It was the first day of my internship.
I had just arrived from the first meeting for my True Entrepreneur Corps Fellowship in San Francisco. The train ride to Mountain View had taken over an hour, and the sun had been beating on my neck for nearly half an hour as I had walked from the train station to the startup where I had been assigned as an intern in their Marketing team. By the time I had gotten to the office, my legs felt like lead, and beads of sweat adorned my hairline as if someone had traced the outline of my head with a pencil. There was also a slight feeling of apprehension tugging at the corners of my thoughts. What was this internship going to be like? Was I going to like the people here? Would I do any actual work? Was I going to like the work? Will I just get tired of doing a 2 hour commute every day to just even get here?
As those questions spiraled through my mind, my hand grasped the brass knob of the front door and twisted it, opening the door. A blast of cool air washed over my face and hair, and my body relaxed slightly as I closed the door behind me with a click.
Inside, there were bookshelves to my left, containing all manners of books and texts about UX, visual design, how-to’s for UI/UX design, and more. On the right, pleasing, colorful images of artwork and motivational quotes. The colors of the room was mostly composed of black and white, with splashes of color tastefully organized through its decorations. A single wooden logo was pinned to the center of the wall at the back of the room, UXPin emblazoned across its white surface. The front desk, oriented to the left towards the wall, was neat and clean, reminding me more of an Apple store desk display than a front desk. The Macbook Pro sitting against the wall only facilitated that image.
But the chair behind the desk was empty. There wasn’t a single person in the relatively small room. I looked behind the desk curiously, as if I was expecting to find someone hiding underneath the desk, and I scanned the room.
“Hello?” An unassuming bearded man wearing stylish rounded-rectangle glasses walked into the room from an open doorway. He wore a dark colored t-shirt with an interesting-looking image (which I would later find out was the company t-shirt) and dark jeans. I assumed that he must have seen me walking aimlessly through the room. “How can I help you?” he asked, smiling lightly, his voice tinged by a somewhat thick accent. I knew the company was originally based in Poland, so I figured it was a Polish accent.
“Hi, I’m the intern here?” I said, my voice lilting up to a questioning tone. “From True Ventures?”
Recognition spilled across his features. “Ah, yes,” he replied. He extended his hand towards me, which I took and shook. “I’m Marcin. Come with me.”
“I’m Indra. Great to meet you!”
I then followed Marcin through the doorway, past a break room, complete with fridge, table, and chairs, and into a dark room just somewhat illuminated through half-shuttered windows. There were Macbooks and monitors at every white desk, and a couple of people were already at work.
“Everyone,” said Marcin, gesturing around the room and eventually looking back at me. “This is Indra, our intern.”
Everyone looked towards me and began to introduce themselves. I started shaking hands with everyone. Through the blur of greetings and frantic internal name memorization, I saw Marcin head to the back of the room to sit at a desk. I quickly forgot about him as I began a tour of the office of twenty-something people.
It was only later I learned, through overheard conversation, that the first person I had met at my internship was the CEO of UXPin.
A few days later, I’ve come to realize something.
It culminated on just the second day of my internship. It was towards the end of the day, around twenty minutes left before I took off. I was sitting at my desk, about to start doing some preliminary packing up when a conversation between a couple of my coworkers struck up. I had wrapped up everything I needed to accomplish that day, so I decided to walk over there to listen.
They were talking about potentially changing a product feature. One of them brought up a point about whether or not the current feature actually addressed an underlying need. Then they tried to think through how a new feature would solve the problem. It seemed rather pressing, as it directly affected the conversion of these users into customers. I was very intrigued, so I leaned against a nearby desk and listened, occasionally asking a question about a certain idea and contributing to the conversation here and there. Towards the end, they were pretty set on changing the feature, but they needed to think about how exactly they would change it. I checked the time.
It was time to go! My train would be leaving soon, and I would need to leave in time to make the train. I looked back at my coworkers, who were still deep in discussion, and I looked at my phone. The digital numbers glowed soft white at me, silently prompting me to be on time. I clicked the screen off and returned my attention to the conversation. Still, the feeling didn’t leave me, my body tensing. It kept tugging at me, and finally, after a few minutes, I knew had to go. I bade my coworkers goodbye, and I let the door close behind me.
As I walked to the train station, the air feeling a bit chilly in the evening even with the sun still hanging high in the sky, a thought struck me. Why was I so hesitant to leave? It was the end of the work day. What had I been planning to do, stay and continue to work?
I realized that I wanted to stay and work.
Last summer, I worked at a much, much larger company as a product development intern. It was there that I had gained a bad taste for “work”. I finally understood what people meant by “the daily grind” and what a work-life balance meant in practice. There was work, which was a whole world of its own, and then life. Divided. Separated. Not touching, not bleeding into each other, like mashed potato gravy spilling onto the rest of the plate.
I grew to detest it.
I found myself banging my head against the flimsy, plastic cubicle that I sat in every day. Light chatter floated around the office like background music. Other than that, the only sound was the clatter of keyboard strokes as people worked on their computers in other cubicles. For people like my parents, who want me to be successful and have a good job in the future, my work there seemed ideal. For me, I could only just barely stand it.
When I got to the office, I wanted to leave right then and there. The people there were definitely nice to me. But the work wasn’t interesting, wasn’t really going to have an impact, at least none that I could detect, and wasn’t worth a serious effort.
Imagine this: you work at a company where all you do is create Excel forms and make sure that they’re up to date with the right information, so that the small team within your unit, within your bigger unit, within your division, within your organization, and within your company can use the form for just one of the multiple millions of vendors your company serves. I felt absolutely tiny, feeling that nothing that I did mattered or affected anything important within the least.
So it was without regret that I left at the end of my shift every day, the moment that I could.
After that summer, I ended my internship with a bad taste in my mouth, thinking that I could never work for someone else again. I eventually wanted to be an entrepreneur. What value could working for another company again bring to me? Afterwards, I applied to future internships, somewhat half-hearted. I didn’t want to waste another summer doing something that I didn’t enjoy and not learning anything useful.
But then I started my work at UXPin. I met my coworkers, talked to my “supervisor” of sorts, and started asking questions about the work and ultimately the company itself. And I fell in love right away.
Even though I’ve only been here less than a week, I think I know the reason why I actually like my work, and what’s different about this time.
I’m actually interested in marketing. I recently sat down with my “supervisor” and asked him about my projects for the internship. Because the team wasn’t actually that big, they needed more bandwidth to accomplish all of the initiatives they had set out to do. So, after some discussion, it was decided that I would be learning and doing as many aspects of marketing at a startup that I could: email marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, and more. While I was at my desk, I found myself asking my coworkers questions, sometimes long, thought-provoking ones, sometimes multiple bursts of short questions. With every question, I learned something new and I wanted to find out more shortly afterwards. At one point, I listened to a very interesting dialogue about marketing, the psychology and mechanics behind it within a user experience context (not surprising, given the environment). Then I asked a question about conversion psychology. After one of my coworkers answered, I asked another question, followed by even more. How to get people to do a certain action with the interface design alone. How to guide users to buy a product and the channels and tools to do it. What certain behaviors are people prone to doing. How creating good content to facilitate a relationship is better than establishing a transactional relationship.
I could go on and on.
UXPin is a startup, and it makes all the difference. Since the team was small and needed some help, I quickly realized that I would be doing real work with real impact. My actions could directly impact the business, since marketing/sales drives revenue. In short, I mattered. And the team helped as well. Not only were they smart, quick, and witty, but they had a certain sense of camaraderie that seemed to pervade the office. Even within a short period of time, I could feel myself digging into the metaphorical trenches with them. A startup is naturally inclined to follow the force of gravity, which means that a startup’s steady state is failure. When a team is at a true startup, they have to move fast, adapt to changes in the market and competition, and make sure every step that they take is both efficient and effective, lest they waste precious resources. Here, I could feel that atmosphere. It wasn’t stressful (for me at least) by any means, but it was present. It’s a different feeling, when you’re sitting in a conference room looking at your goals, your metrics, and your initiatives you have planned to achieve those goals, and you realize that the work you do could mean success or failure for the entire team. It could decide whether the entire company met its goals. It was exciting.
It made everything feel real.
But on top of it all, the people here are both humble and approachable. It wasn’t like my first company, where the VP arrived in the office and hushed tones filled the building. The CEO of UXPin himself greeted me at the front door, and I didn’t even have a clue. His desk actually sits right behind me.
It hasn’t taken me long at all to realize that this experience will be very different from my internship last summer. It could be idealistic of me to declare it this early on, but I truly believe that I won’t fall into the sort of “work grind” that I was afflicted with last year.
Personally, I don’t believe in work-life balance. A work-life balance is only necessary when the work isn’t enjoyable or the two sides are at odds with each other for some reason or another. When you truly love your work and enjoy being around the people you work with, it ceases to be work. It’s not that work becomes a bigger time drain and absorbs your life, but that work becomes as enjoyable (if not more in some cases) as your life.
So, next time you go to work or even start work, consider this. First, don’t do something rash and quit your job (I’m not the Internet, despite the medium that I’m using). What you should do is evaluate whether you consider work a “grind” or not. If it only feels like a means to an end, which is often money for the majority of people, then take steps to ensure that “work” is only temporary. If you don’t, it could be a long time before you ever feel true fulfillment. Now, I’m not advocating for everyone to work at a startup, nor am I saying that my own reasons will work for everyone; all people have their own criteria. But if you manage to do that for yourself, I think you’ll find that “work” will have become infinitely more enjoyable.
As for me, I don’t think I’ve quite reached the level of love, but I think it could get there eventually, given time.
Mountain View, 2016