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Andrew KleinAfter applying to a multitude of internships, I finally found the ideal–paid and directly relating to my passion, environmental economics.  It came down to me and one other person but after a couple intense phone interviews I was not offered the position. I then hastily worked to find anything I could and found an unpaid internship in Washington DC. My sister lives in DC, which is nice, but was not too keen on working for what I thought was another trash company. At first, I was disappointed to have to work in a trash removal field and with no financial reward, but I quickly learned how rewarding the summer was going to be.

My internship was for a company called Grid Waste, a brand new online company with visions of sustainability and global clientele. Grid Waste, an online waste removal platform, was started by an entrepreneur named Walker Lunn. Walker is an intimidating, stern-faced, 30-something man who started two other businesses in the DC area. One of his companies, District Compost, is the largest of its kind located in our nation’s capital.

The internship position was titled “hyper-efficient sustainability liaison,” and was described as an entry-level leadership position responsible for organizing support for the sustainability mission of the company. In reality, interns were responsible for the establishment of a marketing campaign that would engage business owners and property managers for action towards sustainability, or simply put, to sign up for Grid Waste.

When I walked in on the first day I could tell that he sensed I wasn’t mentally ready to do the work I signed up for, and he was dead right. Still a little defeated from not being awarded either of my first two internship choices, I did not have the right mentality and it showed. As childish as this might sound, I was not ready to put in the work and the effort you must put forth to get a start-up company to start making waves. Grid Waste was still figuring out how to make people aware of our free service that mightily benefits them, if they take the time to use it. How did I get people to care about trash, when for the most part, I didn’t?

Simply put, Grid Waste is the “Expedia of trash”, and my job was to get small businesses, real estate professionals and property managers on to the website and using our service. Grid Waste can increase sustainability and save people money on trash removal by increasing the efficiency of haulers routes. The service is free to users and requires no commitment, so I thought it would be easy work, but it was not that simple. Many business owners care less about trash services because either the property manager runs waste removal, or it is just a small portion of their fixed cost.

Although I understand the importance of sustainable waste removal in our society, I was never passionate about the waste removal process.  As someone who has been an environmental activist for 3 years now, I know how important passion is when trying to persuade people. I lacked passion, and I lacked the desire to follow through. It was only until I signed my first couple of pizza shops that I realized, I was not only able to do this work, but it was kind of a thrill.

This turning point came from signing my first big account. Once I sat down with a DC property manager, whose waste removal bill was exorbitant to say the least, and explained how Grid Waste was a small commitment with a potentially large reward, he signed up! This made me feel like I was getting better at my job and making a difference for the company.

This internship gave me the confidence and skills to start my own marketing campaign, increase my communication skills, and taught me the importance of working hard and biting the bullet. The feedback I got from Walker upon finishing the internship was by far the best reward and so spot-on for my life. He told me that I needed one of the two following things, or for the best results, both. First and foremost, learn to follow through! Do the work in front of me, not because I care about it or I want to, but because I have to. Suck it up, and do it right in order to learn and grow from the experience. Secondly, find something that will keep my interest so that it never feels like work, and if I really want to succeed, do both and do them often.

This internship may never turn into a salary paid job, but what I learned about myself, and how to fix what holds me back will forever be rewarding both financially and intrinsically. The biggest thing for me was changing my attitude. Once I had a more positive attitude, the internship ran smoother and the work seemed easier. It might have taken me time to realize that, but hopefully for those reading, you can see that my greatest mistake was my attitude and expectations. So expect to put in work and know that in the end, you will be a better person because of it.