Wide-eyed, hopeful and fresh off the plane from the sunshine state, I stood outside of the LaGuardia terminal eager to begin the next chapter of my life in my soulmate city, New York. All I could see was yellow as taxis flew by and people struggled to catch their attention. All it took was a few quick hand waves in the air for one to pull up right in front of me. This was not my first rodeo.
I spent every single summer of my college years navigating the 9-to-5 life as a little intern in the big city building my résumé at the notable PR firms and magazine moguls. With each hot summer day I continued to perfect my communications craft by constructing media lists and reorganizing the editorial archives and fine-tuning my writing skills by fact-checking stories and listening in on pitches. Typical intern duties. More than anything though, my most important task was believe it or not: fetching coffee.
Of course I didn't know this at the time, and of course the first week of my first internship was miserable. "Why am I here?!" I shouted over sirens at my dad on the phone. "I'm not learning anything other than what type of milk this one likes in her coffee, and what temperature that one likes her hot water with lemon at." My dad laughed, and I was insulted that he wasn't taking my frustration seriously. "I want to be learning, not fetching coffee."
"But you are learning," my dad told me. He explained to me value of knowing someone's order so that I can pick up their coffee before they have a chance to ask for it. They'll learn your name, he told me, and then there will be small talk. "The next thing you know, they'll need a work-related favor, and you're the one that they'll choose because you picked up their coffee with as much enthusiasm as you put into research."
The next day on my way to work, I picked up orders before getting to the office, and I was confident that my superiors were appreciative even if they were too busy to verbalize it. Who knew the most mundane task could be so rewarding? I continued to do this, with a smile, and soon enough I was noticed. I was no longer fetching coffee because I was too busy tagging along to meetings, brainstorming with the team and executing events. I noticed the importance, the significance and the treasure of one of the most underrated titles in the industry: the coffee girl.
Immediately after my college graduation, I hopped on the next flight to the concrete jungle. I had been scoping out my targets since October of senior year, but now I was throwing myself into the hunt. Through the humid, polluted air I trekked from interview to interview and impatiently waited to hear back from agencies and magazines. Despite sweaty dresses, dirty, scuffed up pumps and a few self-esteem crushing "nos", I remained optimistic and forced myself to smile and stay enthusiastic, just like my dad had taught me. If it could get me far with coffee, it could get me far with a career.
In one particular interview, I was asked what my favorite part of interning in the city was and what I had learned from my experience. Through a smile I responded that my favorite part was getting people their coffee. My interviewer, who later would become my future boss and role model, looked stunned and asked me why. That is when I told her the story of my first week of my first internship, and how getting coffee with enthusiasm and a smile got me to attend events, manage important tasks usually out of an intern's league, and even make a couple of pitches over the phone. I got the job, and I could not have been happier. I would later learn that it was this anecdote that landed me my dream, entry-level position.
Never underestimate the value in entry-level, administrative and assistant duties. I am currently an assistant, and I could not be more grateful. Since The Devil Wears Prada made its debut, young aspiring professionals, especially in the magazine industry, are terrified of being an assistant. The positive aspects about being an assistant to management are unfortunately often overlooked. I'm here to tell you that the opportunities, knowledge and networking you are exposed to as an assistant is invaluable. You are involved in everything, you are the office go-to, you are able to work with everyone on every team which allows you to further explore your passions. You never know who you are going to pick up the phone for. It. Is. Awesome.
If you take away anything from my story, take away this: If someone requests a coffee, deliver it with the biggest of smiles. Maybe it won't get you very far, or maybe you will end up working at two of the biggest magazine's in the industry under the most incredible leaders and learning from the best of the best, like me.
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