Lessons Learned

by Lee-Sien Kao
July 29, 2014

Lee-Sien Kao '15 is working with the Healthy Communities Office at City Hall through the iProv Summer Internship Program.

Going into an internship, there are always well-meaning people out there giving well-meaning advice: Don’t do this, make sure to do that, definitely don’t do nothing at all. And even though you try your best to let it all sink in, to be the most outstanding intern your office has ever seen, there are some lessons for which, for me at least, I had to make mistakes before I really understood.

The one that sticks out the most in my mind is this one: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

It seems like a very straightforward, obvious piece of advice, and I’d heard it over and over again, but each time it was just something I tucked away in the back of my mind, filed under “Things to Remember for My Internship This Summer.” And somewhere along the way, it got buried under a mountain of other advice, until I somehow developed the attitude of “If someone asks me to do something, I should show my ingenuity and resourcefulness by doing it all on my own!” Which, looking back, is a mistake I actually don’t regret making, since it led me to realize the importance of reaching out to your coworkers for help.

Struggling by myself to complete my work, I spent a lot of time just trying to figure out what was even being asked of me with certain tasks. Sometimes I completely misinterpreted what I was being asked to do, so I ended up having to completely redo the work. And then one day, one of my supervisors saw what I was struggling with and said, “Hey, you know there’s a much easier way to do that. Let me show you how.”

Of course, it took me a little more time and a lot more struggling before I was fully comfortable with reaching out for help on projects, and to be honest there’s still a part of me that feels good when I figure something out by myself. I think a little independence is important because other people’s help should never be something you can’t function at all without. That being said, I like to think I’ve reached the point where I can distinguish between when I actually need help and when I can manage on my own, which is much harder than it sounds.

I think what I didn’t understand was that asking people for help doesn’t mean asking them to do your work for you; rather, it means asking them to equip you to do the work. It took longer than I like to admit for that to sink in, but once it did, it finally stuck.