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July 2, 2013
Lessons from a Summer Internship
We have a new group of fantastic interns that have joined MEC this summer; they are bright, eager, and  ambitious. To see them brings back fond memories of my own internship the summer before my senior year of college, at a small advertising agency in New York City.

In reminiscing, I thought I could possibly impart some divine wisdom to future media and advertising professionals, thinking back to what I’d learned that summer. Oddly enough, while reflecting, I realized the most important lessons I’d learned were not while sitting at a copy desk listening to tag line attempts, making runs to buy cassette tapes (yes, cassette tapes, I said it) for a competitive product review, slicing pictures of basketballs for a Madison Square Garden mock-up ad, or even running boards down to a place near Houston Street.

For me, the most important lessons transpired during a commute one morning on New Jersey Transit (try to refrain from the Jersey jokes, please).

Prior to my internship, trips into the city were few and far between, so traveling by train wasn’t familiar to me. I went to school in a rural area, so mass transit at college was rarely a necessity. I was clearly a commuting novice, but I’d made the trip into Manhattan for weeks with little drama or issue, so was feeling good about it. 

Until the day I jumped on the wrong train. 

I was rushing to make the train parked at the station, and breathlessly leaped through the first open door in my view. As I stood in the vestibule, I heard the announcement on the speaker overhead proclaim the name of the next stop. The wrong name. Ultimately, the wrong destination. Since commuting was still new for me, I — in the simplest of terms — panicked. My first thought was to get off as quickly as possible, which unfortunately was my immediate reaction as well.

The train was gearing up to move on, but I tossed my bag in the door in order to make the jump back onto the platform. The train moved anyway. As my leg entered the doorway, a strong arm appeared out of nowhere, clotheslining me across the shoulders, pinning me back into the vestibule.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the conductor asked as the train gained speed and the doors slid shut.

“I got on the wrong train,” I said, half embarrassed and half dejected, as my plan had failed. “I need to get to the city.” My voice shook a little as the panic set in. I didn’t know where I was going. To boot I might be late to work, and had no cell phone to make anyone aware.

He looked down at me curiously but patiently, and said simply, “You can change at the station two stops from here, and transfer to another train.”

He then looked out of the window and pointed to the brush and houses blurring by. “You made a mistake, but it’s not worth jumping into that,” he maintained.

“You’re going in the right direction,” he said, looking back at me. “All you need to do is make a detour. It’s not a big deal,” he confirmed gently. “Ticket?” He held out his hand and smiled.
In the end, what did I learn? What’s the divine wisdom I was hoping to share to this summer’s crop of interns, or aspiring media and advertising professionals?
  • When you make a mistake, don’t panic.
  • Reacting quickly is fine, but make sure to think through options just as quickly: make the best judgment based on thought, not reaction.
  • Don’t be afraid to take detours or explore.
  • Take advice from experts; be open to collaboration. 
  • When you make a mistake, learn from it. Most mistakes, if not all, are lessons in disguise.
I’m not suggesting in any way that my internship itself was for naught. I loved what I learned, the people I met, the breadth of knowledge that was shared. Everything I encountered helped me identify the media world as a career path; one I continue to love today. That’s a powerful thing to realize.

I guess the bottom line is that sometimes, lessons are where you least expect it. And sometimes, it takes years for these lessons to come to light and make sense. But it’s always important that when something gets off track, you reflect on it, realize it, celebrate it, and pass it on to others. Having a decent laugh over how ridiculous it was in retrospect doesn’t hurt, either.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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