Was that brilliant?

As an intern, I’m always trying to make a good impression. Even in a small office that is mostly young people (under 40), I want to do a good job and pull my weight. That’s the think about being an intern – you have to prove yourself. I work for an organization that has three offices – DC, Boston, and New York. Plus a handful of employees working remotely from other locations. So there are many people who are just names to me, without a face to match. We chat by phone and over conference calls. I get their e-mails, but that’s it.

The chance to attend the all-staff day retreat this week was such a great experience.¬†As an intern, even a paid one, you don’t expect too many perks from the summer experience – like travel. Last week, all the full-time employees went to Chicago for a conference while the interns endured the grueling heat and elevator break-downs back at the office. But yesterday, some of us lowly interns had the chance to go to the all-staff retreat….in Boston!

It was only for a day. We flew out at 6:00 am and back in at 11:00 pm. I’ve never taken a day trip that involved flying back and forth in one day. I spent the whole time thinking I had forgotten things since I didn’t have to pack anything beyond my usual purse. It was a very weird feeling to go through security with so little.

Once I was there though, I realized how careful I had to be. I once heard a quote from a lawyer who said that when he walked into his first board meeting as a junior partner, his senior associate told him to “only speak if it is brilliant.” While that might be a little extreme, in general I’ve found it to be a good – if stressful – rule. While I may offer up a quick opinion in the office, when the CEO and 22 other employees are in the room, I’m careful to phrase my words in the best manner possible.

And to be brilliant. The problem is that its really hard to be brilliant. Unless you have a genius for witty comebacks or erudite references, the rest of us are left with striving for semi-brilliance. Somewhere in the middle of the first few hours, I realized that if I restrained myself to brilliance, I may not get to speak! And even though I’m not a full-time employee and “just an intern,” that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be able to share. I offer a different perspective that is valuable. That senior associate had it wrong.

In the middle of a deep discussion with the person sitting next to me about how to avoid created bloated bureaucracies and sustain organizations committed to social change – a discussion that involved an elaborate marshmallow, toothpick, basketball, string metaphor – I realized that maybe I wasn’t being brilliant, but at least I was being articulate.

So I’ve set a new standard – articulate. And maybe “not stupid.” It might not be brilliant, but at least I get to talk more. And that is important.