My first internship out of college was with a production and management company in SoHo. Even at some of the most exciting entertainment companies, the scope of daily duties as an intern can feel mundane and limiting. Restocking a kitchen and handling mail orders just aren’t endeavors that are enticing to many people. It was my experience as an intern, however, that taught me an invaluable lesson. This lesson changed my life, and I still try to use it at work today.
One day, the production team came to the office and the production manager gave me and an assistant the task of transporting a large printer from another office. It was a hot day in the middle of the summer and we were given money for a cab to carry out the job. We located the printer, placed on top of a shoddy rolling cart, and brought it outside so we could hail a cab. Despite the intense summer sun beating down on our already glistening foreheads, the production assistant perhaps sensed I was up for a challenge to prove my worth. He suggested that instead of using a cab, we roll the cart roughly a dozen blocks to the office. I complied, and we rolled the printer all the way back.
When we returned, the assistant returned to his desk and I started walking towards mine. The production coordinator was at the end of a table, working diligently on some paperwork. She heard me walk by and saw the printer but barely glanced up from her desk. “Did everything go okay with the printer?” She asked. I told her it did, then added “we rolled the printer up here instead of taking a cab. We wanted to save you some money!”
Immediately after hearing “save you some money” the production coordinator stopped writing and her eyes lit up for a brief moment. I could practically see gears as they began turning in her head. “Thanks Michael!” She exclaimed, and after a brief pause, she added, “We could use you again on Thursday if you’re available.”
At first, I didn’t think much of this request. I wasn’t told what was happening on Thursday and assumed it would be another simple errand, but it was still nice to hear appreciation. I told her I was available.
A few hours went by and I bumped into the production team’s office assistant who I met earlier that week. I told her I was asked to work on Thursday, and she provided a reaction I will never forget.
“Thursday is set day!”
I was promptly given a contract for my first day on a film set. I would work as an unpaid intern, but at such an early point in my career, I knew the experience would be valuable. I looked over the papers and at the bottom, there were two lines awaiting signatures. The bottom line was intended for my name. On the first line, I saw a name in print to be signed later – Madonna Ciccone.
Thursday came and I found myself on a high budget music video film set atop a luxury hotel in Manhattan. I knew Madonna would arrive at some point, but it would have been difficult to adequately prepare for how I would feel once she arrived. Suddenly, the room filled with a rambunctious crew at work became nearly silent. I turned to my left and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shimmering ray of light from a golden head of hair.
Madonna began walking across a long hallway, rehearsing her dance movements. Just looking at her, it felt like I had stepped out of a time machine transporting me to the early 80’s. She was visibly older now, but it was apparent that this woman’s work ethic was the same as it had been three decades earlier. She walked with a sense of purpose I had never seen before. Every small detail in the way she moved and interacted with others looked like it was meticulously planned, and as she rehearsed her next shot she practically floated across the room.
I thought about how hard Madonna must have worked to get to the spot she was in, a spot literally 5 feet away from me at that moment. I had read about the hardships she went through as a poor woman growing up in the ’80s, including a time she was raped at knifepoint. I knew it must have been difficult to be in her situation and remain positive. With this in mind, I was inspired to see her thriving in her element over a quarter-century and 250 million sold records later.
After being on set for a while, I decided to check in with the office team. The office production assistant asked me to run to a Staples store several blocks away for supplies. It wasn’t an exciting job, but I knew what led me there in the first place was a good attitude. I quickly retrieved the supplies and gave them to the assistant with a smile, not expecting more than a thank you. I was surprised when after thanking me, she motioned me to lean in closer and whispered, “I’m going to get you paid.”
The following week, I returned as an intern to the office and the production manager called me to her desk. I wasn’t sure what she wanted, so I began to worry something was wrong. When I arrived, she told me the team was so pleased with my performance that they decided to pay me for a full day’s work. Struggling not to reveal my astonishment, I managed to thank the production manager and returned to my desk with a new sense of pride in my abilities as a worker.
There were many unforgettable moments during my first gig on a film set, but I was lucky to learn a moral during my experience. A task that seems tedious or boring can be used as an opportunity to do great work and set yourself apart while helping other people. This may seem obvious, but it can be so easy to become wrapped up in a daily routine that it bears repeating.
Who knows – if you do so with just a little bit of good attitude, you really never know where you might end up.