I remember pulling an all-nighter into my last day as a college student because I had to write a three page editorial on the pitfalls of course registration at public universities. Usually three pages is nothing, especially when the subject matter is so riveting, but the realization that I was less than 24 hours from freedom led me to my Netflix queue for motivation until sunrise glared the screen. I inhaled some medium roast on my way to campus that morning, turned in my well-researched editorial with a tired smile, and made it back to my living room before 9:30 am.

Enter adulthood and my year long journey from intern without a clue, to junior copywriter with health insurance and stuff. It’s been a wild ride, and I know it’s just beginning, but I’ve picked up on some things that might help others facing their post-graduation crossroads into marketing. So two internships and three agencies later, here are five lessons I’ve learned.

Don’t skip the fun parts.

Have you ever listened to a friend vent about a rough day at the office while he searches for answers at the bottom of his third PBR in fifteen minutes? I have, and it really puts my version of a “rough day at the office” into perspective. So pour one out for all your cubicle homies. Not onto the ground, but out of the office kegerator and into your favorite Happy Hour glass. Play ping pong for thirty minutes a day. Not for yourself, but for your friend who hasn’t played anything but an Excel spreadsheet in two years. We have a duty to not skip the fun parts of this job for all people who don’t have the option.

It should also be noted that there are scientific studies linking fun and happiness to creativity and ideas, which are the lifeblood of what we do. Want proof? Check out this amazing blog post from Myjive’s own Mallory Starnes: http://thesouthagency.com/work-boring.

Have an opinion. 

Interns are an interesting breed. I know this because I was an intern for a really long time, at two separate addresses. The first day on the job can go one of two ways. One, you’re overly confident, armed with a well-rehearsed handshake and full arsenal of topics for small talk. Or two, you’re totally quiet and intimidated in your struggle to understand how all these adult children have tricked the world into letting them do this stuff for a living.

I’m here to tell you that both are completely natural responses to working in an agency setting for the first time. Embrace the awkwardness for that first day and then regroup. Be yourself. Look around. R-E-L-A-X. Pay attention to the people running the place. Is their job one you aspire to have one day? Soak in the good and the bad. Is it a happy, positive environment or are culture cracks and ego infestation causing the walls to crumble? Sit in on all the meetings you can. If you have a thought, speak up. For every awesome idea there are 100 bad ones. And sometimes a bad idea can even lead to the awesome one. It is a win-win to have an opinion.

Everybody is here for a reason (including you).

Chances are you beat out a bunch of other potential interns to get in the door. Congratulations. Let’s recognize a moment of silence for all the no pile résumés–now eyes forward. You’re in the company of people who, like Liam Neeson, have a very particular set of skills.That’s the cool thing about working at a smaller agency: every person you see is here because they have to be, otherwise it would be a completely different agency. Take notes until you can’t. Always be willing to lend a hand. Ask questions until you understand. Make the most of your opportunity and hopefully by the end of it you and everyone else will recognize your reason for being here.

Push it.

Remember that one agency that hires unambitious people and does the bare minimum for their clients? Me neither. We’re in the big leagues now. Two-time NFL MVP and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers once said that players earn their paychecks during the season, but they earn their legacy in the playoffs. A pretty seamless parallel can be drawn to our industry. Except instead of battling 350 lb. defensive linemen and conquering the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in the dead of a Wisconsin winter, you’re testing the limits of your laptop battery in a conference room spinny chair as you play with an empty takeout container and power through the finishing touches of a big client presentation. Anybody can do the job 90% of the way, but your agency cements its legacy (and client roster) in the last 10% of work it takes to do the job to its full potential. In an industry that lives and dies on a deadline, you don’t get any re-dos. Leave it all out on the field like A-Rod.

We are in the one percent.

Entry-level marketing employees are loaded. Everybody knows this. The hardest part of my day is figuring out which Range Rover is mine in the parking lot after a long day of brainstorms and Twittering. Of course I am kidding because this is an earn-your-keep industry and I drive a Subaru, but I still believe we are in the one percent. The REAL one percent that doesn’t have a documentary on Netflix yet. The one percent of people who actually get to enjoy what they do for a living.

Bob Dylan has a great quote that is undoubtedly tatted to the calves of many cool dads out there. It goes like this: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” So do like me and look in the mirror every single night to ask yourself, “Was I successful today?” The answer should be a resounding “Yes” because this is a deliberate career path only taken on by people who truly love what they do, from internity to beyond.

And a bonus lesson–don’t ever assume that you have things figured out enough to blog about it.

Junior-Level Copywriter / Senior-Level Intern

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