It’s been a while since I did a Virus, Inc. update. Actually, it’s been a while since I’ve done a substantial update at all. Things have been a bit crazy recently. Or, well, for a while now. But I’m back, with four updates (because I need to have nine updates by now), of which this is the first. So here goes, update 1/4!
Today is actually one day after the anniversary of my summer internship last year, what I like to call my “Brazilversary.” A year ago, I flew to Maringá, Brazil, for a two-month GCDP internship as a CEEDer/Project Talk intern. (You can check out the full story in my travelogues; just make sure to start with the oldest post first. Incidentally, those travelogues were also started because I was required to send in intern journals.) Side by side, those internships were wildly different, and yet they have some key similarities: I had to talk a lot, I had to make a lot of presentations, and (true at least for the Business Development side of my internship) I had to do a lot of “credentials presentations” and “client follow ups,” only in the case of my AIESEC Maringá CEED-work this was done without the benefit of technology…or proper grasp of the language, to be honest.
Unlike my Maringá internship, though, my internship at Virus has allowed me to put down roots. In Maringá, I was a butterfly and sure to be gone tomorrow, or at least in six weeks. In Virus, on the other hand, “intern” is more of a pet-name than anything else–my supervisor André is constantly telling me to stop referring to myself as “just the intern” when it comes to talking about actual work. It’s been said time and time again that I am “considered to be part of the Virus family”; heck, I’ve even said it in my blogs a lot.
Except I’ve only really understood what that’s meant rather recently. You see, in early February, my grandmother died. Just two months before that my dad (her son) had a stroke. So, while I’ve done my best to look cheery and welcome my twenty-first year (did I mention I turned twenty-one? I did, a few weeks ago. Man, I really haven’t updated!) with optimism…it’s been tough.
Ordinarily, I’d show it. When I was in school I had the luxury of being able to tote Elinor around everywhere and sing emo tunes at the top of my lungs in every empty auditorium or “sulk corner” or deserted stairwell I could find, and barring those locations there was always the CAS garden, where my sadness would be drowned out by the student traffic. As a student, I’d always worn my heart on my sleeve–a weather system of emotion–and while it wasn’t the most healthy choice at least it kept me sane. But I’ve always prided myself on a sense of “compartmentalization,” as incomplete as it might be. When it came to work, I could be all work. I could be a machine. I’d slogged through numerous group-works and major projects nursing heavy hearts and personal issues before: I’d always managed to bottle it in until I could safely let it out. So I figured I could do that at work: be all smiley happy picture-perfect intern and never let show that I was, inwardly, crumbling.
And I managed. I refused to take a leave off work despite being offered one during the funeral week. The most I took was a half-day off to “de-stress” with my mum on V-Day, which was when, as this post mentions, I went redhead. But I powered through, trying to look as cheerful as possible, or if not cheerful, then at least functional–I figured I could hide the cracks…
…until I couldn’t. Eventually, it became too tiring to even pretend to be cheerful, and I settled for functional. In a “good vibes” workplace like Virus, the slipping of one mood causes a ripple effect. People started to notice, radiating from my desk and outwards. I kept being told to take a break, to eat lunch, to relax, even for a minute. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t think it was right. I had to be a professional and being a professional, to me, meant powering through.
Cue the intervention. One by one, each in their own time, and in their own way, my Virus family acted like, well, a family. They took me aside and insisted that I tell them what was wrong, the truth this time, and when they finally drew the whole story out of me–particularly the part when I said that I thought being part of the working world, being a professional, meant never letting it show when something non-work related was bothering me–I got told off. Big time.
Of course, it is mature, and right, to make sure that life’s storms, big and small, don’t affect the quality of work. However, it is completely a different story to shut people out of your problems entirely, especially in a place like Virus where, I learned, they take that whole “We are a family” vibe very seriously. I am not “Employee 0051” (as the time-in machine lists me as) to them, not simply a deck-maker and email-sender. Being professional means turning in high-quality work when required…but not at the cost of the quality of self and relationships.
So I was told to open up. To take a breaks. To even allow myself to cry (although this conversation happened outside of office hours). To do everything except pretend to be fine for the sake of being considered a “professional” employee, because apparently being professional does not mean being eternally unflappable–it means that in spite of being, err, “flapped” (o-kay, that is a really bad verb choice), you are still a great worker. And sometimes being a great worker isn’t so much about short-term outputs as it is long-term sustainability.
How sustainable would it have been to keep holding it in? To not take a second to talk when willing friends were ready to hear. Because that’s where I erred: to my mind, work friendships ended at the office door. Much like how a theater family largely dissolves after the show is over, I thought that once the project ended or office hours were up, people dispersed to deal with their own lives, though a few might still get together into their own little groups as outside-of-work friends. But that wasn’t the case, at least not with my Virus friends: part and parcel of creating the great working environment I was enjoying was the commitment to actually care about the people who interacted within it. It isn’t part of the typical organizational development textbook or HR tactic: it just exists, almost like instinct, a human element in a human organization.
While I don’t think I’ll be fully going back to my “heart-on-my-sleeve” younger self (though heaven knows I’m not that good at “hiding” things anyway)…I’m trying to find a balance, now, between keeping cool at work and totally shutting everyone out. To sum it all up, the experience of the last few months has taught me that professional is not equivalent to soulless. That work is as much a group of people as it is a business.
And that sometimes, what sounds like just a warm, fuzzy saying–You’re family. We care.–is actually true, and you can trust it.
So there you are! Update 1/4! I promise the next three will be less soppy!