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How the worst internship in the history of corporate America helped me break into Hollywood

Source |Linkedin .com  |  BY:Mike Farah, Chief Executive Officer at Funny or Die

As an executive in Hollywood, one of the questions I get asked the most is how to break into entertainment. But the best advice I can give has nothing to do with entertainment.

It comes from a medical supply company in Deerfield, Illinois, called Baxter Healthcare, and what must’ve been the least successful internship in the history of corporate America. Mine.

It was the summer of 2000, and I had just finished my junior year at Indiana University, where I was majoring in finance because IU had a good business school and it seemed like the responsible thing to do. Also, all my friends were doing it.

They also all had summer internships at prestigious-sounding companies, which is more or less why I decided I needed one too. That, and the nice lady at the Kelley School of Business Placement Office told me so.

Things at Baxter started off just fine.

I was in a finance group that oversaw various medical products in North America. I had my own cubicle, I had my own spreadsheets – I felt like a real businessman!

This feeling lasted less than a day. Don’t get me wrong – everyone I worked with was nice, generous with their time, and smart. I knew I was fortunate to even have this opportunity, something hundreds of other students had applied for.

But I just couldn’t wrap my head around this job. As responsible as I knew it was, as much as I knew it made sense, at the end of the day – and at the beginning, and in the middle – all I was doing was staring at a spreadsheet of sales projections for catheters in Canada.

Confounding my situation, every other intern LOVED it at “Old Man Baxter,” as I took to calling my company. They couldn’t get enough of the meetings, the team building, and the suburban lunches at the many Panera Breads nearby, which I’ll admit were relatively tasty. I was a complete outsider in this world.

I kept up a good front for the first few weeks. I got by with the help of a few friends from home, playing lots of basketball, and watching the sunsets that always seemed to explode in orange and magenta across the Deerfield sky, a sunset so stunning that God had to be saying, “Look, I know life out here sucks, but here’s a ridiculously beautiful sunset every single night to make it slightly less painful.”

But by week five, I couldn’t fake it anymore. I totally checked out. I spent most of my time ignoring my spreadsheets, instead making a website for my department with pictures of our group and fun facts about everyone’s families and pets. I finished it, showed it to people, and it was promptly forgotten.

The last week of the internship, there was a lunch reception for all the interns where most department heads gave their interns gifts.

I’ll never forget the look of the girl at the table over from me, raising a brand-new toaster triumphantly in the air.

All I got was the standard end-of-summer evaluation from Human Resources.

It’s been seventeen years, but it’s hard to forget phrases like “lacks initiative,” “did not contribute,” and “did not demonstrate any level of competence.”

The lady who handled my evaluation had probably met with thousands of interns before me. She was professional, matter-of-fact, and basically told me I was the worst intern in the history of Baxter Healthcare – a fact later confirmed when I found out I was the only intern out of thirty not to receive a job offer.

I sat in her office, taking it all in. I couldn’t argue with the assessment. I hated that place, and I felt like I was on the edge of a breakdown. I told her if that this was the type of job a business major had to take, I’d never know what to do with my life.

But then something special happened. In a matter of a second, she went from all-business to real concern and genuine empathy.

She looked at my resume. “Since you hate this job, what job did you like?”

Immediately I started telling her about my summers working as a camp counselor – years ago, back in high school. Leading kids, having fun, playing sports, causing trouble. After a summer of being broken down by Old Man Baxter, I came alive telling old stories about my favorite campers.

She stopped me, and cut right to the core. “You see how you are right now? You’re smiling. You’ve been smiling the whole time you’ve been talking about it. If you follow that smile, you’ll know what to do with your life.”

It was a small moment, but she changed my life.

Suddenly, I knew exactly how to break into Hollywood – and I hadn’t even decided to move there yet. I had to stop worrying about what everyone else was doing, stop making decisions based on what was practical or responsible, and start following my passion. Start following my smile.

That’s exactly the advice I give to people now when they ask me how to break into entertainment. Breaking in doesn’t come from chances other people give you. It’s not about who you know or the connections you have. It comes from following your smile.



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