Sunday, May 20

Competing for Approval, part 5 and done!

I didn't think I would ever get tired of not writing real posts, but I did. So this Part 5 is going to be hella long (the rest of the story/paper) and then we'll get back to our original programming (cruel commentary on other peoples' lives as well as my own). Lovely.

"Look What I Can Do!" - Competing for Approval part 5
(Read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4)

I wondered why my personal satisfaction wasn’t enough to please me. I kept reminding myself that I was putting a lot into this internship: taking an hour and a half long commute (each way) to come to an unpaid internship where I entered data and made copies of DVDs. I stayed later than most people in the office, did more than my share of the work, and I had specifically refused to reduce my workload at school by taking an independent study. I knew I was working hard. But I never knew if [Supervisor] noticed. If he wanted more from me he never let on, and I was exhausted from trying to figure out what else I could offer.

I couldn’t tell how much of the competition between [Willa] and I was fabricated: was she consciously trying to undermine me, or was it possible that her attitude was actually genuine and I was competing with a ghost? The rivalry seemed real enough, yet though her emails always felt a little off to me, they never actually contained hostile words. Still, undermining coworkers can be done in deliberate yet indirect ways, such as through failing to transmit important information. [Willa] could always defend herself by calling her behavior inadvertent, and nobody could prove otherwise. There was no way I could know her intentions.

I felt marginalized again when [Willa] arrived at the office on a Thursday, her day off. “What’s going on?” I asked, shocked to see her.

“I’m here for the Women’s panel for the [Company] conference,” she explained. I hadn’t heard of it. [Willa] poked her head out of the dub room door and saw [Supervisor]’s empty desk. “Do you know where [Supervisor] is?”

“No. Is he going, too?” I asked, hoping I had effectively hidden the edge behind my voice.

“Yeah, we’re going together.” She showed me the email with the panel description.

“Cool.” I felt rejected. It sounded as though this had been [Willa]’s idea, and had she been going alone I wouldn’t have cared all that much. But she had planned to go with [Supervisor], on a day they both knew I would be in the office. Even if [Willa] disliked me, which she had never blatantly let on, [Supervisor] could have invited me.

“Let me see if I can register,” I said, hoping I sounded cheerful.

[Willa] came closer and leaned over the back of my chair at the computer monitor. “I don’t know if they’ll still let you in.”

“It says to just click here…” I clicked the hyperlink and was thanked for my reservation via Internet Explorer.

We went to the conference together, and I stayed alone for a few minutes afterward to grab a cookie from the snack table. [Willa] was in the office when I returned to gather my things.

“So, have you applied to any jobs?” I asked, curious to hear what her post-grad plans were.


“What kinds of places?”

“Oh, you know. Tons.” [Willa] appeared to be focused on checking her email. I hadn’t been that curious, but I still felt a little shut down. I waited for [Willa] to get off the computer so I could email her a file before I left, and we eventually started talking about our last days. “[Supervisor] told me that your last day was the third,” [Willa] said as she gathered her belongings.

“Really? Maybe I’ll ask him about that; I was planning on staying until the tenth, but I really could use a break.” A couple minutes later, [Willa] mentioned the summer interns. “When do they start?” I asked.

“Sometime in mid-June, I think.”

“That’s weird. I’d probably start whenever [Supervisor] asked me to.”

[Willa] turned around to face me, in the hall outside the dub room. “Why?” She sounded defensive. “It’s supposed to follow your school schedule.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess I’d just start whenever they wanted me. I don’t really care when my school schedule is; I’d just try to be available when they needed me.”

[Willa] crossed her arms and said, condescendingly, “You know, that’s kind of hypocritical of you.”

I was a little confused by her use of a word that I found to be rather rude. “Why do you say that?” I asked, resisting the urge to say something inappropriate in return.

“You just said you were going to ask to leave early, but then you said you would come early if you were a summer intern.”

“That doesn’t make me hypocritical.”

[Willa] started to walk away. “I’m just saying, I’ve had like a million internships, and my way has always worked for me.”

I didn’t appreciate her bringing up past experience as some sort of wand of authority. “Okay, well I’ve had five internships, and my way has worked for me, too. I don’t think it matters, I was just saying what I would do.” I followed her at a distance, noticing that a couple of the assistants were watching us from their cubicles. As she rounded the corner to leave, I stayed in place.

“Are you staying here?” She asked, looking reluctant to wait any longer.

“Yeah, just to put my things together; you can go.” I wanted to avoid taking the elevator with her.

I struggled for the next few days to make sense of what had happened. Was this event a confirmation of my beliefs that [Willa] disliked me? If she disliked me, was it necessarily because she was competing with me or undermining me at work? Or had I been unwelcoming after miscalculating her intentions and pressured her to become competitive? If I had a more positive evaluation of myself and my abilities, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need for [Supervisor]’s approval or interpret my interactions with [Willa] as antagonistic.

Yet there were structural factors in the internship that encouraged competition rather than collaboration. Finding out that I had been [Supervisor]’s first choice before I started made me feel as though the position was more rightfully mine than [Willa]’s; what would have happened if my schedule had been different? She would have been replaced by someone with a more flexible schedule. Starting us weeks apart gave [Willa] the advantage of learning her tasks, meeting [Supervisor], and establishing the dub room before I arrived, which immediately made me feel as though [Willa] was thought of as the primary intern.

Poor communication was another result of the internship’s structure: since [Willa] and I worked on opposite schedules, we were very rarely able to interact in person. Our relationship was mediated almost entirely by phone and written word. Furthermore, we had no shared experiences; we were unable to joke about what [Supervisor] said in the development meeting, or go to lunch together. Such disconnection made it much easier to view [Willa] as an enemy or an agent fulfilling a role, and made miscommunications more frequent as we were unable to clarify opinions that may have been misinterpreted.

Competition could also have been enhanced because we were expected to perform the same tasks; if the pitch log was my sole responsibility, I never would have resented [Willa] for neglecting the stack of pitches. Had our responsibilities been divided differently, we may have been encouraged to measure success in terms of self improvement, rather than our ability to one-up each other. Focusing on our achievement rather than our desire to see coworkers fail would likely increase productivity; though competition may foster excellence in some environments, I found that it increased my desire to spend time manipulating people into giving me the approval I wanted. [Willa] successfully gained approval while being minimally productive. I became more invested in appearing to be a serious, hard-working intern than I was with learning about television development. Also, since [Willa] and I were competing with each other, it was unlikely that we would be able to collaborate effectively or develop a supportive, trusting relationship.

I rarely considered the ways in which class, gender, race, sexual orientation, or class ranking affected the interactions between [Willa] and me. [Willa] may have felt pressured to compete with me because she was a senior and viewed the internship as a potential means to obtain a job at [Network] (she did apply for one, and was not selected). Perhaps her family or peers, past experiences with sports or work have encouraged her to compete with her peers. In the future, I hope to avoid work environments where structural factors are likely to encourage competition. I would seek out settings which encourage personal achievement, collaboration, and positive relationships with coworkers. I would personally like to reduce my dependency on approval from superiors as a basis for satisfaction and emotional well-being.
* * *


Dropout! said...

"If I had a more positive evaluation of myself and my abilities, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need for [Supervisor]’s approval"

Um, no. Anyone who's not a complete moron is going to care about what their boss thinks of them.

Moonstone Hippie said...

Although it is hard to predict intentions in others, her defensive responses and her constant condescension makes me lean toward YES, she is in fact doing it on purpose. Not only that, but she obviously feels extremely threatened by having to share tasks with someone more intelligent than herself.

In the "real world," where she will have to fend for herself, she will no longer have TAB to rely on to do most of the work. This laziness and arrogance will come back to haunt her, guaranteed. And having been rejected by the network she believes she worked so hard at must have compounded her need to shut you down.

Hard work pays off. I promise.

Strange Bird said...

So Willa was a bitch, and you never got your recognition? It's like a bad movie ending. ;)

GrizzBabe said...

I would personally like to reduce my dependency on approval from superiors as a basis for satisfaction and emotional well-being.

My experience has taught me that this attitude will get you far in life. Just work you ass off and do the best you know how to do while always striving to improve. The accolades will come.

Anonymous said...

You are reading too much between the lines...
Even if Willa is trying to undermine you, it shouldn't affect you or your confidence....Be sure of yourself....
Your boss is not a stupid person, he does know what you are doing...
I have 10-12 persons reporting to me at any time...I know what each of them is doing, even though I may not have time to go and give explicit appreciation...

And if you still want to know how your boss feels about you and your work, you just have to ask...
Tell him, since you are leaving the internship soon, you would like a feedback on your performance and areas where he thinks there is a scope for improvement.

Sipwine said...

I agree with Strange Bird.
I guess that is what life is though...

Ripsy said...

Shitty entry.

BlueLoverGirl said...

I am always impressed by your writing. I love how you tell stories. I feel like I am there experiencing the whole thing...

Sarah said...

Wow. So in short, you didn't really like your internship experience and was trying hard to look at the positives--of what you "learned."

Are all internships this pleasant? As a fellow college atendee, I'm glad you shared these stories. It makes me want to partake in an internship just that much more so, believe you me.

The Accidental Bitch said...

dropout - Yeah. That's what my teacher said.

moonstone hippie - Actually, depending on her position, she might have another TAB to rely on. I'm sure many people rely on others to do most of the work. But thanks for your thoughts!

strange bird - Oh, but aren't all of my posts?

grizzbabe - Problem being, if your boss doesn't like you then you won't get a promotion...

anon - Well, the internship was over by the time I wrote this. Also, I wasn't comfortable coming to him to ask him these questions. And perhaps you know what your employees are up to, but I really wouldn't trust everyone to be as on top of it... [Claire] confirmed this suspicion of mine, told me that he probably had no idea.

sipwine - Awwww, such a pessimistic perspective! Cheer up my dear.

ripsy - I wrote it just for you!

bluelovergirl - Thank you! :) That means a lot to me.

sarah - Not all of them are like this, in fact I think a lot of them vary dramatically depending on your field and the people you work with, just like any other job. Internships are also very well-regarded, so don't rule it out. I'm still glad I did this one.

S* said...

I think you let your interactions with Willa affect the quality of your internship. Never ever allow someone like her get in your head like that. Just worry about yourself and your own performance.

kittenpower said...

i think it's so hard to ignore people like willa. someone like her would get under my skin!

hopefully, at least, you learned how to deal with someone like her though. :-)