From the time that I called Environment Virginia back to accept their offer to the day that I arrived in D.C., I had absolutely no idea what to expect from my internship. I mean, I knew what they had told me, which was that I would be on a grassroots campaign and I would be organizing volunteers. But beyond that, I had no idea. There was this nervous but excited feeling, and I couldn’t wait to start. When I got there, I learned A LOT about the nonprofit world.
During my training, I learned the ropes about being an organizer in the nonprofit world. One thing that my supervisor emphasized was that we always want to be optimistic about our work, but when we are setting goals, we have to be realistic about what we think we can accomplish. That’s where I think those who are unfamiliar with the nonprofit world would see an area of weakness. Some may think that people in nonprofit are too idealistic or unrealistic about the impact they’re making. But I would argue the opposite. At least in the organization I’ve been working for, I’ve seen how much work goes into building a movement. Our strategy is very specific too. We target specific districts of Virginian legislators who are swing voters on the issue of climate change. Our efforts aren’t arbitrarily spread out across the state, but rather they are concentrated in areas where we think we can make the most impact. We set realistic goals, but then we work our butts off to try to beat those goals. That’s an attitude that I can get behind.
Another interesting aspect of the internship experience that I’ve learned about is how to handle professional, interpersonal relationships with not-so-ideal coworkers. You know the kind of people I’m talking about. It’s that one girl who always adds that one comment that puts a damper on everything. Or it’s that one guy in the office who always falls just a little short in everything he does. You know, I’m talking about the Negative Nancy’s and the Incompetent Ian’s (that’s a thing now, I just made it a thing) of the world.
The way I chose to handle these interpersonal relations occurred in three stages. In the first, during the week of training, I was sympathetic and I even felt kind of bad for Incompetent Ian. As organizers of volunteers, we are expected to frequently give talks in front of big groups and he was struggling to feel comfortable doing this even though it was just practice. I really felt for the guy, I mean I used to be incredibly shy when I was younger. I knew what it was like to stand in front of a crowd and then your mind just goes blank. But that sympathy didn’t last very long.
In stage two, once we began to work and often collaborate on projects, my impatience began to get the best of me. I would get annoyed at every negative remark. Negative Nancy became like the Eeyore of the office and every time she said something, I would look down at my keyboard and think to myself, don’t say anything Bella, DO NOT engage with the negativity. I would be frustrated when Incompetent Ian could draft an email without asking my supervisor or me a gazillion questions about how he should word it. This continued for a while until I realized I was letting it affect my productivity.
Then in stage three, came acceptance. I realized that this is not uncommon for many people to deal with in the workplace. What I needed to do was change my approach. I would do my best to understand where they are coming from while also not letting their distractions affect my work. Once I realized this, I took this newly founded mentality as a challenge. It will challenge my impatience and hopefully tame it. It will sharpen my interpersonal skills. It will strengthen my determination. Having already experienced this in just my first three weeks, I can’t wait for what’s in store for the rest of summer!