpful in answering them. And I checked another box off, another opportunity said yes to, another skill at least a little more developed. 

Internship Diary #9 — Creativity As A Habit

Creativity as a Habit

There’s a dichotomy that anyone who is professionally creative has faced. On the one hand, creating as work relies on, well, being creative. It requires imagining and making something where nothing existed before. On the other hand though, to do anything professionally requires regularity and routine. It’s something you do every day, a schedule, a habit, and an exercise. These two ideas butt heads in the mind of the creative consistently, or at least they do in my mind. (If you’re a creative and you’ve never experienced this dichotomy, please teach me whatever secrets you’ve learned.) Imagination and routine are not compatible ideals. At least not without practice. So then, this is the rub: how do you build a way of working and living that allows creativity to become a habit? 

As a marketing firm, creativity flows through the channels of work at Adelsberger constantly. Alex creates videos, Tamara creates images, Brittany creates clean and compelling copy, Ricky and Katie create graphics, and so on and so forth. Creativity has to be a habit, as it does for everyone in every similar job anywhere. 

On the first day of classes, back in August, I sat at a conference table for syllabus day in a writing course. The professor walked in, looking exactly how you want a man who is going to teach you about short stories and poetry and great authors to look. He had glasses and a white beard and a pleasant way of talking that seemed constantly amused by the world around him. The first assignment he gave us was one that would last all semester: get a small notebook and your favorite pen, carry them with you every day, everywhere, and jot down anything at all that interests you. There are a lot of pages in that notebook filled with useless, silly things that I’ll forget. But there are also ideas that became several stories, a magazine article, and several entries in this internship diary. The world produces creativity, and you only get creative by being in it, just as you only get strong by going to the gym and not by sitting at home wondering why you’re not feeling strong today. 

Right now, I’m only an aspiring professional creative. We’ll see where that takes me. But I’ve learned from people a lot smarter and a lot more experienced than me that if you want a productive imagination, you have to build a little haven for it. Anybody truly great has had their haven. Thoreau had his cabin on Walden Pond, Roald Dahl had his desk in a shed overlooking his garden, and Haruki Murakami has his tidy desk in an office nook. For right now, I have a desk in a dorm room. On the top shelf sits a plant in a disposable cup that I saved from a coffee shop just outside the public library in New York City. I saved the cup because the logo is a little guy with glasses who sort of looks like me. A collection of old records by the likes of Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, and Hall & Oates hang on the wall above. A cheap faux Japanese lamp casts a softly warm glow from its perch on top of a collection of books. This is my haven, the place that lets me write my stories and all of these internship diaries. This is the place that makes creativity a (mostly) joyful habit for me.

Internship Diary #8 – Preparing for Celebrations Through Traditions and Interruptions

We’ve reached a time of year in America when it seems that everyone, everywhere is planning for some kind of landmark. The calendar will change in a couple of months, and companies and people are planning celebrations of every kind: Thanksgiving, End of Year, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the upcoming New Year itself. 

The season of celebrations produces two things, the opposite of one another. Celebrations are accompanied by traditions, time-honored and reliable practices that give our lives structure and comfortability. This time of year, though, is also accompanied by departures from the routine, new tasks, shopping lists, and boxes to be checked that are not present year-round. These hectic new agenda items exist because, inherently, celebrations necessitate the preparation for celebration. The build up.

Recently, I worked on a small task for the Greater Jackson Chamber’s Annual Celebration. They hosted a game-show type trivia competition, and all the questions centered around Old Hollywood. Do you recognize this actor? This movie? This poster? That type of thing. My job was just to find the pictures, videos, and posters to be used. Somewhere in that process, sifting through photos of actors from the 40s to find shots that weren’t so grainy they couldn’t be used, I saw the iconic poster for It’s a Wonderful Life. If you’re anything like me and you come from one of the thousands of American families for whom that movie is appointment viewing every year, you’ll probably recognize it instantly. It captures the moment near the end of the film when Jimmy Stewart has received his second chance, arriving home, and Donna Reed runs in to meet him. It’s impossible not to be moved. But it got me thinking about the little things we mark our lives by — watching the same movies every year, eating the same pie on Thanksgiving, and so on. I’m sure you have your own list of rituals. This time of year is full of them, both personally and professionally. 

Some people wait with rapt anticipation, like a child on the arrival of Santa Claus, for the day Starbucks tosses out their plain white cups in favor of the bright red and pizzazz of the holiday seasonal cups. Some people leave out their pumpkins and scarecrows until December 24th, waiting out the progressively cooler days of November and most of December with patience. Jackson saw its first actual cold snap of the season this week, enough to frost the grass a glassy white in the morning and freeze a thin layer of ice over the windshields of anyone trying to leave for work. 

After the first cold snap and beginning of this annual season of various celebrations, Brittany Crockett mentioned in one of the non-serious Adelsberger Marketing Slack channels that she had begun the countdown to Christmas. Yesterday, though, I saw someone post on Instagram a picture of their shed, making a not very funny or very original joke about how that is where their Christmas tree would stay until December. I’ll leave you with this, from Brittany in Slack after her early onset holiday spirit was challenged: “We take the wins where we can get them.” 

For that reason, I welcome this season of new tasks, new checklists, and new celebrations. 


Internship Diary #7 – Putting Faces to Names and Personalities to Faces

I remember, as everybody does now, where I was the day the world changed. It was March 13, three years ago, and my job consisted of traveling around the country with a non-profit. Traveling became, literally overnight, taboo. It was the primary thing, in fact, that you should not do at all anymore. The only thing more off limits, I suppose, would have been sneezing directly in someone’s face, but that wasn’t in my job description anyway. I went home, as the whole world went home, and my job changed, as did everyone’s. 

There was a plastic card table on the screened-in brick porch behind my sister’s house, and she had good WiFi, so that became my office. It took exactly one cardboard Amazon box and two paperback novels to elevate my laptop from the surface of the table to an even height with my face for the Zoom conferences that became my daily occupation. I badly wanted to avoid the up the chin and nostrils Zoom camera view, for the sake of my ego and my audience’s sensibilities. 

This became the new normal quickly, and I believe that for the most part we are better for it. My dad, who for my entire life had gotten up before dawn to make the 45-minute commute to the power plant where he has worked for three decades, was suddenly home in the mornings. He sat at the kitchen table with coffee and his laptop and did his work as he always did. He lost nothing in productivity, nor did anyone else from his office. But I got to say good morning to him when I woke up and made my own coffee and began my own work. 

That new normal extends to today, as the American work landscape has changed dramatically and in all likelihood permanently. I’m afforded the luxury and convenience of accomplishing all my work with Adelsberger Marketing from the comfort of the desk in my dorm, or a table at a coffee shop, or as was the case last week, from a camp chair beside the tent I shared with friends in Chattanooga. 

You will hear no screed from me about the dangers of working from home, the terrors of letting people reclaim the little minutes between work that might otherwise be spent staring at the wall of a cubicle. Enough ink has already been spilled on that subject by people who probably reminded the teacher when homework was due in grade school. 

That said, I do think there is distinct value in knowing the people with whom we create. Not every job, or every company, or every internship involves this aspect. But any working creative will tell you that it is vitally important. While there is a time to sit and think and fuel, there is also a time to exercise the muscles that allow us to actually make something. Ricky Santos and Katie Howerton, who together form the design team for Adelsberger Marketing, agree on the importance of collaboration and having a second voice. They bounce ideas off of one another all the time. That requires some baseline relationship, some idea of who the person on the other side of the screen is that includes them in three-dimensional form, a flesh and blood human. 

For all of these reasons, it was particularly refreshing for me to join Alex Russell and Tamara Waller, video team extraordinaire, on a shoot for the Leaders Credit Union podcast recently. One of the primary benefits of working with creative people is that they tend to be fun. This is true of Alex and Tamara. Over the course of the shoot, from the setup to the filming to the takedown to loading the van in the parking lot, easy conversation flowed between them. They knew things, not only about the work itself but about how the other liked to work, about how the clients liked to work, and about how to put the atmosphere at ease by having fun with the whole thing. I asked them questions about their lives and their hobbies and the music they listened to and gently ribbed them for their taste in artists and songs. They did the same to me. Though I have no wish for a permanent office or a cubicle or a desktop computer, I will say this: it’s good to get out and know the people behind the work, to put a face behind the graphic or the video. The workplace has changed, but we still need each other. I don’t think that will change.

Internship Diary #6 – Learning the Language, Raising My Cultural Capital

There’s a concept in sociology called Cultural Capital. Now I’m no Sociologist, so don’t go quoting me on this, but essentially this idea refers to our ability to understand the slang, the jargon, and the little signifiers that say we belong in a place or group. All these things operate as a form of social currency: they purchase credibility.

As the new guy in any place, your cultural capital is almost inherently going to be low. You’re the new guy. This has nothing to do with the kindness of the people who came before you, or even how welcoming they are. It’s just a fact — you don’t know the landscape yet. There’s not a lot of capital in your cultural bank account. It takes time and effort and knowledge to fit into this new environment.

In this sense, adjusting to a new place — whether you’ve moved places of residence, or you’ve started attending a new church, or you’ve joined a new company — is a lot like learning a new language. For instance, when I began my internship with Adelsberger Marketing, I was bewildered by the jargon used in conversation or on Slack.

“You’re managing the Content Machine.” Ok, what is the Content Machine?

“We have a shoot for Leaders next week.” I’ll bite, who or what is Leaders?

“That’s like Alex and Taylor Swift.” I know what all of those words mean by themselves, but I have no clue how they’re connected.

Overtime, and especially as I was taught my new responsibilities, the team at Adelsberger explained all these terms to me. They began teaching me the language.

Unfortunately for me, I have never been good at language learning. It’s my academic Achilles heel. I took Latin for two years in high school — not my choice, please don’t judge — and all I remember is the word “Oremus,” because I would say it as a joke before my family prayed at dinner. (Oremus means “Let us pray.”) I am in college now and taking my second semester of Spanish. Sadly, my language aptitude has not improved. Despite my love for words and writing, I have simply never been able to grasp the grammar, the syntax, or the intricacies of language that a truly fluent person understands intuitively. In my defense, I would tell you that I love words, not grammar. They’re different. I write for the meaning, not the commas.

But as I’m sure you’ve heard, the best way to learn a language is not a class, or a textbook, or a test. You learn by speaking, the same way a child does. You learn by immersion. For instance, anyone at Adelsberger Marketing will tell you that understanding Alex Russell, whether his quirks, his intricacies, or his relationship to Taylor Swift, is not a simple exercise. There’s certainly no textbook. You have to be immersed in the culture of Alex.

Over the past two months, give or take, I’ve gotten a crash course in the language of Adelsberger Marketing. I’m not fluent yet, but I’m conversational, which is a vast improvement. Immersion, simply diving in, has paid off. Hopefully it’s put a few more dollars worth of capital in my cultural bank account, too.

Internship Diary #5: Growing As a Creative by Saying Yes to Everything

“Never, ever turn down a writing opportunity. Say yes to everything.” My journalism professor told me that last year as I sat in his office debating whether to accept an offer for freelance work. The job was simple, just writing a few press releases for a mayoral candidate. Still, I was busy and taking the title of “Writer” from theoretical to the professional world was intimidating. I recognize the contradiction in that: the whole reason you study something in college is to do it professionally. New horizons are scary, though.

Interning with Adelsberger Marketing represented another new horizon. Yes, I’ve written a lot, but there’s a marked difference between writing for an assignment and writing something that goes up on a company website. I’d never written a blog post before, or helped with scripting a promotional video, or done marketing writing in any capacity. But, “say yes to everything.”

As a part of this role, I’ve said yes to every form of writing I listed above. I did not understand what I was doing, and there are parts I still don’t understand, and I’m sure next week there will be more, new parts I also don’t understand. That’s the whole reason behind saying yes, though: you get confused, you ask questions, you try again, you get better. Rinse, repeat.

At the beginning of my internship, I was told that one of my responsibilities would be helping to write blog content for certain clients. Brittany Crockett, writer and content creator for Adelsberger Marketing, would be the lead on these projects. She reached out to me quickly and kindly to offer resources, examples of work, and easy projects just to get my feet wet. I ran into problems almost immediately, though — the prompts confused me, as I didn’t have a lens for understanding what the client wanted simply because of my own inexperience. Frustrated and a little embarrassed by my own incompetence, I reached out to Brittany. She graciously agreed to meet with me via Zoom to answer my many questions.

Over the course of that call, Brittany patiently answered questions, including not only the ones I asked but the ones I didn’t even know I needed to ask.

You see, I don’t think saying yes to everything is as simple as it sounds. The prescription is not as simple as “become a workaholic in order to get better.” It is, however, about stepping out a little further into roles you’ve never filled before. And asking a million (probably annoying) questions when it turns out you don’t know what you’re doing.

Asking questions, getting answers, and doing a new thing. And then finding another new thing to do next.

So, I’ll make one small amendment to the adage my professor gave me: Say yes to everything, until you understand how to do everything you need to do, plus maybe a few other things for good measure.

Internship Diary #4 – Smiling when the Creative Well is Dry

Ideas are a finite resource. In any creative discipline, whether it be writing, design, photography, videography, or something else, we depend heavily on ideas and on the creative process. There are some days, some weeks, where it all comes easy. Your ideas are flowing so well that your pen touches paper and moves almost under its own power. The past week has not been one of those weeks.

I have been staring at my computer screen, my face and mind both completely blank, trying to figure out how to start this entry. Yes, this is a diary of sorts, and the point of a diary is just to document what happens. But this is also content, written for the company blog, and I want to do it well. The problem I face, besides my own brain’s current lack of creative flow, is that over the past couple of weeks, I’ve developed a routine for how I approach my internship. Typically, this would be a good thing — getting into a comfortable workflow makes productivity much easier. However, for writing purposes, routine is the enemy.

One of the first things hammered into my brain as a journalism student was that every story needs conflict. This doesn’t mean violence or fighting or anything like that — just narrative conflict. For instance, a short story might center around a man who can’t decide if he wants to stay in his hometown or move to the city. That’s conflict. (Inner conflict, in this example, but conflict nonetheless.)

So, this was my problem: “Everything is going great, I’m developing a comfortable routine in my internship” is not a story. It may be a pleasant statement, but it is not interesting. To freshen things up, I could make a catastrophic mistake every week and then write about that, but both Kevin and I would veto that idea quickly (for very different reasons, maybe, but the result would be the same). The solution, then, has to lie within the borders of the comfortable routine I have fortunately found.

Thankfully, life threw me a lifeline. I got a text from Eric, King of the Interns, complimenting my most recent blog post, the one about my first mistake on the job. Eric is a kind, usually gentle soul who, despite those qualities, delights in jokes that poke fun at himself, me, you, and the world around him. He is good at this. His congratulatory text was followed by this one: “Also, smile if that’s the biggest mistake you make.” Then he made a joke at his own expense.

My comfortable routine, accompanied by the occasional and unavoidable bout of writer’s block, may be a bane in the moment. That is a problem I can live with just fine. I will smile, content that I am not currently making a mistake — and hoping I’m not about to make a big one.

Internship Diary #3 – Community in the Virtual Workplace

On day one of orientation at Adelsberger, you hear a lot of information. This includes all the usual things: passwords, time cards, getting added to the Slack channel, and so on and so forth. The necessary tools that allow the modern workplace to function. There is, however, one more ingredient, aimed not at function but at understanding. This understanding is not sought after for the purpose of anything strictly utilitarian or even for executing a job at all necessarily, although that may be a by-product. Every incoming intern is expected to set up, on their own initiative, a meeting with every other employee of the company simply for the sake of getting to know that person and their skillset more fully. 

Last week was meeting week for me. It was my second full week with the company after orientation, but week one was full of school and papers and the boatloads of writing that you have to do when you choose writing as the primary thing you want to study. So all of my meetings were scheduled for this second week, a bit of flexibility that made my schedule much easier. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday each held slots for multiple meetings, a staggered little list of reminders filing down the afternoon slots of my Google calendar. As work goes, this was about as easy as it gets. It helps that creative people with creative jobs tend to be fun to meet with. 

When I entered my virtual Zoom meeting, Alex Russell’s face greeted me in close-up, high definition. He stared, nose almost touching his laptop, directly into the camera and so therefore directly at me. After a beat or two of me waiting to see if he was lagging or stuck somehow, he jumped back from the screen, danced for a second, and abruptly sat down. 

“So, let’s talk about Jake Scott.” 

A singer-songwriter we both like and who Alex recently got to meet at a dinner. We discovered this during the photoshoot for my company headshots and I included it as the reason for our meeting in my invite to Alex. We talked about Jake Scott for a few moments; favorite songs, his upcoming album, the things you discuss when you share music with someone. 

He sipped almost delicately, pinky finger in the air, from a tiny espresso mug. I asked about it and the conversation switched to coffee. He brewed the shot from a Nespresso. How good were Nespresso shots? Decent, not all that strong. We both were curious about upgrading our setups and learning to pull quality shots, we both were skeptical about the cost and knowledge required. Eventually, we did talk about work (don’t worry, Kevin, this was actually productive). 

Meetings, of course, are a part of any workplace. I’m not young enough or naive enough to try to spin “we have meetings!” into some kind of revolutionary statement. That said, these meetings are not about agenda items. This is about fostering community, cooperation, and curiosity. This is also about integration into a working apparatus that is by and large physically separated. Other than occasional brainstorming meetings and welcome lunches when a new hire joins the company, this workplace is not a physical work place. 

The post-Covid corporate world has forced everyone to adjust, of course, but not everyone has adjusted with the same priorities in mind. Every week some online magazine publishes a think-piece about how virtual work is destroying the productivity of the American workforce. Clearly, those writers have not met Alex Russell, who uses Zoom not only to produce but to perform, or Ricky Santos, who taught me (most of) how to create an animation from a still image over the course of a 30 minute virtual meeting. These one-on-ones unite a seemingly ragtag group of designers, videographers, photographers, writers, and random 20-something interns into a team which values overlapping knowledge and mutual learning and convenient espresso. Community can be achieved in the modern workplace which isn’t a workplace at all. You just have to value the people who form that community in the first place. 

Internship Diary #2 The First Mistake isn’t the End of the World

Last Friday, the end of week two in my internship with Adelsberger Marketing, was one of the first days that you could tell that fall would eventually penetrate through the dome of heat radiating from every building in Jackson. This was cause for celebration the way that these things always are: a universal mood booster, the type of thing that sends people walking through the streets with a skip in their step like a newly transformed Ebenezer Scrooge looking for the biggest goose in the window. Photos of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and pumpkin-scented candles landed in the company Slack channel as celebration of this inkling of seasonal hope. 

I sat in my room at my desk, ambient lofi music playing in the background as it always does when I work, feeling content. Classes were over for the week and all that remained was the routine plugging away of moving around images and video clips to be posted on various social media as promotion for the Content Machine podcast. This work flow, and the atmosphere of working from the pleasant comfort of my dorm, made me especially happy not to be drudging in an office somewhere. Obviously, remote work has its perks. 

Without warning, the easy-going simplicity of my afternoon ended. I was confused about one of the tasks outlined for posting the podcast, and searched through any resource I could find for the answer. Nothing — not in my Google doc, not in my Slack messages, nowhere. It crept upon me slowly, like a horror movie villain which the audience can see but the protagonist can only sense, that Kevin was the only one with the answer. This would not have been an issue except for one hang up: Kevin had already clocked out for the day. Interrupting my boss, the founder of the company, during his time off was not a thought I relished. Nevertheless, I faced the music and texted him my question.

He responded quickly, then called me to walk me through the problem. Within five minutes, the issue was solved, but it felt like an eternity. My gratitude for remote work took on a different form; now I was just glad I didn’t have to make this mistake while looking Kevin in the eye. Phones are a godsend when taking responsibility isn’t your cup of tea. It’s so much less personal. 

I completed the task and closed my laptop. Honestly, the fix was simple and easy. Kevin didn’t sound bothered at all. Still, I apologized via text. Kevin responded: “We didn’t set you up for success.” This was not entirely true. I could have listened better, asked better questions, or taken better notes. Still, the important thing is that he was gracious and he put my mind at ease. A five minute mistake wasn’t the end of the world. The first mistake will happen. Don’t let it get to you.