chateaus and ceos

the summer i lived with my boss

Normal intern life: going to work in an office building and then going home either to your sublet or your parents. Intern life with the JWD Enterprises Inc.: learning to live in the same house as your boss.

This summer I decided to learn the family business. I worked as an event management intern for JWD, a diversity marketing company. The event I worked with specifically was the Martha’s Vineyard Harlem Fine Arts Show, a show featuring various types of fine art—including jewelry, quilts, sculpture, and canvas art—from the African Diaspora. During the show I passed out promotional information around the island, registered attendees, and helped sell art. From August 3rd to the 17th, I bunked with my co-interns and bosses in a 10-person mansion in Martha’s Vineyard, MA.

Staffing an Art show taught me a lot of people skills. Registering people required patience to deal with unreliable technology and disgruntled adults. Passing out flyers and booklets about the show to vacationers and residents involved walking around town for a few hours and talking to people. Selling art was a little bit more difficult. My knowledge of African Diasporic art was minimal, and I needed to know enough about the painting and artists to get people interested in the works.

The tricky part of interning with JWD was figuring out how to live with my coworkers and bosses. Our house was up island in the middle of farms: 15 minutes from both Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, popular towns on Martha’s Vineyard. Celebrities, politicians and other vacationing dignitaries usually stayed up there. Obama’s compound was close to our house. Although our isolated mansion was spacious, after a few days it became very small very quickly.

Moving in, and the first few days were tricky. Office relationships between coworkers proved only superficial. Quirks were quickly discovered. The founder and CEO of the show became obsessed with having a fire in the fireplace every night. Each night he got a coworker and me to go into the shed and gather logs. No one could convince the boss that mid-August nights were too warm for a fire, so we endured the heat.

The first argument between a coworker and her superior happened the second day of the show. The CFO thought this coworker did not listen to his directions, and they spent much of our remaining time on Martha’s Vineyard arguing about my coworker’s attitude. Imbalances of power meant my coworker had to deal with all the annoying habits of her superior silently, while she had to adjust her way of life to please her boss.

A challenging time of day in the house was after dinner, around 8 pm, when people wanted to watch television. Because there was only one working television in the house, we all shared the living room to watch movies and different shows. However, trying to find something that everyone liked became difficult. The CFO, in particular, had picky taste. One night we went through every available movie option for him only to tell us that he did not even like movies all too much.

Now, being a good employee meant not only getting my work done, but also making my bed, making food during the day, and helping clean up around the house. If I showered for a long time in the morning or hogged the television at night, then I might be considered a bad intern as well as housemate. Boundaries between work and home personalities blurred. I had to be amenable to work with and a decent roommate at the same time.

Quickly, I learned how to troubleshoot problems before they festered. When my roommate’s clothes started encroaching on my space, I let her know before it got out of hand. Avoiding conflict became trickier, though, when dealing with someone in a higher station. Tact became highly valued. Rephrasing my opinions so that they didn’t sound confrontational proved successful. Instead of arguing with one of my bosses about where boxes were suppose to be moved, I would show them text messages detailing instructions I was given by someone else.

Even though I gained useful skills in dealing with difficult people and was able to see a more human side of the people I worked with and for, traveling with a job destroyed the boundaries between work and home life that I value. Next summer, I would rather work in an office building the entire time.