I’m embarrassed about the mistakes I made in my internship

A reader writes:

Coming out of my internship in HR at a large financial company, I feel stupid and worthless. I’d like to know what you think.

During lunch, I used to run with a group of women. It was a nice break for me because it was a chance for me to drop the professional shield and feel comfortable being myself. One day without thinking, I packed a Beyonce shirt to go running. It was a picture of her showing her middle fingers with the words “I slay all day.” When I realized it was inappropriate, I went up to my supervisor and asked if it was okay to go running (off campus, though I didn’t say that) with this shirt on. She gasped and in disbelief told me to wear it inside out. I felt horrible after that.

The second embarrassing story was at a bar. I am not 21 yet. A group of women over the age of 50 and I were standing at a bar and my boss asked me if I wanted a drink. In response I said, “No, I’m not 21.” Then she said, “Oh, but do you want something to drink?” It was in a loud room and I interpreted that as she would buy me a beer to drink on the side. So I said, “Sure, I’ll have a beer.” Then everyone else in disbelief explained to me that she was asking if I wanted something non-alcoholic and they all kind of freaked out a bit that I asked for a beer.

Towards the end of the internship, I felt that I wasn’t involved in any projects while the other intern asked for a job because she was so busy. I don’t really know what to make of this other than I’m a failure. My question for you is, are these honest mistakes? What does it say about my character?

It says nothing about your character! Really.

At most, it might say something about your age and experience level, but that’s totally normal. That’s the whole point of internship — to start learning about how offices work because the way they work is not intuitive, and you can’t be expected to come in already knowing it.

The Beyonce shirt thing? Yeah, you shouldn’t wear that around the office, but to go running in? Running off work premises? Really not a huge thing, and your boss’s gasp in disbelief was a bit over the top, unless she thought you were proposing wearing it on a jog through the conference room or something. Frankly, it’s not even something you need to check with your manager about — what you wear on your own time and when you’re not on work grounds isn’t her business.

The drink thing wasn’t awesome — you want to default to assuming that your colleagues are not suggesting that they help you break the law — but it wasn’t a disaster either. You misunderstood her, she corrected you, and that should have been the end of it. I don’t know exactly what reaction you got — if it was some good-natured ribbing, that would be pretty normal and not a big deal — but if they were actually shocked, that would be a weird overreaction unless you work in the town in Footloose.

Both of the incidents sound like pretty typical things for an intern. Neither of them are outrageous or shocking. Neither of them say anything about your work ethic or your character.

Now, maybe there were other issues, since I realize you’re only giving me two examples here. If you weren’t being given any work by the end of the summer, it’s possible that it was because they became hesitant to give you some projects. But if so, that wouldn’t have been because of a Beyonce shirt and a misunderstanding about a beer; it would have been issues related to the work itself. I’d look back on what kind of feedback you got on your work projects throughout the summer, and see if you can find anything there. You could also ask for feedback from whoever you worked most closely with. You could even say, “My sense is that you may have had concerns about my work and if so, I’d be so grateful for your guidance on what I should be working on doing better.” That approach is pretty disarming and makes it more likely that you’ll get candid feedback.

But none of this should make you feel stupid or worthless. Internships are a great time to make mistakes and learn from them — they’re low stakes and people should understand that you’re at the very start of figuring out the working world. And really, you have so much company in bumbling around a bit at this stage. Most of us bumbled around an awful lot that stage.

You are normal!

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. TCO*

    For what it’s worth, OP, if I were your boss in the second example I would have been embarrassed myself for contributing to the confusion. I would have felt like I was responsible for communicating more clearly (after hearing that you weren’t 21, offering, “Oh, but can I buy you a soda?”) and not putting you into an awkward situation where you may have felt pressure to drink. These kinds of confusion just happen and aren’t a black mark on your career.

    1. Say what, now?*

      Same, I would have corrected myself by saying “Would you like a soda or something else?” the second time I asked. She was vague, though as Alison pointed out it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to legal situations.

      The shirt thing, that was weird. There really isn’t any way to connect you to the office when you’re in “civilian clothes” off campus, unless you’re wearing you badge on display. So there’s no political or cultural statement that could be connected with your company through your wardrobe. Maybe she thought you’d be offending people as you walked through the office after changing, but that can be mitigated by folding your arms across the design or taking the back stairs. Not a big deal.

        1. TCO*

          Oh, that’s a good point. If she thought it was promoting mass violence or something, and didn’t recognize Beyonce, I can understand the shock.

          1. Evan Þ*

            +1. I had no idea till I read this post, and I wouldn’t recognize Beyoncé by face either.

        2. Morning Glory*

          In a lot of offices, though, a t-shirt with someone giving a middle finger would be unprofessional regardless of the message.

          Because this was an office running group, feel like I may give similar advice if an intern specifically asked my opinion (though without an accompanying gasp).

          1. Matilda Jefferies*

            Yeah, I think there’s a bit of a different tone for an office running group, the same way it would be if you were all going to say, a baseball game. For example, if a group of office mates were going to a Blue Jays game together, any official merchandise would be appropriate, but those knock-off shirts that say “I <3 BJs" would not be. You're not quite in the office, but you're not quite out of it either, so best to err on the side of caution for that one.

            If I were OP's manager, I think my advice would be "eh, it's not super appropriate, but it's fine for today if that's all you have." And yes, only if she specifically asked – it wouldn't rise to the level of something I would worry about otherwise. And *definitely* without the gasp!

            1. The OP*

              Thanks Matilda Jefferies for offering your advice! I agree with you 100%. I wish she would have responded in a more sympathetic way. After the interaction, I had a very nerve racking conversation with her one-on-one because I was so terrified that I had offended her. She just told me she didn’t want the head of the department to run into me wearing the shirt. But still very embarrassing, though I am gradually finding closure through all these comments (:

              1. Grecko*

                OP, the other thing to keep in mind is that you showed solid enough judgement to recognize it may be an issue and asked about it.

                1. 2 Cents*

                  Definitely give yourself some credit here for recognizing that the shirt *couuld* have been a problem. I’m in the “didn’t know who Beyonce was” and “didn’t know the meaning of ‘slay,” (which I barely know), and so misconstrued it as saying something worse than it did.

                  Also, for the drink thing, I believe I did the exact same thing in one of my internships because the question was worded the same way. Except I think I ended up with a beer because #advertising :P

        3. L.*

          I think this is it. I’d argue, however, that even if you don’t know Beyonce you could infer based on the situation that this was some kind of slang and not an urge to commit murder all day– common sense!

      1. Koko*

        Since it sounds like she was running with an office running club, it’s possible the office is extra stuffy and Boss didn’t want her coworkers to see her in a shirt that she (mis)read as too offensive. My office has informal clubs like that which are not company-sponsored but are employees-only and often organized through work email/signs around the office. I wouldn’t consider myself entirely “off the clock” or “on my own time” when I was attending one of those clubs on my lunch hour, even if it was off-campus. Not because I would be representing the company to the public, but because I’d be representing myself to my coworkers.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Anything showing anybody’s middle fingers during a group exercise session would be verboten in my office, even if we were exercising off-campus. And I would be OK with that. Running with coworkers isn’t the same as working with them, but still, they are coworkers. I think turning the shirt inside out was a good idea.

          But OP, so long as you learned your lesson (points to you for asking your supervisor) and didn’t do something similar a second time, this would not be an unforgivable offense.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I’m thinking the best move there would have been to skipped the run that day or to find an excuse to run solo. There are a lot of things I exercise in that I don’t want to exercise with coworkers in. (Which is a concern since several people in my gym are coworkers.)

          2. paul*

            Yeah, the fact it’s Beyonce’ is more or less immaterial here to me. The fact she’s flipping the bird, though…for a work-group event, even off campus, I’d shy away from that. LIke I wouldn’t wear any of my old Slayer or Pantera shirts to a truly voluntary after hours thing either-not because of the music they perform but because all of them have profanity or other stuff on them that I just wouldn’t think is OK in that situation.

      2. JamieS*

        I’m assuming the manager thought OP was asking about wearing the shirt while running on campus since OP asked her about it.

    2. Annabelle*

      Yeah, I thought it was odd that her boss didn’t phrase it as “can I get you a soft drink or something?” When I was in college, it wasn’t uncommon for upperclassmen to offer 19 and 20 year old students drinks. I can easily see why a new intern would be confused by that question.

      1. Karo*

        Hell, I had a much older co-worker actually offer to buy me a drink when I was an underage intern. And when I declined, she asked if I was sure. She’s not the most professional co-worker, but it’s not like it’s a thing that has never happened before.

        1. Emi.*

          I once went to a departmental party hosted at a professor’s house, and another instructor said, “Hi, Emi, good to see you. Want some beer?” I said “Ha ha I’m only 19 but thanks,” and he just stared me down and repeated, “Hi, Emi. Good to see you. Want some beer?”

          1. Steve*

            Exactly. Repeating the question without changing the wording strongly implies, to me, that the asker does not care how old the askee is.

            1. Matilda Jefferies*

              Yup. I 100% read the boss’ question as offering to buy the OP an *alcoholic* drink. As someone who was underage for my entire first year of university (19 is the legal age where I am), I learned that code pretty quickly. Whether or not the boss actually meant it that way, I think it’s not unreasonable that the OP interpreted it that way.

              FWIW, “I’m not (old enough) yet” is also a pretty soft no, and can often be interpreted as a coded request for someone who is old enough to buy them one. OP, if you want to avoid something like this in the future, you might want to stick to a firm “No thank you,” or “yes please, I’d love a ginger ale.”

              1. Bolt*

                Even then it was possible the boss meant that OP could have an alcoholic drink but it was the group itself that thought it was a non-alcoholic drink…. even the boss wouldn’t dial it back admitting she meant to buy alcohol for someone underage.

                Only bright side is that once you hit legal age this will never be an issue again.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I have a neighbor who would launch into how her offer of a drink did NOT include alcohol to the underage person who had to drive home, when the young person had shown not the slightest hint that they thought alcohol was on offer to them. (And it was a casual barbecue full of tiny kids where getting sloshed was no one’s objective–it’s not like young person could have melted into the slightly older drunk people.) So people can be weird in both directions on this.

        2. Wwr*

          Yeah, this – it’s actually pretty normal to be offered drinks by older authority figures when you’re underage, depending on culture and background etc. It’s a totally understandable mistake for the OP to make when the offer was unclear.

        3. Just Another Techie*

          Same. My first internship it was pretty common for the boss to order a round (or three) of alcoholic drinks for the underage members of the team. Awkwards just happen sometimes, especially when you’re first getting to know a group.

        4. Cactus*

          When I was 17 and working part-time while in high school, one of my much-older coworkers bought me an appletini at our office’s Christmas party. She was drunk to high heaven.

      2. JamieS*

        I don’t think Stacy the super fun 22 year old sorority President offering a 20 year old a beer is comparable to the 20 year old’s manager doing do.

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          But if this is your first time in a professional environment, you wouldn’t necessarily know that. Besides, it’s not terribly uncommon for older folks to offer underage college students alcohol anyway. My department had events with alcohol at them relatively frequently, and professors in my department used to be relatively indiscriminate about who they offered a beer or wine to even when they knew the person in question was an undergrad.

            1. Zombii*

              How does it help the OP to imply that her mistake was so obvious and she should have correctly interpreted the question immediately, even though [question/soft no because legal age/repeat question exactly] is accepted code for buying drinks for underage people and in many industries/companies drinks are bought for underage employees?

              1. JamieS*

                That’s not a universally accepted code and I never said OP should have correctly interpreted the question immediately. OP making an honest mistake, that happens to everyone.

                I’m not pushing back on OP making a mistake, I’m pushing back on the notion that the average 20 year old college intern couldn’t have possibly known asking for a beer isn’t the right thing to do. There’s a difference between having a brief lapse in judgement and having absolutely no clue you shouldn’t ask your manager to buy you a beer if you’re underage.

                True, maybe the OP had no clue but that doesn’t mean it’s something most wouldn’t know. It just means it’s something OP didn’t know. Is it a big deal if OP didn’t know? No, it was a simple misunderstanding that caused no real harm. However that doesn’t mean it’s in the category of something most young professionals wouldn’t know.

        2. Annabelle*

          But do you think most 19 and 20 year olds are gonna know that when their boss says “can I get you a drink” in a bar? FWIW, I had a middle-aged admin repeatedly offer me champagne at an office party when I was an intern. I was 19 and she 100% knew it.

          1. JamieS*

            Yes I think most 20 year olds would know to hedge and not request their manager get them something that’s illegal for them to have unless directly offered. “Can I get you a drink” isn’t a direct offer of alcohol, “can I get you a beer” is.

            1. Misc*

              OTOH there’s a lot of implicit pressure if Your Boss keeps offering you “a drink”. Even if you know it’s not legal and you know they know, and they keep offering (or appearing to), it could feel a lot like they don’t care and won’t take it well if you keep refusing. People can get *weird* around non drinkers, and also around people implying they’re doing something wrong.

    3. Antilles*

      Yeah, the boss is fully responsible for the second example. In American culture, the phrase “a drink” implies alcohol…doubly so if you’re actually standing in a bar at the time.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Strangely (at least I think it’s strange), while “a drink” almost always means “a drink containing alcohol,” “Would you like something to drink?” could mean anything – whisky, milk, KoolAid, beer, anything.

        English is so weird.

        Anyway, yeah, the boss should have been clearer the second time she asked. And the OP could have taken the initiative the first time and just said, “I’d love some iced tea.”

    4. Optimistic Prime*

      I agree. Quite frankly, assuming that the questions were asked that way verbatim, I too would have assumed that the boss was asking the intern whether they wanted a drink anyway, perhaps in a sly tone.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    I’m still embarrassed about mistakes I made in my internship in 1998.

    This all sounds really benign and says nothing about your work. And the fact that you’re invited to group outings is a good sign. Don’t sweat it, OP!

    1. FlibertyG*

      Same. I was sort of shuffled-off-to-buffalo from an early internship (not asked to continue, basically, when there was an opportunity to do so) and it was basically the first time I’d ever experienced that. I was mortified and freaked out, but now I think it was a good experience – and good that it happened then, rather at my first job! Seems like a long time ago now.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Yep, I’m still kind of embarrassed about my 2002 internship. It happens.

      And I agree that if I were the asker, I would have rephrased to “would you like a soda or something?” because it was a bit confusing as asked.

    3. Janet*

      Agreed. I did some totally dumb things at my internship in the mid 90s and I still blush when I think about them. I interned at a newsroom and I once screwed up a newscast so badly (putting the tapes in the wrong order) that the producer actually cried. And then the director screamed at me in front of a room full of people. Internships are about learning. Now that I manage interns I can promise you that each and every one of them has done something that they are probably later embarrassed by and I honestly don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it unless it’s really really bizarre (like for example, an intern who got high at work and had to be fired). It’s what people do. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

      1. hugseverycat*

        I’m so relieved I’m not the only person embarrassed about job mistakes a decade or more later.

      2. The OP*

        Thanks for sharing. This really helps! The corporate environment is really competitive now a days seeking top talent. It’s hard to swallow these mistakes when there are students all around me (even my close friends) who are acting like perfect professionals!

        1. KellyK*

          They probably *aren’t* acting like perfect professionals. You’re just not around them all the time, and they’re not sharing their embarrassing slip-ups with you.

        2. MadGrad*

          As a fellow recent grad, I try to always remember the everyone does their best to look like they have it all together, but nobody is perfect. You probably don’t see other people makes as many mistakes (or if you do, you don’t remember them much because other people’s mistakes aren’t as memorable as our own) but guarantee they’ve all made some. Do your best and you’ll be fine!

        3. Wannabe Disney Princess*

          This is one of my favorite quotes, “You’re comparing your behind the scenes with everyone’s highlight reel.”

        4. Stephanie the Great*

          Oh honey. You don’t know that. Just because you haven’t seen them fuck up doesn’t mean they haven’t. You really have no idea what someone else’s situation is, so you have to stop comparing your experiences to what you THINK theirs are!

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Oh boy, is this ever true. Not known to you is that Jane who sits next to you has been embezzling money for months. Bob is pushing company items out the back door and into his car. Then there is Sue who is…. naw, never mind we won’t talk about what Sue is doing.

            It’s pretty normal for little stuff like this to get big in our heads. OP, this stuff is very fixable. You can fix it right away by never repeating that mistake again. Jane, Bob and Sue are much more difficult problems for a manager to deal with.
            I would rather have ten of you than one Jane, Bob or Sue.

            One thing I have found in working with people is that sometimes people lose a sense of proportion. It’s good that you understand you need to change your responses here. The second part is that you WILL. Once you commit to changing your responses the situation is OVER. Done. I have learned that I cannot help someone who gets stuck on past mistakes, we kind of have to push ourselves over the hurdle.

            1) Say you are sorry in the moment and fix the problem. A good boss will be impressed by this. The boss knows that she can talk with you and you will listen.

            2) Your turn will come. Twenty years from now it will be you talking to that newbie and saying, “Don’t let a mistake pull you down. Fix it and keep going.” Then you may/may not relate these stories here and the newbie will stare at you with eyes open wide. It’s the circle of life, OP. Most of us have stepped in crap but we survived and so will you.

      3. oldbiddy*

        That is so true. As a chemistry intern in the 80’s I accidently stopped a senior scientist’s overnight experiment because I didn’t know how to use the autosampler properly. I was (and am) mortified even though my boss and the senior scientist knew that stuff like that is par for the course. I’ve worked with many undergraduates since then and they’ve all made similar mistakes and it’s really no big deal.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Embarrassed since 1987, lol. My partner-in-crime (fellow intern) and I used to go into our boss’s desk drawers and link all their paperclips together into long paperclip chains. Then when they’d try to use a paperclip, they’d pull out a whole long chain, and my fellow intern and I would laugh at them.

    5. Newsie*

      I came here to say just this – 2006 was for me. I was a terrible intern with no editorial sense and no sense of urgency. And believe you me, I’ve done fine for myself. If intern me could see real me, she’d never believe it.

      Part of internships are learning office norms – and remember, your intern colleagues are probably also cringing over something “mortifying” they themselves did that you don’t know about. If you’re like me, you’ll still think about it – I still do, 11 years later – but it’s absolutely not at all career stifling. You’ve got this!

      Just this week, an intern at my company sent out an email to a massive distribution list in order to get added to this list. (huge faux pas here) But, she’s smart as heck, and I can see that she’ll get better with time, so she may be cringing – but I would personally assure her that she’s totally fine. Just like you!

  3. Emmie*

    Not ideal, but absolutely not enough to make you feel stupid and worthless. FWIW, I still make some embarrassing mistakes as a seasoned professional. I still feel like an idiot from time to time. Luckily, honest self-evaluation and improvement will be helpful to your career.

    1. Amber T*

      We have seen faaaaaar worse and more egregious mistakes from interns and professionals alike on this site. And I guarantee, we’ve ALL had silly situations where we’ve suffered from foot-in-mouth syndrome. OP, welcome to the “I can’t believe I did that at work” club – these may be your first silly instances, but I guarantee they won’t be your last! We’ve all been there :)

      1. The OP*

        Thanks Amber! I’m looking forward to being an active member of the “I can’t believe I did that at work” club :P

    2. zora*

      None of this should make you feel stupid and worthless, OP! And I, too, still make mistakes once in a while that are not great. I am actually working on this very thing with my therapist right now! Maybe read or watch some stuff by Brene Brown, like her book The Gifts of Imperfection, and think of mistakes as something to learn from, but to give yourself a break and not beat yourself up over stuff like this!! Mistakes are part of being human!

      1. spocklady*

        Absolutely agreed. One thing that’s been really helpful for me (I’m a fan of Brene Brown as well) is reminding myself that it’s not as though there’s some magical point in the future after which I’ll no longer make mistakes at work — what I’m doing is learning how to roll with them because they’re inevitable and everyone makes them.

        As a long-time member of the oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-I-did-that-let-me-agonize-for-the-next-three-hours club, basically I’m trying to turn my membership card back in and just focus on what I can do now. And I’ve been a working professional for about 10 years now. So keep your chin up, it does get better! I’ve learned a lot, and so have/will you.

        1. The OP*

          Thanks Zora and Spocklady (:

          I will most definitely be reading Brene Brown – thanks for the suggestion.

          1. Stephanie the Great*

            Brene super saved my life. Not even joking. I really recommend listening to her audiobook, The Power of Vulnerability. It’s all about overcoming shame, fear, and anxiety. It’s so good.

  4. Liet-Kynes*

    Oh god, there was so, so much bumbling. So much. In so many arenas of my life. I went on a date in college wearing Merrell Jungle Mocs. I’ve dropped F-bombs on the first day of internships. I grabbed my boss’ beer at a post-work happy hour and quaffed deeply.

    It really sounds like you’re struggling with feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, and finding typical bumbles to justify those feelings to yourself. Have you considered a little therapy to tackle that head-on? Because seriously, if you’re worthless and stupid, we all are.

    1. Hills to Die on (formerly AMG)*

      Yep. I’ve done stuff ten times stupider than this and you know who remembers? Just me. You’re fine!

      1. Liet-Kynes*

        Exactly. Those instances are burned into my soul forever, like some dread curse. NOBODY REMEMBERED ANY OF THEM THREE HOURS LATER.

        Particularly the girl who I dated wearing dadcore shoes. She forgot about me within 45 minutes, I’m quite sure.

          1. Liet-Kynes*

            They’re fine for a middle-aged guy looking for something practical and comfortable to put on his feet. They’re somewhat suboptimal for a 19 year old trying to get his mack on with a girl who’s already out of his league.

            1. Julia*

              I know you didn’t mean it that way, but I’m really not a fan of putting people into leagues and saying they’re out of one’s league. It just feels wrong – different people have different needs and tastes, and idolizing someone for being in a high league doesn’t really help anyone.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes. Also, part of being an intern is learning these norms. It doesn’t sound like you broke any, OP, and when you worried that you might, you asked. Part of a good internship is knowing when to ask those questions and learning what does/doesn’t fly at that workplace. (Although the gasp re: Beyonce seems a little dramatic.)

      I can think of so many stupid things I did as recently as last week, to wit:
      Accidentally hugged the dean;
      Tried to participate in a conversation about zika and referred to “genital defects” very seriously multiple times;
      Blurted out, “It’s all a big lie!” regarding an opposing political opinion in front of a regulator trying to reconcile that decades-old, deep-rooted political problem;
      Wore the same (laundered) shirt two days in a row;
      Channeled DJ Khaled and told a room of colleagues, “You just played yourself!” … except they didn’t know who DJ Khaled is and thought I was serious;

      Feeling stupid and worthless is a bit… disproportionate, and it doesn’t sound warranted. Seriously, I have had disaster interns, and what you’re describing doesn’t even fall outside the bounds of normal interns. If it still worries you, you can always seek feedback from your internship host, OP (frankly, they should give it to you without you having to ask!).

      1. Liet-Kynes*

        I started chuckling at hugging the dean and worked up to full-on giggling by DJ Khaled. But I’ve outfoxed you! I wasn’t drinking tea this time!

        But seriously, you expect interns to piddle on the carpet a few times. Just part of the territory.

      2. Princess Carolyn*

        I have channeled DJ Khaled at work on several occasions, typically to confused stares. But when someone keeps dropping by to add a new proof to your stack, “Another one!” is the appropriate response, imo. Major key.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I have basically 5 favorite Khaled phrases on constant repeat:

          “Another one!”
          “They don’t want you to [win/prosper/drive/succeed/jet ski/get healthy].”
          “The key to more success is cocoa butter.”
          “We the best!”
          “You smart! You loyal! You’re a genius!”

      3. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

        Stupid thing I said at work that still makes me cringe:
        Forgot the word “pollinator” and had an entire conversation with a customer referring to bees as “pollinizers.” It wasn’t until after they walked away that my brain caught up with my mouth. It happens to everyone, trust me! You’ll be alright :)

      4. Emmie*

        I keep starting meetings with “we are gathered here today.” I’m not marrying anyone. I’m not Prince. I gotta stop.

        1. Janice in Accounting*

          I would immediately start dancing if someone started a meeting that way. You do you.

        2. Lisa from Michigan*

          I would be delighted if I ever was in a meeting that started like this. Just delighted. :-)

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ha, that reminds me of when we used to do pretend wedding as kids, and we would start off with, “We are gathered here today in holy macaroni . . . ” I think I was an adult before I thought back on those days and realized the word we were looking for was “matrimony”.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OMG, I would immediately want to jump in with “to get through this thing we call life.”

          I kind of love it. I think you should keep it.

          1. ancolie*

            This song is on my permanent list of best songs to pump me up or improve my mood. It’s done its magic just in this thread! I haven’t even had to listen to it!

            I’m standing here (alone, thankfully!) bouncing my butt and hips to the song in my head as I tap out this comment.

          2. Emmie*

            Maybe I should own it. End meetings with “uh oh, let’s go!” I’ll start using “holy macaroni” (Mallory’s comment) whenever people say something shocking. :)

        5. Fifty-Foot Commute*

          Similarly, an intern recently mixed up in absentia and posthumously, to humorous effect (if you find morbid humor funny).

      5. The OP*

        Hi Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. lol… That’s a mouth full.
        I actually did receive feedback from two of my supervisors and both were fine! The one critique I received from one supervisor was that I sometimes wore apparel that was not appropriate for the corporate office… This was understandable as you all know. But it also really bothered me that they did not give me more critiques. I truly felt alienated and hurt during my time there. I was expecting more critiques to explain issues in my work and reasons why I wasn’t involved in more projects… Maybe the work wasn’t challenging enough for me when they expected it to be? Why wouldn’t a boss give honest feedback to an OB? I have a feeling that my supervisors knew more about what was going on than they led

        1. Bye Academia*

          OP, one other thing to put in perspective. This internship has a huge sense of importance to you because it’s the beginning of your work experience, where everything feels new. The people that you work with have been in the working world a long time and seen many interns come and go. If you got good feedback, I would take that at face value. What feels like a colossal screw up to you is probably something they’ve seen people do every year. Part of internships is learning these norms. And it sounds like this internship did that for you! You have a better sense of some of the unspoken rules about attire and after work socialization than you did before. That’s great.

          As for the projects? Some companies just don’t have a ton of work for interns to do. It sounds to me like you feel unworthy and are using pretty normal intern workflows to justify that. If you got good feedback and you didn’t see the other interns working on more projects than you, I’d just chalk it up to the fact that it’s normal for interns to only be given a few projects.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OP, I think that’s good news! If you’re not getting more critiques, it’s because you were doing your job well. I don’t think your bosses are hiding the ball or being dishonest.

          How did you frame your questions for them? Did you ask generally, “Do you have any feedback/critiques,” or did you ask for targeted feedback?

          It sounds like you have very specific experiences and feelings that were tough for you, but as someone who’s been on both sides of the coin, it’s really hard to figure out why your intern seems dissatisfied if they don’t raise issues when they have the chance to. I’m not blaming you, but I want to offer the idea that they really didn’t have any concerns, so it was hard for them to give you general critiques.

          What made you feel alienated and hurt while you were interning? Was it the lack of engagement in specific projects? The rigor of your assignments? The lack of feedback?

          1. The OP*

            For the internship program, one supervisor was required to fill out a 5 page form (about 50 questions). All questions were rated 0-5, 5 being best. I averaged all 5s except for maybe one or two 4s.

            I followed up 3 months later with another supervisor asking her to give me advice on how to be a better employee going forward as I start my next internship and she just gave me the one critique on my apparel as well as a whole list of things I did well, which is hard for me to take in with these negative feelings about the experience…. I’m aware that I sound too much like a whiney Millennial lol

            I felt alienated because a few of the projects we were working on, I insisted basically on being apart of, but they never added me to the meeting invite so sometimes I would miss the meetings and they played it off like it was no big deal… the other intern was fully in on those meetings though she had her hands on that project first.

            1. Stephanie the Great*

              I would say if you want targeted feedback about particular projects, you can certainly ask. You also have to understand, in corporate time, three months is FOREVER ago. Things move so quickly, that it’s entirely possible the supervisor didn’t recollect much of anything that stood out as overly concerning. I do think if you ask specifically about those projects again and why you weren’t as included as you wanted to be, they will answer, though I think they might consider it odd that you’re pressing so hard for information about a project for an internship that happened months ago. It’s entirely possible they had all the resources they needed for that project. That isn’t meant to be a slight against you. It’s merely an exercise in efficiency and effectiveness. Too many cooks in the kitchen makes for a difficult project. Keeping things essential is, well, essential, on projects.

              As one (older) millennial to another — I’d say you gotta let this go :) Believe people when they tell you something, especially former supervisors. They’re not going to sugarcoat things for you, or fail to give you direct feedback when you ask for it (at least, if they’re decent managers). I’d take the feedback on things you do well as feedback for things to continue in order to be a great employee, and things to continue to build on and develop.

              It sounds like you’re fishing for negative feedback, and nobody has any to give you. That doesn’t mean they’re lying to you. It means they don’t have any. Take it at face value, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and keep moving. You’re doing just fine.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Ok OP, with that context, it sounds a little bit like the person who scored a 95/100 on the midterm complaining that they didn’t get a 98/100. I’m not saying that to make you feel bad! It sounds like you performed above expectations and that they truly did not have much feedback to give you. Honestly, your supervisor probably had to dig deep to even come up with “dress appropriately” as an area of concern. So I think it might be helpful to reframe this experience and to try to identify what you wanted from the internship but did not get so that you can approach your next internship/job with specific learning objectives in mind.

              In terms of alienation, what you’re describing is seriously so normal for internships, and honestly, for jobs in general. But it sounds like you’re taking common workplaces screw-ups as if they were purposefully and personally directed to you. I have a feeling that wasn’t the case, and I think it could be helpful, going forward, to take a step back and put some emotional distance into that situation. You’re not alone in struggling with how to feel about a persistent workplace problem that makes you feel demoralized. Seriously, if you use the search function on AAM and put in “don’t take it personally!” it will return almost every column Alison has ever written. So this is something seasoned professionals still grapple with.

              And if you’re faced with being left off of meeting invites in the future, this is a good opportunity to come up with strategies to prevent feeling stuck in the future—e.g., asking your co-intern when the meeting is, asking the person in charge of circulating the meeting invite to add you every time they forget to add you, asking a third person you trust to take another look and let you know if you were left off the invite. Of course, even coping tactics are limited in their effectiveness, but it might make you feel like you have more control over the situation.

              At this point, I think the autopsy’s complete. Now it’s time to let it go, using Fictional Butt’s excellent Marie Kondo-inspired advice. :)

        3. Liet-Kynes*

          “I was expecting more critiques to explain issues in my work and reasons why I wasn’t involved in more projects”

          Honestly, OP? Interns don’t get involved with a lot of critical projects, at least around here. It’s not personal, it’s just that there are some projects that are good training wheels, and some where stuff needs to get executed with the quickness and perfectly, and we don’t stick the interns on the second category. And there aren’t many of the first.

        4. Mananana*

          “I was expecting more critiques to explain issues in my work and reasons why I wasn’t involved in more projects… ”

          Couple of thoughts: 1) did you ask specifically about issues with your work and/or why you weren’t involved in more projects? 2) Perhaps they didn’t have issues with your work. The projects may have been a better fit for someone else, or there just wasn’t enough work for everyone. But until you do #1, you’ll never know.

          Regarding work attire, please search AAM’s archives for discussions about appropriate clothing for work. It’s possible that if you were wearing questionable articles to work that your boss(es) may have had some questions about your judgment in general.

          And, finally, add me to the “can’t believe I did/said that at work but still survived” club. Not as an intern, but a mid-level manager, I once told a boss to “bite me” in a staff meeting. Although meant in jest, it was grossly inappropriate. I apologized immediately while in the meeting, then again in private. He was not troubled, but I still cringe. And that was circa 2002.

        5. AnInternSupervisor*

          As someone who supervises a lot of interns (hence the name), I can tell you that honestly, unless an intern needs some very specific critical feedback, as long as they do their work in a moderately competent manner, are reasonably professional, and aren’t needy, I probably don’t have a ton of specific feedback. Especially if it’s asked for at the end of the internship – specific issues or feedback by that point is pushed way far to the back of my mind. And as important as this feedback is for you, to your supervisors you are unfortunately just another cog in the wheel – they probably have a lot on their plate and frankly aren’t actually thinking much about you.

          If you want more feedback in the future, I’d consider approaching an intern supervisor shortly after you start and ask them if they would be willing to fill a mentoring role for you and meet to give specific feedback/critiques on your work (if they have the time – they may say no).

          1. Wheezy Weasel*

            I see a correlation to my relationships with software vendors: if there was feedback that required action, you’ll hear about it from me when it happens, not at the end of our contract. Also, if I was supervising interns, I’d think a 50 question form would be a bit much, and multiply that by the number of interns, that’s going to put a dent in my day’s work. I may not have time for free-form responses or perhaps the 0-5 ratings covered all the bases.

        6. Not So NewReader*

          Ahhh, it sounds like you latched on to the drink and the shirt story because you are lacking any other info.

          I think the real problem is that you hoped for or expected more out the internship. I see many comments online about internships not being what they should be. It could be that you had a company that does not offer a real internship experience.
          I know my boss has been busting her butt to make sure her intern gets something out of the time she spends with us. I have been hunting around, too, to find different types of things to do. Not every place does this.

    3. The Strand*

      I wish all the guys I dated in college wore Merrell Jungle Mocs. I just wasn’t happy with the guy who took off his combat boots to watch a movie in my dorm room.

  5. MarCom Professional*

    Sounds like 100% typical intern stuff. Their job is to give you guidance and feedback on mistakes, etc. Frankly, they shouldn’t make you hunt for feedback on your performance, but definitely ask anyway and keep your chin up!

    1. Liet-Kynes*

      This, too. Interns are like puppies. They’re adorable and fairly useless and respond well to training, and as long as they don’t organize to demand a relaxed dress code, you just pat them on the head and give them treats and a good recommendation for a big-kid job.

      1. Zinnia*

        This is both horribly condescending and absolutely accurate. :) I so understand that feeling. Interns can so often be a time suck and otherwise PITA, but they are so eager and excited that you can’t help feel a bit indulgent and want to help them succeed anyway you can. The good ones, anyway.

        1. Liet-Kynes*

          “This is both horribly condescending and absolutely accurate.”

          This is going on my headstone.

      2. lemonjelly*

        Haha, at the last job where my department had interns, a coworker and I took to calling them baby ducks after watching them follow our manager around in a line behind him everywhere. Agreed on all points though! Interns were a new thing for that department and it actually worked out really well there, last I heard the two that we ended hiring on after the internship are still there and doing great, including helping out with the new interns each summer.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          I’m sure someone posted on one of the ask the readers threads about how their spouse kind of imprinted on a group of interns, baby duck style, and they all started dressing like him.

          1. lemonjelly*

            Oh man that sounds adorable! I can’t believe I missed that, I’ll have to find it.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          My manager had to tell me I should probably stop calling my team of temps my little ducks.

          I made the good decision and did not respond “I will as soon as they stop following me around single-file”, but I definitely thought it very loudly. My temps were delightful, but also totally kind of duckling-ish.

          1. Zinnia*

            One of my co-workers told me I really needed a minion to help with my workload. When I got a direct report, I had to work *so hard* to stop myself from referring to him as such at work.

            1. Boris*

              My direct report does not know that I used to think of her as “my future underling”.

  6. TootsNYC*

    I’m w/ TCO on the drink issue. Why not, “Would you like something else?” or “They have other stuff.” That confusion was not one-sided.

    And the T-shirt–remember this, when you are trying to decide whether you blame yourself for this mistake: You spotted the problem. You asked.

    Think of what you’ve learned! You’ve learned to not create the “get you a drink” confusion should -you- be the one offering.
    Hopefully you’ve also learned to be proactive about ordering your own (legal) drink in any circumstance.
    And maybe you’ve learned to check your T-shirt before you leave the house, or to decide to turn it inside out without asking someone (on the “better safe than sorry” idea).
    And that sometimes you can just make the “safe” decision without consulting anyone or trying to get permission.

    This is the age to learn these things! How do you learn without missteps?

    1. FlibertyG*

      I agree, the 100% best way to handle the shirt issue would have been to quietly decide for yourself to turn it inside out when you realized it might not reflect on you in the most professional way. But, this is literally how you learn things like that. Give yourself a mulligan and move on.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I still think OP showed good sense with the t-shirt – just by realizing it might not be okay and making a point of checking (especially as an intern, “just ask” is great advice and a great way to handle anything you’re unsure of!).

        I’m definitely had interns that didn’t put that much thought into it, and committed MUCH bigger outfit offenses (awkwardly recalls “short skirt + neon fishnets girl with a visible ass-cheek tattoo”).

        1. Steve*

          The real WTF here is the boss. Always gasping and staring at the OP in disbelief.

          The only way any of this is the OP’s fault is if they are seeing gasps and stares where none exists.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          Hmmm. Yeah, I suppose I agree for an intern that “just ask” is good advice, although in my company interns are assigned to a peer mentor, and that would be a better person to ask than the boss.

          For a full-time new hire, though, I think the OP needs to keep in mind that her supervisor is not her school teacher, and asking them for permission about running club attire seems a little off. (Unless the supervisor was in charge of the running club, too.) If you’re going on a business trip and need to know if you need to wear something special, okay. If you’re at an outside work activity and want permission to wear a shirt that could be considered profane, err on the side of caution and just don’t wear it. Don’t ask these questions when you’re a full-fledged employee.

          1. FlibertyG*

            I actually disagree with the ‘just ask’ advice when it’s really not necessary to ask – your supervisor is busy and asking them to help you make very meaningless small decisions (“should I wear an offensive shirt?”) just distracts them from helping you when you have an actual decision to deal with (“should I speak with this member of the press?”). Agree with the point above that teaching interns to always ask is setting bad work habits for their future jobs. Learning the right time to go for help is a skill that people need to develop with experience.

        3. Wendy Darling*

          I had a temp — not one I supervised, but his supervisor was my peer — tell me about how he missed the last bus home but realized he was in our office’s general vicinity and had his keycard so he slept on a conference room couch.

          My response was “Never tell me anything like that ever again, I do not want to know.” I mean I don’t care if he sleeps in a conference room but is gone at 5am when the bus starts running and leaves zero evidence, but dude. Don’t TELL me! Then I have to decide if I need to tell other people! (I told his supervisor about it after his temp stint was over and we were amused/horrified together. Also he had several years of professional experience and *definitely* should have known better!)

    2. Squeeble*

      I totally sympathize with OP on the bar issue! I was a very conscientious 20-year-old who occasionally had older people nudging me at these kinds of situations, saying “Come on, I’ll buy a beer for you, don’t be so uptight,” so it’s entirely understandable that OP would have interpreted it that way.

      1. FlibertyG*

        Yeah easy to play that one wrong. As you note, I’ve seen people get pigeonholed as “a boyscout / naive / a stick in the mud” for hewing too closely to rules, so for OP it could have been a damned-if-you-do-or-don’t circumstance. I can think of work situations were young people were welcomed in wink wink, nudge nudge to the grownups table, and it might have hurt them to refuse.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      Yeah the bar situation sounds like a General Conversational Fail on everyone’s part. It’s the verbal version of the thing where two people try to get out of each other’s way in the same direction and end up doing a little dance and everyone walks away feeling like they were the dumb one.

      The tshirt situation I think can be filed under “embarrassing stuff one does in their early 20s” and shoved down the shameful-memory hole with basically all of middle school and literally everything I did at my first job when I was 18. Like, yes, that involved mildly bad judgment but I’m pretty sure that’s what internships are *about* to some degree.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Don’t feel bad! The point I was trying to make is none of this stuff is that big a deal, like, at all. You learn where the boundaries are by accidentally falling out of them, so people spend internships and first jobs occasionally making minor faux pas that everyone else forgets promptly but you keep in that mental photo album labeled “Every Embarrassing Thing I Have Ever Done”… everyone has that, right? I definitely have that. No one except me even remembers 95% of the stuff in it though.

          So yeah just… try not to worry about it, yes? In the unlikely case that anyone holds those things against you it says WAY more about them than it does about you.

        2. LaterKate*

          I actually didn’t think that feedback was harsh at all. Just wanted to mention, because if you’re finding feedback such as what Wendy said above to be harsh, it might benefit you to recalibrate your expectations. This is not meant to be a critique or meant to tell you how to feel (if it felt harsh to you, that’s true, even if I read it differently) but just as a general comment.

          1. Stephanie the Great*

            What LaterKate said. What Wendy said was meant to be comforting, not harsh. I think this might be something to chew on, how to take feedback. It will greatly behoove you as not just an employee but as a person. Take it for what it is. Accept what serves you, let go of what doesn’t, and most of all — don’t take it personally. It’s most often about a specific issue in time, and rarely about you as an individual. Just because you might have behaved in a way that was less than ideal at one moment in time, does not mean you are personally a failure at everything in life forever and ever, amen.

            I say this because I was also a highly conscientious and overly concerned 20-year-old who didn’t necessarily think every criticism was a personal attack, but definitely took them all on as a personal failure. I thought any criticism was a failure, rather than an opportunity. Realizing the gift of feedback was monumental to me — people give the feedback they give because they care and they want to see you succeed, harsh or otherwise.

  7. NPOQueen*

    OP, please understand that most of us look back on our internship times with some sort of embarrassment, but also a chuckle. I made all kinds of mistakes when I was a 19-year-old intern, but it gave me a great basis when I actually entered the working world at 23. And even then, I still had so much to learn. People expect that from interns and from young workers, there’s nothing to worry about. It says nothing about who you are or your character, and internships are the best time to make those little mistakes. People know you’re learning and are far more willing to help and/or let things go. Sit back and observe, it’s okay!

    1. k*

      Exactly. People write off these little missteps when they come from interns because it’s understood that they’re don’t know what they’re doing yet. Much better to make these mistakes now so you don’t have to make them when you’re later in your career.

  8. Fictional Butt*

    OP, have you ever read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”? There’s a section where she talks about throwing away things that are useless but have sentimental value, like old birthday cards. She encourages people to recognize that that birthday card did its job: it told you that your friend wished you a happy birthday. You will always have the birthday wishes, so the card’s job is done and you can put it to rest in the trash can without guilt.

    Feelings are the same way. Your feelings of embarrassment served a purpose–they taught you that your choices in those situations were maybe not the most appropriate, at least in other people’s minds. It sounds like that’s a lesson you have fully learned. So you don’t need the embarrassment as a reminder anymore–throw it away.

    1. aubrey*

      I love this way of framing it. I do a similar thing when I feel anxious or embarrassed – say to myself ‘is this helpful?’ If the answer is ‘nope, just brain doing its thing’ I kinda imagine closing the thought like a popup ad – not useful, not interested, just noise I don’t need to pay attention to. If the answer is ‘but I need to worry about this!’ I then ask myself what would be helpful and try to do that instead of ruminating. Stuff like make a list, talk to someone, handle a nagging task that’s taking up too much of my thoughts, etc.

    2. Alex the Alchemist*

      Not the OP, but I’m doing an internship now (and also just generally have anxiety and therefore look upon my past self and occasionally cringe) and I’m going to utilize this in my life! It’s such a good way of looking at it!

    3. paul*

      excellent way to put it. It’s always easier said than done, but once an emotion has served it’s role try to let go of it

    4. Jesmlet*

      This is such good advice. I’m just picturing Emily Gilmore in the Gilmore Girls revival going through everything she owned asking herself “does it bring me joy?” Maybe don’t go to that extreme but you can carry lessons with you without carrying the negative feelings associated with those lessons.

    5. anonosaur*

      I love this so much. My counselor has had me reframe thoughts like the OP’s and it works really well. If a thought pops into my head like “I did this embarrassing thing and everyone hates me now,” I reframe it as “I’m thinking the thought that everyone in my office hates me because I got confused at a confusing statement from my boss.” Reframing makes me realize that 1) things aren’t real just because I think them and 2) even if that thought was true, it would be really ridiculous for “everyone” to hate me over something so small. I’m definitely going to steal your framing for feelings, because those are harder to reframe sometimes. Thanks for sharing this!

      1. Emi.*

        This is why it drives me crazy when people insist that “All your feelings are valid!” No, some of my feelings are dumb, made-up garbage, and they’re slowly ruining my life, so please stop trying to reinforce them, mkay?

        1. Non Feeling Robot*

          Except all feelings are valid. The reason I say this is usually relevant to conflict. I may not agree for example when someone brings up how they gfeel about something or their perspective of a disagreement. While I don’t always appreciate their tone of voice, I have come to realize people have a right to their feelings, that however, does not mean they have a right to act on them. Feelings do change, they adapt according to how we process things and sometimes feelings are covering up for our true issues, so it is important to take a look at why you are feeling that way. But that doesn’t mean your feelings of being hurt, confused or angry are invalid. The basis may be completely off, but we have 40,000 thoughts a day and we’re human. It is okay to feel angry or stupid for a second, it is just not okay to act on it. All feelings are valid is more geared towards people that beat themselves up over and over and hone one specific feeling for a long time.

          People have different perspectives and generally, this makes me feel better, most people do not care about you one way or another to obsess over one minor thing you did forever. And if they have a grudge list, you may not want to be friends with them anyways.

          So in summary – it is a good idea to evaluate internships, a mistake is not a mistake until you repeat it and you can use it as fodder for the future in your big pants job. The point is to learn, adapt and move on.

          The move on part being the most important aspect of the whole thing.

    6. Brigitha*

      There is a ted talk called “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” that uses the Marie Kando book idea similarly. It’s about allocating the f*cks you give wisely so you don’t get stressed and burn out.

        1. Stephanie the Great*

          Yep! Sarah Knight. She also wrote a great book called “Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Freak Out Less, Accomplish More, and Generally Win at Life,” which is a follow up to Not Giving a F*ck.

    7. Anlyn*

      This is wonderful. I used to imagine hitting my embarrassment with a baseball bat out over the fence, but the dang thing kept coming back like a boomerang. So that didn’t work. This might. Thank you!

    8. Steve*

      For the feelings you choose to keep around, do you have to roll them into neat little balls?

    9. Fabulous*

      Love this! Sometimes for me past embarrassment from 10+ years ago STILL pops up randomly. I’ve had to mentally imagine myself crumpling up the cringe like a piece of trash and “throwing” it far far away for it to leave my brain!

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I know, right? I have things from 10+ years ago that I can’t even think about because I can’t stand how embarrassed I feel when I think about it. With this new framing, maybe the next time some old embarrassing memory surfaces, I’ll just let myself feel the embarrassment and then throw it away because I don’t need it anymore.

  9. Bertha*

    If you and the other intern weren’t managed by the same people, it’s quite possible that this has something to do with the differing work loads. I have struggled in the past to come up with work for my interns, when other interns at my company (with a seperate skill set and different supervisor) are just working their butts off. It has nothing to do with how good either of them is as an employee, and heck, you could be running out of work because you work faster.

    1. The OP*

      Hi Bertha,

      The other intern and I worked on the same team under the same supervisors. They were giving her more projects than me it seemed. She had more meetings and was working with people outside our team. Whereas my work was many on the computer keeping to myself. I felt that my supervisors tried to get me involved (having me sit in on consultations) but those projects died out pretty quickly after I did the work because no one had the time to do something with it. It just wasn’t that important.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, could it just be that your list of projects went through a slump? I’ve had this happen, sometimes, when I assign out cases for my interns. Sometimes even despite my best efforts, one set of cases will kind of dissolve or be put on hold, while another set will “heat up” unpredictably.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Another interesting point. Many projects flop on their own or die from lack of interest. This is pretty normal in workplaces. At one job I took an unusually strong interest in suggesting ideas. For every 10 I suggested, I got 9 Nos and 1 Maybe. In order to work there you had to actually LIKE the no word. I put work/effort into making well-thought out suggestions, but it seemed lost. I will say, the company did not grow, but I grew. The time I spent developing good, viable suggestions made me a better employee for the next employer.

        I had a funny thing happen to me last week. A few years ago I took at temp job. One of my projects on the temp job was to set up a Massive Thing and then absolutely nothing happened. Fast forward, a few years later, as in LAST WEEK, I learned they are just starting to use the Massive Thing I set up. Last week. I am shaking my head.
        Yeah, I was sad that I put all this effort into working on things for them. Part of the situation was that the stuff I did was premature. They were not ready. Now they are ready and they are using it. Something like this could apply to some of your work, they may use it later. Or they may use it as a basis to start something else. Remember you are only seeing a snapshot not a movie, you were there for a few months(?) so you only got a few months’ worth of the story line.

  10. Bea*

    Oh dear these are stories you’ll laugh about in a few years, I promise you that. The crap I said when I was in my first job are still jokes because I am friends with my former supervisor and coworkers.

    And tbh said supervisor got me wine for Christmas fully knowing that I was only 20. But that was a very small office and shes a good friend at the times sister.

    It didn’t hurt me and it actually paved a way to my career. I’m still a mess and say dumb things but I’m the boss most days with a boss boss who laughs at my moments of WTF moments.

    You noticed you messed up in these cases, youre a cut above the rest who would say “idk why she didn’t just buy me a beer tho” :)

  11. Juli G.*

    You know how people do that annoying, dismissive “Ugh, millennials” thing? That’s what all the people at your internship did to you when you made those gaffes.

    98% of the time you’re going to feel that attitude is unfair or offensive. This is the 2% when it works in your favor.

    1. MommaTRex*

      And every generation did their silly things in their younger days. And the next generation will do theirs. I’m thinking that this is also a good lesson for the OP to think about how they will act when they are the older generation trying to help the younger generation learn. Remember that you were there once, too!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Us Boomers were certain to be failures. We were lazy, not very smart, entitled… no. wait. This sounds familiar….

  12. miss_chevious*

    This is not to promote the wearing of a shirt with profanity on it in the workplace, but really, that shirt worn in the circumstances you describe would have made you seem MORE AWESOME at my place of business. So, no, not appropriate in context, but really, don’t spend a minute more worrying about it.

    1. Kiki*

      Truth. If I was in OP’s running group and she turned up in that shirt I would try to chat her up about Beyonce because I unabashedly love Queen Bey.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      Yep, this would have been perfectly fine in some offices I’ve worked in. It sounds like OP’s internship was at a more conservative company, and HR tends to be conservative field, so it probably wasn’t totally appropriate for the setting. I think the fact that the shirt gave her pause and she thought to ask her supervisor about it shows that OP is a reasonable, self-aware person. The supervisor’s reaction is just a little weird. Chalk it up to weirdness and let it go.

    3. the_scientist*

      My office collectively LOVES Beyonce (we’re a casual, younger-leaning office) so this shirt would have been 100% Not An Issue.

      OP, just by recognizing that it may have been offensive and asking about it, you showed excellent professional judgement! Please forgive yourself for this slip-up (which is incredibly minor in the grand scheme of things). If you’re having trouble letting go of feelings of embarrassment and worthlessness, it may be worth your while to have a couple of sessions with a therapist to talk through that. You don’t want minor fumbles to derail your focus!

  13. C in the Hood*

    OP, please get “stupid” “worthless” and “failure” out of your self-talk! You made mistakes, none of them earth-shattering, and you’ve now learned from them. That is a *good * thing! The important thing is not to be perfect, but to be teachable.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      “The important thing is not to be perfect, but to be teachable.”

      Oh. Yes. Truth 1, anxiety 0.

    2. FlibertyG*

      I try to remind myself ALL THE TIME to criticize choices I might have made, but not myself as an entity. You are not stupid even if you did something kind of dumb — you are not a failure even if you failed in a specific circumstance. You are trying your best and sometimes things don’t work out the way you wanted them to, that’s all.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, that type of self-talk will do you in faster than a bad boss. If the best you can get to is “I did as much as could today” then go with something like that. I bet you had a couple shining moments and you have all but forgotten them.

  14. Alton*

    With the shirt thing, was the group you were running with from work? If so, yeah, I think it’s a good idea to keep your workout clothes somewhat professional, but you realized that on your own. And ultimately, you were off the clock and not on work premises.

    The drink thing is awkward, but misunderstandings happen.

    I think it’s really good to be conscientious, but it’s also okay to consider that some of the awkwardness here stems from your boss’s personality and the culture in that office and how those things play off your own inexperience and awkwardness. A lot of the challenge isn’t just learning the “right” behavior but learning how to interact with people whom you find intimidating.

    As someone who feels pretty awkward sometimes and who struggled with this when I was younger, experience can help a lot. Not only can you learn how to handle stuff like this, but you can learn to react more confidently when you do something embarrassing. Things like you describe don’t make you a terrible person.

  15. Dr. Ruthless*

    The drink thing is legitimately confusing. When I was a 20-year-old intern (19?) I was at an open-bar reception with my boss, and she asked me if I wanted a drink, and I said I was underage. She responded with, “is vodka cranberry OK?” and then fetched me one. You didn’t make a wildly inappropriate assumption that she was offering to buy you a drink-drink. She was probably as embarrassed for the miscommunication as you were, or at least I would have been.

    1. Liet-Kynes*

      This. And when you’re 21, you’re not exactly fluent in the language of bar culture.

      1. FlibertyG*

        I certainly wouldn’t be shocked and appalled by an intern that thought this was what was happening. They were at a bar, and the boss did offer a drink!

    2. Janet*

      Yes, I’ve been at countless work weddings and work events where people get beers and drinks for the under-21 interns. It’s not legal of course but it’s done with enough frequency that I could see confusion on the OP’s part.

    3. Gen*

      Yeah I worked at a lot of places (in the UK) where “I’m not 18 yet” would probably still result in booze from the managers and some grumbling/insults if you refused. Then again those same managers when told wine wasn’t an appropriate prize due to religion bought liquor chocolates instead.

    4. Elizabeth H.*

      Right, if I had been the manager in this situation I’m sure I really would have meant that I would buy her a beer if it was a relaxed-seeming atmosphere. I understand why this isn’t strictly appropriate and/or why people wouldn’t be comfortable with it in a very buttoned-up work setting (which it sounds like OP’s work place is) but 20 is old enough to drink in so much of the world. I think the OP’s assumption is so reasonable and nothing to be embarrassed about.

      1. Annabelle*

        This. 21 is such an arbitrary age anyway, so this seems much more like an uncomfortable misunderstanding than a huge social gaffe.

    5. aebhel*

      This. I’d be embarrassed if I accidentally offered to buy my underage intern a drink, largely because I wouldn’t want someone to feel pressured to drink illegally (not that I didn’t at 19-20, but when it’s a work situation it’s not the same.

  16. DVZ*

    Neither of these incidents are bad at all! I think asking about the shirt shows you are really conscientious and aware of the fact that there may be office norms that you don’t know about, so you ask. That’s more than a lot of people! The drink thing is just a misunderstanding; it would have been a more obvious faux pas if no one else was drinking but you asked for a beer. It sounds like they were all drinking alcohol, which implies a relaxed work atmosphere and therefore not ridiculous that you might confuse the question.

    Is there any chance you misinterpreted their reactions to both interactions? Not to downplay your feelings at all, but you used ‘disbelief’ twice, and if this is an otherwise normal environment, that seems really unusual. You sound highly self-aware and maybe a little overly analytical – perhaps you are overthinking this all a bit? I think it’s an equally valid lesson that sometimes our own feelings can really colour how we think other people are acting, and if you’re already worried (as it seems you are) about your impression at the internship, about feeling ‘worthless’, it might be that you’ve put your own ‘filter’ on these interactions.

    I think the bigger issue here is that you feel ‘worthless’ at all – over a summer internship! I hope you have other ways of getting support, because you sound like you are being WAY too hard on yourself and might have some deeper issues about confidence, etc. going on. This can really hamper you going forward because part of being successful is not just saying/doing the right thing at work, but learning how to have a thicker skin and recognising when your personal issues are clouding how you feel about work/how other people see you. Wishing you all the best.

    1. Tomato Frog*

      Yep, yep, yep. OP, I get being disproportionately embarrassed over minor incidents — God knows I get it — but please know objectively that these events are complete non-events and your anxiety is a very unreliable interpreter of these memories. I am a competent professional and I could totally see myself doing these exact things today (I mean, assuming the legal drinking age suddenly became 33). And I would be embarrassed by it, because I’m self-conscious. But no reasonable person would care or think less of me for it, nor would it undermine my claim to being a competent professional.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    OP – I wonder if you might suffer a touch of anxiety? I know when I was dealing with bad anxiety I replayed relatively minor embarrassing incidents in my head constantly and worried so much about them. Probably nobody else even remembers this stuff – it’s really minor. And you sound very conscientious and apologetic anyway. When I start to wonder about people’s judgement it’s when they don’t seem to realize there are issues with their behavior, and don’t seem concerned when they’re called out about it.

    1. aebhel*

      Yep. I have largely tamed my brain weasels in this regard, but I still have a tendency to get really embarrassed and ashamed over relatively minor mishaps. It’s harder when you’re still learning the rules and aren’t really sure what counts as a minor mishap and what doesn’t, but seriously, OP, none of this is that bad.

      (and your boss sounds a bit dramatic, TBH)

  18. CBH*

    OP I made a mistake once in my very first job out of college, with an amazing mentor no less. Looking back it was more a naive not knowing how to communicate the issue properly mistake. I immediately apologized and even sent my mentor a hand written apology and thank you for pointing it out (it was for a personal/ work issue and my mentor and I were not working at the same company at the time). It is now 17 years later (am I really that much older?!) and this situation has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve learned so much more since. My mentor and I lost touch and I always wondered if it was related to the situation. By sheer coincidence my mentor ended up getting hired by the large corporation I work for now and is now head of a sister department we work closely with. When we caught up for lunch I mentioned how much of a mentor influence she had over me. I was mortified of how I handled the situation. My mentor hardly remembered the situation and said to her I just sounded like a newbie in the field and it was a common entry level mistake. Anyway my point is that these instances will be little blips in the back of your mind to learn from, move on and become a better person. You are supposed to get a view to the working world in your internship, learn. Hang in there, you are doing great. The fact that your are questioning how to handle the situation means your taking this internship for all its worth.

  19. This Daydreamer*

    Scroll to the bottom of the page. Click on “internships”. Feel better about yourself.

      1. This Daydreamer*

        I know, right?

        OP, I should clarify that what I mean is that what you’re describing here is really, seriously not as bad as you think it is.

    1. Stephanie the Great*

      Omg yes, this. Trust me, OP, you have not doomed yourself to a career of failure. I think it’s actually a great idea to follow up from an internship for a “post-mortem” discussion about how you did while you were there. That kind of feedback is very useful for future reference.

      1. The OP*

        Hi Steph,

        I did follow up! I asked her for feedback and she answered with 10 bullets of positive comments and 1 negative comment, which was that I sometimes didn’t dress appropriately for the corporate environment (she said it didn’t happen often).

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Clothes are easy to change. Arrogance, self-focus, anger and other issues can be deeply entrenched in a person and not easily changed.

          If this is the worst thing she said, you did great.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      I can help too!

      We once had an intern that came in so hung over that she puked prolifically all over the office and we had to close it while it was professionally cleaned. The smell lingered for days. (internship not renewed)

      One intern took a nap under the front desk and crawled out when a client rang the service bell. (fired)

      I had to fire an intern because she was a no show 2 days in a row. She was genuinely confused. “But I was sick!”

      One intern came to work high (fired).

      One intern sent out an EMAIL TO THE WHOLE OFFICE IN ALL CAPS INSTRUCTING EVERYONE, INCLUDING THE OWNERS, NOT TO PUT FISH IN THE MICROWAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was pink comic sans. (not fired because she was related to a client but she ruined her reputation)

      People do make terrible, memorable mistakes. LW, your little blips don’t qualify :)

        1. Steve*

          I’m surprised the intern had acquired a hate for microwaved fish so young, normally that is an acquired (anti-)taste.

          1. motherofdragons*

            If that intern was like me, she had a roommate/floormate situation in college that involved heating up fish in a communal microwave that made the entire floor stink to high heaven on a weekly basis. So. Gross.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Oh man you just reminded me — at my student job I was getting a ride to work from my boss. I had to ask her to pull over so I could vomit. Embarrassing, but at least I didn’t vomit in her car! She said “Are you sick?”

        And in my infinite wisdom I said: “No, hungover.” >.<

        Yet she's still one of my references. OP, you are doing fine.

      2. Annabelle*

        These stories are amazing. I’m also mystified that the hungover intern wasn’t fired on the spot.

      3. Insert name here*

        I had the bright idea to do a full time internship and stay full time enrolled in class, yikes…the sleep deprivation got got to me and after several days of averaging 4 hours of sleep I took a short nap in one of the IT closets. I didn’t mean to…I closed my eyes leaning on one of the cabinets and opened them like 20 minutes later. Thankfully nobody saw me, how embarrassing and unprofessional!

  20. Amber Rose*

    I can tell you that now, over a decade into my working life, I still do things that make me cringe. And how about the time (two years ago) my supervisor took a supplier out for a drink, and ended up pinching his nipple? I get second-hand embarrassment from that one!

    People do weird and awkward things, and they always will. That may or may not be comforting, but you are in good company at least.

    1. Stephanie the Great*

      Okay you can’t just say “ended up pinching his nipple” without giving us the gory details.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I’d only been working here a couple months at the time and wasn’t there. I just heard the story after. My supervisor is an odd duck, and often says she doesn’t understand why management lets her talk to anyone because she’ll just randomly bring up butts or something. A coworker who was there that time told me about how Supervisor started teasing that supplier for blushing really easily whenever anything slightly sexual came up, and then… yeah. Nipple. xD

        She gets away with it because she has a LOT of respect in our industry. I would not recommend anyone else try this.

        1. strawberries and raspberries*

          My supervisor is an odd duck, and often says she doesn’t understand why management lets her talk to anyone because she’ll just randomly bring up butts or something.

          Is your supervisor Tina Belcher?

          1. Amber Rose*

            Not quite. She has more social skills than she gives herself credit for. But she is still pretty weird.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Oh, and the drink thing, add me to the list of people who find it confusing. I was 20 the first time I went to the US for a conference. I was readily supplied with alcohol. Lots of people would be willing to do such a thing, though I second Allison that going forward, you should probably not assume your boss will be one of them.

    3. Liet-Kynes*

      “And how about the time (two years ago) my supervisor took a supplier out for a drink, and ended up pinching his nipple?”

      I just sympathy-cringed. But at least the supplier wasn’t female!

      1. Amber Rose*

        I don’t think any of our reps with suppliers are female. I honestly don’t think that would stop my supervisor though. :D

  21. puzzld*

    Yes. OP, it’s all good. I work with dozens of student workers every year. They all do/wear/say things that are unprofessional. The ones I worry about are the oblivious, unembarrassed ones. Following up with people who worked closely with you is a good idea, take their comments for what they are worth, and sail on.

  22. FTW*

    I think the mistakes mentioned are no big deal. However, if they are coupled with mediocre performance, they become an issue.

    If people are not giving you projects it is likely because​ it is performance related, not because of these misteps. I would asked for feedback more often, ask questions when you do her feedback, and take a hard look at suggestions that have been made to make sure you understand the severity of any issues.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Hmm. In my experience if interns don’t get projects it can be because staff haven’t been told what they’re there for and what they can be asked to help with, i.e. it can also just be down to a lack of communication.

      1. The OP*

        FTW, the feedback I received (twice from two different supervisors) had no negative critiques on my work. I am wondering why they wouldn’t give me honest feedback? It was too obvious how little projects I had. My boss even said “I’m sorry for not having enough work to give you” but I don’t necessarily believe her.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Honestly, it sounds like this really is exactly the case! You asked for feedback from different people, did not hear anything negative, and I think there is no better meaning beyond “I’m sorry for not having enough work to give you” than that she truly didn’t have enough work to give you.

          It’s possible that your boss is a little bit less engaged and motivated with the whole “having an intern” thing than she would ideally be. Figuring out how to appropriately delegate work while at the same time mentoring/coaching/not having something that’s actually crucial or messy be screwed up, in case a less experience person makes a mistake/giving the trainee legitimate learning opportunities is incredibly difficult. I am early in my career and terrible at it. I don’t think that you should interpret it as a reflection on you.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          If you have decided not to believe her there is not much she can do to convince you otherwise. You could change your mind and decide to believe her.

          I grew up in a house where Yes actually meant No. When something was declared Nice, it was so very Not Nice. If you have been around people who do not say what they mean, it can be hard to believe relative strangers are saying what they mean. One of my first habits that I had to UNdo when I started working was my habit of looking for a second or third meaning in people’s words. I needed that to survive at home, but I did not need that to survive in the workplace.

          It’s very help to learn to take people’s words at face value until you see solid proof that person cannot be trusted. In a situation like this, I would ask myself, what basis to I have to believe she is lying? This basis could be because she lied to me before, or I saw her lie to others. Perhaps I overheard a conversation where she was talking nasty about me or other people.
          Next I would look around for solid evidence that she is lying about not having enough work. This part is a little tougher to prove. From what you say here, I am inclined to believe her. Typically, if a supervisor has it in for you, they do not give you a good review in ADDITION to not giving you a lot of work. She did not give you a lot of work but she gave you a good review. That counts. It’s okay to let that count in your mind, also.

        3. Meg theGameDesigner*

          I had this problem at an art gallery I volunteered at when I was 20. What I realized is that they weren’t really prepared for fresh-to-the-industry types. They were so used to people knowing what to do that they didn’t know how to communicate what they needed done.
          It’s sort of a “Just read my mind” thing.
          Best advice I can give you is if you have nothing to do, find something you can do and then ask your manager if you can work on that (even if it’s not in your area). I think this is what a lot of managers prefer over being asked “Is there something I can work on?”
          I’d also have lunch with the other intern and ask them what they did to get so much work. Like did they offer to do stuff? Did they get different feedback about their work? Did they just have a manager who knew how to keep an intern busy?
          This will be pretty useful stuff.

      2. Wheezy Weasel*

        I’d also suggest that having projects become ‘intern ready’ is another 50% more work on behalf of the manager. Some projects have so many moving parts that a new person would slow down the process, or take time away from a subject matter expert that is being pulled in 5 different directions. Other projects may have really crucial steps that rely on judgement from current employees, and those areas aren’t well documented for the intern.

        I’d also suggest to the OP that you shouldn’t use your fellow intern as your metrics of success. It’s not a comparison or a competition. You did quality work on projects, your boss has 10 areas of positive feedback, you were attentive to fixing your mistakes…. that’s quality praise for full-time employees! Hold your head up proudly!

  23. Widgeon*

    I promise that many of us 30s, 40s, 50s+ professionals did immature or silly things back in our late teens/early 20s as interns. Some didn’t, but most of us did. I cringe at the thought of some ridiculous stuff I did (far worse than you) as I work on a conference presentation LOL. Give yourself a break.

  24. Jessesgirl72*

    I wish internship and being in my 20’s or 30’s put an end to the bumbling! :) I still do things where I “OMG! WHAT WAS I THINKING” myself.

    OP, if there is one thing that you really need to learn, it’s that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. The skill to learn is how to graciously recover from them, and also not beat yourself up because of them. Having a good attitude about apologizing and doing your best to correct any mistakes and prevent the same one in the future will honestly take you so, so far.

    It’s the kind of thing that comes (more) naturally with age/confidence/experience, but if you are intentional about directing your inner voice to say “Okay, that was a mistake. So now what do I learn?” instead of beating yourself up over it, you will help yourself get there faster.

  25. Ramona Flowers*

    There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, in this letter to suggest that you are stupid, worthless or a failure. (And hey, you’re reading AAM. So I reckon you’ll be okay.) I read it thinking I was going to read about some terrible screw-up and then… nope.

    For the record, pretty much everyone, no matter how experienced or how senior, gets it wrong sometimes. We all have times when we misjudge or misread a situation or say the wrong thing due to a mouth-not-engaging-brain situation or ask a question that sounds fine in our heads but terrible out loud.

    When I think of the people I respect professionally, none of them are perfect. All of them have made mistakes. In general, work – and especially early-career work and internships – is meant to be a place where you are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

    1. Annabelle*

      This is so important to keep in mind. I’m relatively young (mid-twenties) and I still have to remind myself that everyone has bad days and the occasional awkward moment isn’t a deathknell for my career.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have often thought that my own poor moments keep me humble and help me to look the other way when someone else has a bad moment.

  26. SJ*

    My most embarrassing moment: As a college freshman, I was in a group of college kids invited back to my high school to speak to an auditorium of students about what it’s like to be in college. A friend was giving me a ride, and she was super late picking me up, so we apparently missed a pre-event lecture from the guidance counselor telling all the participating college students not to mention alcohol or parties. IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE SCHOOL, both students and teachers, I made a jokey comment about how the cops at my college would hand out beer cups at frat parties — it was true (which, yikes), but oh my god, why did I say it??? In front of all those teachers I liked (and who respected me a lot because I was a great student who worked really hard and did really well)??? I die of embarrassment every time I remember it, and in my case, since it’s the last time most of my high school teachers saw me, I might actually be remembered as “the 18-year-old moron who talked to high school kids about cops enabling drinking,” even though it’s been 10 years.

    BUT it taught me a great lesson about thinking twice before opening my mouth, especially when I’m going to be in front of hundreds of people — and I’m glad I learned the lesson young. What happened in your internship might feel embarrassing, but like everyone else is saying, it’s a learning experience, and it’s highly likely you’re the only one who’s going to be focused on it. I’m almost 29 and I still do and say things and work that make me cringe, but EVERYONE does — if your overall work is good, those embarrassing things aren’t what you’ll be remembered for.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      [Shrugs.] It took me a while to realize that people having bad behavior cannot be surprised when that bad behavior gets mentioned publicly. Eventually someone “slips”, in this story it was you. But after seeing this happen so many times, I have to believe that there was a reason for it.

      Probably does not help much, I am sorry. I suggest you watch other people who toss things out and start change rolling because they said in public something that was usually kept in private. I think these slip-ups happen for a purpose.

  27. Tiffin*

    I want to start by saying to the OP that I don’t think these were terrible errors and that I don’t think it does any good to obsess about them. Try to learn from then and then give yourself a break.

    That said, I could understand the boss being at least a little shocked at these 2 instances. I would be if they came up in my office. Yes, interns are young, but I would expect them not to wear things that could reasonably be considered offensive or try to illegally drink alcohol with colleagues (even if the boss HAD been offering). These are things that seem fairly obviously a bad call, at least to some people, and I don’t think being surprised by them means the office culture is obviously stuffy.

    1. Marisol*

      Have to disagree with you here. I’d say being shocked that a twenty year old intern misunderstands office norms is like being shocked that a sixth grade algebra student hasn’t mastered quantum physics. Mentorship is one of the main functions of internship, so someone who gets shocked by the mistakes the OP made probably shouldn’t be supervising interns.

      1. Annabelle*

        I second this. Interns are usually kind of clueless; it comes with the territory. I understand the boss having a quick “oh god don’t do that” moment, but it’s sort of her job to help OP understand office norms.

      2. Tiffin*

        I wouldn’t expect interns to understand all office norms; however, “don’t wear shirts that some people could consider vulgar” and “don’t engage in illegal underage drinking with colleagues” are not exactly shocking revelations. I would have known those in middle school; I would certainly expect most 20-year-old interns to be able to figure them out.

        Are these the worst offenses in the world? No, not even close. Yet, I do think a lot of people would be surprised if their intern did them.

        1. Marisol*

          far be it from me to tell someone what they should or should not feel shocked about. I’m sure there are plenty of things that shock me that others are blase about, and vice versa. I think expecting someone to know something is another matter entirely however, especially in this context where someone, a young person who feels bad about something she did wrong, is writing in for help. Maybe this young woman didn’t have the advantages of your upbringing, and so she doesn’t know as much as you did at her age. Regardless, I see no value whatsoever in underscoring her failure in the comments section.

  28. Laura*

    At one of my first internships, my boss had to take me aside to tell me that shorts were not appropriate work attire. (The office didn’t have an official dress code, but was fairly formal. The shorts were Bermuda-short-length and made from the same material as slacks, which is why I had assumed it was OK to wear them.) I was fairly mortified at the time, but now I recognize it as a learning experience and as a relatively minor incident. We all make mistakes when starting out!

    1. Princess Carolyn*

      Those would be just fine in a lot of offices! Sometimes you just have to use your best judgment and take an L when your best judgment turns out to be incorrect.

  29. HisGirlFriday*

    This post is remarkable on-point for me today!

    My office was having a work day today (because Central Pennsylvania when it’s 90+ degrees outside is a great day to do that…) and I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt that had the molecule for caffeine on it.

    My boss saw it and freaked.the.hell.out until I very calmly explained, ‘This is the molecule for caffeine. It is not in any way, shape, or form inappropriate to wear to be outside picking up garbage.’

    Then she was fine with it.

    Lord only knows what she thought it was…

  30. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    OP: no one is talking about you behind your back. No one is ganging up in the girl’s room to squeal, “Omigod you will NEVER believe what OP did!!! She’s so STUPID!!” No one is making mean jokes about you on Facebook. The beauty of true professionalism is that all that mean-girl high school stuff is gone. Or, if it isn’t, and someone in a professional setting tries to go all mean-girl on you, the only one they’re hurting is themselves.

    Please stop shaming yourself. It is not a good use of time or energy. More importantly, nobody wants you to do that to yourself.

    1. MommaTRex*

      And if anyone DOES do the mean girls thing, then it becomes obvious that their opinion is worthless and shouldn’t be listened to.

  31. Anon16*

    I still have an internship gaffe I cringe about. I was an intern during college that was located in Boston. The Boston bombing had just happened the day before (I lived in Boston and the internship took place in Boston). I decided to show up half an hour late the next day. I didn’t tell anyone, I just showed up late. I thought since it was a tragedy, I could show up late without telling anyone and everyone would understand. I still cringe at that one. Nobody had ever said anything to me, but I wish they had.

    These are learning experiences. I think your experiences don’t sound that bad. :)

      1. Anon16*

        Thanks for being so kind! I still cringe about it, but I guess it’s not too awful. Still wish I had at least given my supervisor a heads up. :)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Probably most people were late that day, if they showed up at all.

        Good workplaces don’t question arrival times when there is an obvious tragedy.

  32. LSP*

    Jumping on the bandwagon here to say: OP please don’t beat yourself up over these incredibly MINOR hiccoughs of professionalism (if they even are that).

    My guess is that either your are projecting stronger reactions onto the people you worked with than were really there, or you interned at a place that is conservative to the extreme. In the case of the latter, that may be a product of the area in which the company is located, or the specific industry. I know financial firms can trend toward conservative, but not to the point of utter shock and dismay at a 20 year old indicated she might like a beer.

    Make a note of these things and move on from them mentally. As Alison suggests, reach out for feedback on your WORK from the person or persons you worked most closely with during your internship. This will help you ensure that experience was as beneficial as possible.

    1. Marisol*

      That shock and dismay attitude actually sounds kind of mean-spirited to me. I work in a conservative financial field and while I can imagine someone in HR telling an intern not to wear a vulgar tshirt, I can’t imagine them gasping over it. We’re in Los Angeles where cultural norms outside of the office are a lot more liberal so maybe that’s a factor. Still the reaction seems ridiculous.

  33. Slytherin HR*

    One thing that caught my attention is that this is an internship for HR. OP, you may have run into a more internally strict HR culture. Not that this doesn’t happen in other departments as well but given that HR oversees internal rules and policies that can lead to more strict culture for that specific team (I’m trying to find a different word than uptight but that’s what I think of when you say they “gasped in disbelief” at what I see as pretty mild learning moments). Chalk this up to one more thing you learned at your internship, finding an internal culture that fits you better than this one did. On the HR team I’m a part of, we would have commended you on your Beyonce shirt and confirmed that it’s best not wearing it in the office as well as have gently ribbed you for the beer misunderstanding.

    Side note – 1+ for the Footloose reference! Don’t start dancing to that rock music.

    1. I'll say it*

      meanwhile I was like “is this not-21-year old going to have to go look up footloose on The Google??”

        1. Slytherin HR*

          I didn’t get through the whole thing but the dancing was better in the remake. For me, it lacked one crucial thing: Kevin Bacon.

  34. Princess Carolyn*

    OP, I’m so glad you wrote to Alison about this instead of internalizing so much negative self-talk over some truly minor incidents. Nothing in this letter suggests that you’re stupid or worthless. Heck, it doesn’t even suggest that you have ongoing poor judgment or that you’re incompetent, which are things AAM letters reveal about people all the time. You’re doing just fine.

  35. seejay*

    I went to a highschool that had a uniform dress code and in grade 12 I did co-op (worked half the day for credit for one of my classes, with the work being related to course). Some Fridays, we got dress-down day where we could wear normal non-uniform clothes, anything we wanted really. Well on a dress down day, I showed up in jeans and a short cut off tank top that showed my midriff. My teacher, who knew I had co-op work that afternoon, absolutely *refused* to let me go to work that day (it was in an office where I was supposed to be at least business casual). The jeans were bad enough, the midriff showing tank top was beyond pale. She made me call in and put me to work sorting papers in her office instead.

    That was one of the first, early lessons I had on “what not to wear” to work.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Yeah, my first job was in an industrial printing company in the 90s, when midriffs were bared regularly. I never did wear a crop top to work, but a coworker got sent home a crop tank. I did wear a tank top to present my senior design project in college, though. With khakis and Steve Madden sandals. WTF? Clearly, I’m embarrassed about that since I remember it almost 20 years later, but I was a married student and we had no money and I had no clothes.

  36. CM*

    So not a big deal! The only part of this that sounds like it’s worth a second thought is: “Towards the end of the internship, I felt that I wasn’t involved in any projects while the other intern asked for a job because she was so busy.”

    I think the OP needs to think about what the takeaway lesson is here. It’s NOT “I am a worthless failure.” But is it that the OP should have taken more initiative and asked for a project? That she should have put more time and effort into her other projects? That she should have communicated better with her supervisor about her workload?

    And then apply that lesson to the next job. But don’t worry about whether it reflects on your character. It doesn’t.

  37. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I get migraines and haven’t always managed them so well.

    At my first post college job on my first day one hit me like a freight train. Having had a whirlwind tour, I couldn’t precisely remember where the bathrooms were when the nausea arrived. I barely made it in the door before throwing up all over the floor.

    I ended up working there 5+ years.

    1. LSP*

      Fellow migraine sufferer here! You have my sympathies.

      When I was set to have my first phone interview with my current job, I got hit with a migraine and was forced to decide to either ask to reschedule the interview, take meds that made me loopy, or push ahead in spite of the pain. I chose the first option saying I was under the weather, apologized profusely and was able to reschedule. Fortunately, they were not in a huge rush to hire someone, and I was already gainfully and happily employed, so if everything fell through, I’d have still survived just fine.

  38. Marisol*

    The shirt thing was a win. You inadvertently packed a vulgar tshirt–anyone could do that. Then you caught your error and checked in with your supervisor about it. That’s exactly how the process is supposed to go. Your discernment actually saved you from making a faux pas, whereas plenty of people in your position would have dismissed the idea that they should ask their supervisor to weigh in, and subsequently embarrassed themselves. So instead of feeling ashamed I think you should feel more confident about your good judgement.

  39. Trash Panda*

    I interned (and work in) non profit animal care places, so slightly different professional norms than an office but I can assure you that as a 20 year old intern i did many terrible things. We lived on the property of the wildlife center I worked st, which makes some of these slightly more understandable.
    Things I did as an intern that make me cringe:
    1. My boss definitely noticed me smuggling about 6 cans of beer to my friend/coworkers cabin on my day off.
    2. Broke down crying in the surgery room due to being hungover, on the first day of my period.
    3. Accidentally referred to something as a “clusterfuck” to my boss
    4. Told one of the other interns to “get the fuck out of my face”
    5. Accidentally caused about 6 songbirds to escape from their cages and had to chase them around the center.

    Despite all of this, I got glowing recommendations from my bosses, Was invited back to intern again (for pay!), and am always welcome at that particular place. And my bosses there were not always the nicest people to work for! No one expects perfection from interns, especially when they are hiring 18-20 year olds!

    1. The OP*

      Wow Trash Panda! Sounds like you have a very cool job. Thanks for the insight. I get such good vibes from you (:

  40. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

    Neither of these errors are particularly memorable from someone else’s standpoint- the shirt especially, you asked for guidance, so it shouldn’t be a strike against.

  41. BananaPants*

    The shirt thing would have been interpreted as tone deaf in my workplace IF you had actually gone through with wearing it. I think it’s important to remember that you realized the mistake and asked about it. We have a corporate campus with an on-site gym and outdoor trails for hiking/walking. The corporate fitness center does have a dress code and that shirt would violate it; I suppose it would be OK if you were walking or running on the trails and only changing/showering at the fitness center locker rooms, but someone could still see it when entering/exiting the building.

    The drinking thing was a faux pas, but I think a relatively minor one. Frankly, an undergrad intern shouldn’t have been invited out to a bar unless it was clear that they were of legal drinking age.

    Neither of these would be such a horrible thing that it would blacklist you or keep you from getting hired in most workplaces. I’m guessing that if the other intern was getting good projects and tons of work, it comes down to differences in work product or the other intern showing more initiative (asking for work, etc.).

    1. FlibertyG*

      It’s interesting to me that so many posters here are saying the shirt is okay! For this workplace, it’s the middle finger that takes it out of the realm of appropriate. It would be considered profanity here, which is a no no.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        To me the difference is that the person depicted giving the middle finger is famous and also famous for being a classy person, which to me makes it into performance art. So in that rubric I can see where people wouldn’t consider it offensive. Especially as a work out shirt.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Living in a conservative area, I think some people here would consider any Beyonce shirt too political for work, regardless of the middle finger (like a Trump hat in a blue state). I wouldn’t say don’t wear a plain Beyonce shirt, but I think you have to be aware of the company culture and if you want to fit in or stand out for non-work things.

      2. KR*

        I think also that even if the shirt isn’t okay – OP didn’t wear it out on the run (and really, if it isn’t a run around the cubicle it isn’t all that scandelous) and they didn’t wear it to work as their normal outfit and think it was okay. I think the supervisor definitely over reacted.

  42. Havarti*

    Sometimes my brain is like an obnoxious radio DJ: “Can’t sleep? How about some memories? Let’s play all the f*ck-ups from 80s, 90s and today!” I have to remind myself frequently that what has happened has happened and cannot be undone. So I chalk it up to a learning experience and try to do better/be more aware next time. Everyone messes up. Including your boss. Bet she’s got some stories she hopes no one else remembers!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I found it helpful to make a commitment to doing better in the future and, oddly, that would help me let go of past embarrassment. Later I found out there is an explanation of sorts for that.
      Not being able to let go of past embarrassment COULD stem from a worry of making the same mistake again. Not everyone does this so this advice does not apply to everyone nor every situation.

  43. The Rat-Catcher*

    I don’t think I would be a culture fit at this office where you interned! Those extreme reactions to minor things would probably make me feel self-conscious even as a regular employee.

    1. The OP*

      It’s a sick shirt! Thanks! So sad that the woman who usually makes me feel empowered did the exact opposite… Just finding my balance, I guess.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        You are actually very empowered. You took a mistake and wrote AAM to find out how to process it.

        We get our power, in part, from the inputs of other people. Other people can sharpen us in ways that we would not otherwise learn. Always seek the inputs of other people whose opinion you respect. This will carry you through many things. It’s good personal life advice, also. Need a good doc? Talk to the people around you. Want to get your first dog? Talk to the people around you.

        One more thought, then I’ll shut up. I believe it’s how we handle crisis that can make or break the quality of our lives. While, I do not think you have a crisis here, I do understand that this is big in your mind. So you did the exact correct thing. You found Alison, decided you trust her and so you wrote her. Perfect. This is how to handle problems.

  44. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

    My skirt got stuck into my knickers and I showed my underwear to all my open plan office. I use knickers in flashy colors with patrons of flowers and little animals because I think is funny.
    They didn’t think so.

    That is a wardrobe malfunction. The beyoncé t-shirt is an anecdote.

    And I am only talking about this because of internet’s blessed anonimity.

  45. Nottingham*

    Speaking personally, I often have a short period of mild to moderate depression when a job ends. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on with you, but it can be a factor to consider for some people.

    For me, I think its partly the adrenaline of working at high speed wearing off, and some exhaustion setting in, and mostly a kind of grieving period for the people I liked that I won’t be seeing again, and a real loss (of routines, predictability, certainty, and sometimes of status) – which all gets especially bad if I have a period of unemployment.

    Thinking back, I noticed that loss of status especially badly with the jobs I had around my studies, because I was going from being recognised and treated as an independent paid adult back to more of a dependent child role as a student.

  46. SeePeaAye*

    OP, just think. You are getting all your missteps out of the way now. I didn’t have any internships, so all of my missteps and embarrassing moments were at my first job out of college. I look back now and cringe. You are not worthless or a failure, you are awesome! You are smart enough to get an internship and learn from your mistakes, so when you get a job after college you can go in and immediately be a rock star!

  47. BeautifulVoid*

    My story isn’t exactly the same, but I hope the takeaway at the end is helpful. Towards the end of my internship, there was A Major Event that was being planned/worked on basically the entire time I was there. Like, being delirious from the flu was one of the only valid excuses for not being there. In between the work day and the start of the event, I learned that my beloved grandmother had been horribly injured in a freak accident. (She passed away two weeks later.) My parents told me not to rush home, as she was stable at the moment and they knew all about Major Event. I sobbed to my boyfriend for about an hour, tried to pull myself together, and went to the event.

    After it was over (and everything went well), I was invited out to the bar with a group. There, I told my supervisor what had happened. He said “Sh!t,” shook his head, and dumped the rest of his beer into my glass.

    I then proceeded to get VERY drunk, with him footing the bill, in front of most of the department. At one point, I begged him not to tell anyone from my college, and slurred something like “omigod, what if (department chair) finds out about this? What if I fail and don’t graduate?” And so on. My supervisor looked right at me and said, “I’m not going to tell him. But even if he did find out, you know what he would say? So what, she’s human.”

    He was a good guy, and I learned a lot from him and that place. Up to and including that night. OP, if these are really the worst things that happened and your work was generally good, I think you’ll be just fine.

  48. BePositive*

    I’m over 40 now and I made so many errors of judgement in a professional setting that I lost count. Especially under age 25 :). It took time but I got over the embarrassment feeling as I became more polished with experience.

    You learned already and you will thank these experiences. Keep looking forward to your goal and these will fade from your mind over time

  49. Stop That Goat*

    I had almost exactly the same experience with the bar deal when I was 20 at a after work event at a bar. I was a bit mortified at the time but it was quickly forgotten. Miscommunication happens. I think you can be a bit kinder to yourself over these examples.

  50. Susana*

    OP, I wish I knew your name and whether you live in my city so I could take you to lunch and tell you that you are not only mistake-prone, but impressively attuned to *not* making mistakes. I agree with Alison that the T-shirt gasper way over-reacted (you didn’t suggest, for example, you were going to wear it to a client meeting!). I’m impressed you were even *thinking* about it – I see too many first-jobbers showing up in T-shirts and flip-flops. If you’re not getting projects you desired, well, maybe there’s another issue, maybe not. But please – don’t be so hard on yourself. Fondly, Someone Who Was You Once

  51. Jolie*

    Am I the only one who can’t help but think “Bloody hell, that boss of yours sounds like she has a big stick up her rear?”.
    This may be cultural, but the idea of treating the concept of underage drinking in moderation as a “pass the smelling salts” offense, especially coupled with drinking age of 21 instead of 18 or 16 is something I’m not very used to.

    1. Marisol*

      I had that same reaction and I’ve lived in the US my entire life. I wouldn’t give booze to a minor but I wouldn’t make a big fat shaming deal about it either. They could have just laughed and said no and moved on.

  52. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

    As someone who over thinks everything in life (hello anxiety!), I totally understand the feeling that the mistakes I made yesterday/last year/when I was 7 made something not as great as I wanted it to be. But most times, it doesn’t matter anymore. In my internship, I almost threw up on a congressman and I’m guessing no one cares, except possible that Congressman, as we are all human and have made some kind of mistake (or maybe not even a mistake but an awkward moment) in our lives. Sure, do I remember some of the more memorable moments of the interns I’ve had? Of course, but those don’t overshadow the time they’ve spent with me as I know we were all new to the workforce at some point.

    Also in regards to the other intern, sometimes someone just gets a better project and there isn’t always a reason behind that. Maybe they asked about it or seemed interested and that’s why they were chosen for a project, maybe they were just there at the right moment or maybe your supervisor thought they had a skill that they needed more.
    Also, I know that part of having an internship is learning and sometimes as a supervisor, I would forget that and just need to get things done and probably didn’t give as much time to growing someone’s skill as I was just needing to complete something. Don’t let this get you down as there will be lots of moments in your career where you may do way more embarrassing things and you’ll recover from those as well!

  53. Imsostartled*

    Ah, I’ve found my people as I’m also overly conscientious and was plagued by doubt/guilt in my twenties when I did something less then ideal. Like when I balled to my mentor after some harsh feedback from someone else during a poster presentation… Anyways, as a people pleaser/guilt feeler/too self-aware person I came to a point where I needed to separate work self from social self. At work I don’t take things personally, I don’t feel guilty after a slight mess-up, I seek and react appropriately towards critical feedback (meaning I don’t feel bad about myself, I just evaluate it, determine if it is valid and if so act on it in the future). I was always good at my work, but once I instituted this modified behavior I excelled. I really need to institute this in my personal life, but for some reason it’s harder to enact. I’m working on it though.

  54. J-me*

    The beer story reminds me a bit of my first lunch with my current team. My boss and her boss took me out to lunch. For some reason, I didn’t see the list of non-alcoholic drinks on the menu, and I wanted to see what kind of soda they had. When the waiter came by, I asked for “the drink menu.” My boss’ boss noticeably stiffened. When the menu came, it just included alcohol drinks (duh on me).

    Anyway, OP, the good news is that you sound introspective and interested in learning from mistakes. Those are skills that many people far older than you have not mastered. I think you’ll be ok! Good luck.

  55. MommyMD*

    You are very young. Don’t be so hard on yourself. People much older and experienced than you put their foot in their mouths. You have the very good character trait of self-reflection. Many people never develop it.

    You will do fine.

    1. Courageous Cat*

      Yep, as a reasonably longtime manager now, this is something I’ve learned is not as common as I thought it’d be: self-reflection on one’s mistakes. I’m reeeally hard on myself after making mistakes, and while it’s terrible in most ways, it’s also been a small part of what propelled me in my career because I had such a fear of messing up. But it amazes me how many people I’ve managed that are nothing like that! People who are totally incapable of reflecting on or learning from their actions. It’s less stress I’m sure, but it’s also not really a great thing – there has to be some balance.

  56. Elinor*

    During one of my early temp jobs, I was at a pretty conservative financial firm, and (stupidly) decided that my black jeans looked like dress pants because my top covered the pockets. Yeah. I know. Thankfully all I got was a gentle talking-to, but I know *exactly* how you feel. It’s one of those things that older employees will roll their eyes at you for, but mostly because they don’t want to share their own boneheaded stories.
    Live & learn, and some day you will have your own stories to tell your interns!

  57. Courageous Cat*

    These are things I totally would have done, and probably still will at some point. You can never know how people are going to react, and frankly, I think neither of things deserved even a second thought, much less a gasp! Please go easy from yourself, learn from my mistakes – and my mistakes are not the mistakes themselves, but the fact that I dwelled too much on them and used them as a springboard for future job anxiety. Your 20s are for figuring this stuff out, and that’s totally okay and even good.

  58. Luke*

    Yes, totally normal. These really don’t sound like something to be more than very slightly embarrassed about.

    I reckon his much acknowledgement would be enough to completely dispense with those: “Oh haha, whoops, how embarrassing, I won’t do that again. So anyway, about that report I was working on…”

    Your heightened concern isn’t an indication of how serious it was. It just shows that your spidey-senses are on extra high alert when it comes to work etiquette, and they’re learning/improving faster that normal in your early career. That’s a good thing!

    The good news: If that ends up being your biggest early career faux pas you’re in for an easy ride! The bad news: It won’t! Everyone makes bigger mistakes and you will too. So just follow the same pattern: admit/acknowledge – learn – breathe in – move on – and don’t beat yourself up!

  59. emma2*

    We have all made mistakes like these as interns/first-time workers. I could see myself misunderstanding the beer thing as well and then looking back and realizing what just happened. In fact, there is a whole open thread on this site about people relating mistakes they made early on in their career! I suggest looking it up and reading it to realize youre not alone. (Or can someone link it?)

  60. Landshark*

    If I’d made those mistakes during my internships and student teaching, I’d have been thrilled! I made some embarrassing, bumbling, and misguided mistakes that I’d love to go back and smack myself for making. Asking for feedback is great (I know I should’ve swallowed my pride and asked a long time before I did), but don’t sweat it. You’re in good company, if not ahead of some of us in that company!

  61. Insert name here*

    Ugh OP please don’t worry about it too much–definitely learn from your blunders but they are so so small in the grand scheme of things, seriously! And for the bar thing, I do find your boss’ comment odd. I went to a holiday party at my company when I co-oped and I was the only under-21 person there, and more than one person made comments that sounded like it would be okay if I had a drink (I didn’t though).

    Anyway we’ve all been there. i had an internship in college and stayed enrolled full time unlike the other interns and that was a bad idea. I drove: 20 miles to my internship, 30 or so across town for school, and then 20 back home every day…after a few months of that the sleep deprivation got the best of me and I found myself falling asleep at work (like in the IT closets), plus obviously my work wasn’t at its best, or my grades…they actually kept me for three rotations (a rotation was like a semester) so I guess I was performing well enough for that, but unfortunately, by the last rotation I was not-dealing with depression (basically meaning I realized that’s probably what was happening but didn’t want my parents to find out I was screwed up and thus didn’t want to get help–I realize how dumb that was now because I do think they would have understood and I had access to excellent health insurance) and one of my professors died and I basically just entirely shut down. This didn’t go unnoticed and at my end-of-internship review my manager mentioned how for the first couple rotations my work had been great and then totally fallen off…I couldn’t really argue with him at all. Plus my parents noticed my grades weren’t great and they didn’t really appreciate that either, which was fair enough since they were helping me pay for college. They weren’t like “you’re going to flunk” bad, but to me they were bad enough that they could have stopped helping me and I wouldn’t have blamed them.

    So anyway the point is…we’ve all made some maybe not great choices that seem huge at the time but years later are small in the rearview mirror. I know it doesn’t seem like that now, but it will reach that point, I promise! I did some other things too like referring to someone as a “chick” instead of a woman in front of my boss and some coworkers. I’m a woman myself so I guess I thought it was okay to do that? LOL…not so much. Obviously I wouldn’t do that now. They didn’t freak out but there were definitely raised eyebrows.

    Look at it this way too, you’ll have a second internship during your college years and now you know what not to do :) I was hired full time by my second internship, and worked there for eight years!

  62. The Supreme Troll*

    OP, please never, ever think that you are stupid or worthless. You have not displayed any behavior that would indicate a bad intern that could become a problematic employee. Believe me, the bar situation is nothing that you should give a second thought to or fret over. You are totally fine.

  63. The Supreme Troll*

    I know I’m very late to this, so my apologies here. But I just wanted to mention as an aside, the Beyoncé t-shirt might come across as a little too “in-your-face youthful rebellion”. I am several years older than you, so this is just my opinion, but you might want to avoid wearing clothing like that unless you are with a very close group of friends far outside of work.

    I am not trying to be harsh, and what you wear has no correlation on the level of quality work that you produce. It’s just that in reality, some co-workers or your superiors might (wrongly) see it as a sign of immaturity.

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