Over two months ago, I began a summer internship at Next Jump’s Boston office as a Business Development intern. One of the defining moments of my internship, however, came before it even started.
Back in March, I received the following email from Next Jump’s SVP and Co-Founder, Greg Kunkel:
Welcome to the Next Jump family. Enjoy the rest of your school year, and get ready to be challenged this summer – I hope that by the end, you’ll look back and be amazed at how much you’ve grown.
And now, with one week left before my internship comes to a close, I can still distinctly remember my initial reaction:
“It can’t be that challenging.”
I was sitting through the tail end of a riveting lecture on what I am sure was a very interesting topic and – naturally – was focusing solely on my professor when I accidentally hit the wrong button on my laptop and stumbled into my Inbox. I saw the email from Greg and, literally, did a double take – did one of the co-founders of Next Jump just email me?But, once I got past the initial shock and actually read his message, I dismissed Greg’s notions of “challenge” and “growth” pretty quickly.
Because, deep down, I was scared.
Most individuals resist change. At our very core, we are afraid to step outside of our “comfort zone” and take risks. Why try something new – something that we are not used to – if what we consider to be “routine” already feels comfortable? We grow so accustomed to cop-outs such as “I can’t,” “I don’t want to” and “It’s too hard” because we would rather settle for being “good enough” rather than try to do even more and risk falling short. And that was my mentality when I received the email from Greg.
Little did I know what was in store.
At Next Jump, there is a firm belief that one’s character is a muscle that can be exercised and strengthened. And, with some guidance from world-renowned performance psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr, Next Jump has created a Character Imbalance Worksheet that allows employees to evaluate whether or not they fall on the confident/arrogant end of the spectrum, or the humble/insecure end. Using side-by-side comparisons of different traits – speaking up versus listening, being aggressive versus being patient, and being optimistic versus being disciplined, to name a few – you are able to identify areas of imbalance in your own personality.
Next Jump also believes that your true character is fully revealed when you are under intense stress. At the point of immense pressure, individuals tend to revert to the behaviors with which they are most comfortable. But, when an individual’s character muscles are severely imbalanced, pressure situations result in poor judgment and overly confident or overly humble decisions.
When, during the first week of the internship, Greg gave a presentation to all of the interns on these character muscles and the aforementioned theories, I was terrified. I almost instantly realized that at that the point of optimal stress, I tended to shy away because I was afraid to fail. If I wanted to get the most out of my time and Next Jump, I was going to have to work to change that.
As I began to experience more and more of these pressurized scenarios, I was forced to identify my own areas of weakness and actually practice to improve them. Because I tend to have higher expectations of myself than I do of others, it was eye opening for me when I had the chance to practice coaching as captain of a team of full-time NxJers assigned to maintain and optimize daily kitchen operations. Because I have a tendency to be shy and listen, being able to practice speaking up when I started calling clients to pitch them on our product was a huge step forward for me. And because I am petrified at the prospect of public speaking, having to present in front of the entire company during the 10x intern competition was an amazing way to practice being courageous.
In my short time here as an intern, I have been thrust into more high-stress situations than I have in all three years of college. Each day that I stepped foot into the office, I was challenged to consciously change my tendencies and encouraged to improve myself. And, more than anything, I have learned that it is during those times of high-stress, when I am far outside of my element, that I experience the most growth; that I see and feel who I really am. Before Next Jump, I perceived a failure as a disaster; now, I see it as an opportunity for growth. Next Jump taught me to embrace failure; to train myself to actively seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them.
I have never seen a company approach problem solving in such an innovative way – one that is completely counterintuitive yet incredibly effective. To embrace failure as a way of learning – as opposed to fearing it – goes against everything we’re ever taught, from grade school all the way up through college. But it is such a vital way to learn; because to be afraid of failure is a failure in and of itself – a missed opportunity to grow. These past two-plus months, I have had the privilege of working, learning, eating, celebrating, dancing and growing alongside the same group of 33 very special individuals. To walk into a place and feel right at home is a profound experience, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have spent the summer interning at a company that wants you to be the best you can be and truly unlock your own potential.
So, what have I actually done this summer? Although I’m certainly not done practicing, I can confidently look back on my internship at Next Jump and know one thing for sure: I have been challenged, and I have grown.