Chapter 8. My First (Lucky) Break

  • My challenge: Someone signed an internship offer for me by mistake
  • My choice: Be frightened by this new world or make the most of it
  • Vulnerability side of the story: I know nothing of this “white” world

I am reading for my Bachelor’s degree. Everyone needed to look for a summer internship. I am 19, studying Marketing and Sales. My mom and most of my family are civil servants in hospitals. My dad is on the other side of the planet and tells me, “if someone asks what your dad does for a living, say that you do not know” (in hindsight I realize that this may make my dad sound like an international criminal – more about my dad in a different chapter). I have no clue where to look for an internship and i have 0 “connects” to put in a good word on my behalf. 

Luckily while talking to my friend, it comes up that her mom works in HR at a prestigious company in Paris. So I give her my CV, and luckily I get that internship. Fast forward to my first day. I show up to the regional HQ of that company—an impressive old building in the heart of Paris. This is my first day; I am super nervous. I ring the bell, the door opens. I introduce myself to the receptionist, “Hi, I am Claude. Today is the first day of my internship”. She asks me a few questions like “who are you meeting with” etc… but I can not answer. I have never met the person I am supposed to intern with. There was no interview. She makes a few phone calls. Minutes are passing. Clearly, something is wrong, but I barely notice it. This is my first internship in a big company. At some point, they ask for my papers, and I remember hearing her say, “the documents are signed by [name of someone important]”. Some more time passes by. They are very polite the whole time. Eventually, an elegant man comes to the reception and lead me upstairs. Just like that, I meet my boss.  

“thank you for taking me on board and mentoring me through the internship and beyond. You had an amazing impact on my life, and thanks to you, I am where I am today”

That person changed the course of my career I can not remember his name. Shame on me, because I would so much like to tell him, “thank you for taking me on board and mentoring me through the internship and beyond. You had an amazing impact on my life, and thanks to you, I am where I am today”. I am not writing these words lightly. It would have been easy for him to ask me to do photocopies and other random light office tasks. Instead, he let me come to meetings with him. I saw how people behaved, how they thought before and after sessions. I remember one of the leaders saying, “do you realize the combined IQ of all the people in that meeting” or another time I remember visiting the intelligence division of that company. They kept an eye on competitors. One of the managers told me how she would pretend to be a student researching for a master’s paper and gather the information that way. FASCINATING! I never knew of this type of career. I never knew that in meetings, some people might be more interested in how smart they sound than solving a problem. 

The whole time I am sure that I was the only Black person. Surprisingly I do not remember feeling uncomfortable about it. There was so much to learn on the human side. Moreover, this is the first time I was feeling pushed upward. My mentor would always talk about “the best”. What do you want to do after your Bachelor’s? Sales? Here are the top 3 Sales school in the country. Go for it. I never really aspired to the best. I wanted good. Because good was better than 90% of the people I knew. And also, do I believe I am better than 90% of the people I know? Now I realized that was the wrong question. I do not think of being more intelligent than the average Joe/Jane. What made the difference was someone believing in me and showing me a path.

What’s crazy is that if it were not for that boss signing my internship papers by mistake in this prestigious company, I would not have met this mentor who unleashed my potential. This is what bothers me most… So many people looking like me have potential, yet they rarely get the opportunity.