My tearful exit from my first summer internship

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Tears began to well up in my eyes. The more I tried to resist them, the more they accumulated.

After seconds of hovering, tiny drops spilled over my lower eyelids and slowly trickled down my cheek.

The words “organizational restructuring,” “downsizing” and “financial constraints” echoed in my ear minutes after I hung up the telephone.

Hours before my superior was scheduled to board a plane to France, I received a phone call from her cell phone. Calm and relaxed, she notified me that I was no longer an employee at her Toronto office and abruptly ended my first summer internship.

I was looking for a face-to-face explanation and an honest performance review to justify my premature dismissal. Instead, I received neither. I had been a marketing intern for eight months before I had been offered a full-time summer position. I felt that I had earned the promotion as well as the financial compensation for all my unpaid efforts.

And even an hour after our short conversation, the tears continued to run down my face.

Big girls (and boys) don’t cry

Tears are not well-received in the corporate world. Generally implying incompetence and vulnerability, tears are usually suppressed in business in fear of negative consequences.

A social and cultural taboo in the North American landscape, crying reinforces the stereotype that the weak will become prey to the aggressive, resilient and dangerous. A tearful response has the potential to tarnish a career and destroy the possibility of advancement.

A perceived inability to manage and control emotions, crying at the office is seen as a lack of intrapersonal emotional intelligence.

I beg to differ.

A non-traditional outlook

Emotional crying is one of the most complicated processes unique to the human species. In contrast to irritant tears (which are produced as a method of lubrication), emotional tears are a psychological reaction to stress. Like smiling and laughing, crying is a natural emotional response; the only difference is that tears come with a negative stigma.

Employers need to accept that my commitment, perseverance and work ethic are sometimes accompanied by disappointment, anger, frustration, and even tears. Nevertheless, I do agree that tears are always inappropriate when partnered with violence or tantrums. I do not encourage “crying a river” as public drama is awkward and unnecessary.

In contrast to the perception that individuals who cry at the office are weak or manipulative, my tears were a sincere, genuine and cathartic release of emotions. There were no ulterior motives or manipulative schemes at play.

Bittersweet exit

Ultimately, my frustration towards my dismissal stems from the fact that I considered the experience to be a stepping stone in the industry. Instead, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Nevertheless, the last 10 months of my internship have taught me several lessons that transfer beyond the walls of my old Toronto office:

  • identifying my role as a cross-functional intern and clarifying instructions
  • the skill of managing up and across
  • the importance of multitasking and prioritizing
  • anticipating changes in an unstable market

I am grateful for the many learning experiences.

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About the author

Christina Pellegrini has recently completed her BBA in marketing and organizational behaviour at the Schulich School of Business. She is studying for her Master's of Journalism at Ryerson University and looks forward to a career in business journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @chris_pelle.