How to Excel at an Internship as a Single Mom | Aurimar Ortiz’s Experience from Intern to Full Time at Aaron Stewart Home
Ever since I started this Intern Diaries series, I've been on a mission to find hard working interns who have an inspiring story to tell about their experiences. So far, you've all loved Paola from Letras con Tacones' experience working at Elle Magazine in New York City and Kiara Hernández experience going from intern to full time at L'Oreal Puerto Rico's PR firm. They're all amazing experiences of how hard work and determination early on, can be a great getaway to accomplish your career goals.
So when Fernando Rodríguez told me about Aurimar's journey at Aaron Stewart Home, I knew I had to feature her in this series. She interned at ASH for about a month, then went on to work part time and ended up being a full time employee.
But to give you a little preview of the interview, she didn't only did a complete 360 career change from working as a restaurant manager to working as a licensed Interior Designer at Aaron Stewart Home, but she has done her entire career journey while taking care of her little girl Sofia, as a single mom! And did I mention she passed her license test in the first try?!
I'm so happy I get to share Aurimar's inspiring story today, March 8, International Women's Day. I hope you enjoy and learn about this interview as much as I did!
BONUS: If you're interested in applying for an internship at ASH, stick through the end of this post for instructions.
ME: What was your career goal as a kid?
AO: Honestly, I always wanted to be an astronaut, which has absolutely nothing to do with design!
ME: So how did you end up studying Interior Design?
AO: My interest for design started while doing my undergrad in humanities at the University of Puerto Rico. I had some friends that were studying Interior Design at the UPR, Carolina Campus, so I decided to go ahead and give it a try. I really didn’t even look for information, it was more of an impulse decision. I changed concentrations and once I was there, I knew this was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!
ME: What made you switch majors from Humanities to Interior Design?
AO: I liked the history part of Humanities, but I was way more inspired by everything that had to do with culture and fine arts.
ME: Did you always have your bedroom decorated like a magazine?
AO: Yes! Definitely. I loved organizing my drawers and color coordinating in rainbow patterns. I always tried to find the design aspect behind organization. I also loved doing collages, and I drew a lot as a kid.
In Puerto Rico you are taught interior design drawing by hand first. So that was perfect for me. I love drawing!
ME: You had your little girl during college, as a 21 years old. What was your biggest challenge?
AO: The biggest challenge was finding the energy and the time to finish my degree. Also, there’s a lot of cruel people that are quick to judge you and assign you the “failure” label once you become a single mom at a young age. But I learned no one can define me. I am the only person who can decide what I’m capable of accomplishing at my own terms. No one can decide that for me.
ME: How did you balance school and taking care of your kid at the same time?
AO: I had to make a mind set shift before anything else. School became my second priority and my baby my first priority. I was able to make it because I was very organized with my time and I had a very clear goal in mind.
When I thought I couldn’t keep going, I would get back in focus by meditating on my goal and visualizing myself accomplishing it. What really helped me balance it all was my mental state and attitude towards it.
ME: What did you end up getting a degree in?
AO: I ended up completing an Associate’s Degree in Interior Design at the San Juan School of Interior Design at E.D.P. University. Since I already had my associate's degree and already had a lot of Humanities credits, I was able to apply for the Interior Design License exam right way. I’m really proud to say I passed it in the first try because I worked really hard for it!
I’m currently finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design at the San Juan School of Interior Design. I will finish in May 2018, because even though I only have 6 classes left, I want to take it easy. I already have a full time job and the license! Nevertheless, I really want to have a Master’s degree in Project Management or Sustainable Design some day!
ME: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
AO: I worked in customer service for seven years and oh boy! I learned life is tough. But seriously, I learned a lot about patience during those years. One of the most important things I learned was how to cope with different personalities at the same time.
When you are serving a customer, you could simultaneously be dealing with someone who is super nice, but you could also be dealing with someone who is not having a great day. You have to learn to cope with both of them at the same time. I use those lessons everyday, not only in my career, but in my personal life.
ME: What was your first real job in design?
AO: I literally went from being a manager at a restaurant to being an intern at Aaron Stewart Home. It was such a complete change from what I was used to!
Once I graduated, Margaret Diaz, the president of the Colegio de Decoradores y Diseñadores de Puerto Rico (CODDI) called me because she had recommended me for an internship position at ASH.
ME: How was your first day as an intern at Aaron Stewart Home?
AO: It was very fast paced and it was a lot of information to take in. I would write everything down no matter how insignificant it seemed, so I could go back and revisit my notes if I needed them.
I went from receiving 2 emails a day to receiving a hundred in one day. It was definitely a lot of pressure! But the ASH Team was really supportive of me. Their policy is always: if you have a question, ask! They are always willing to teach you. They don’t expect you to know everything, they just want to know you're interested. I’d rather ask 10 questions about what my boss wants done than do it wrong and waste everyone’s time.
ME: What did you imagine that your first day as an intern at ASH was going to be and how was it different?
AO: I thought it was going to be really easy, pretty and colorful! But what goes on behind the scenes is a lot of hard work, sweat, stress and pressure. It’s all about the details. Like for example, you look at something like wallpaper and you think it’s simple. But no! It takes hours to complete that. First, you match and pick out a wallpaper. After that, you have to find out if it’s available, order it, and if it’s not, sometimes you may have to wait three months for it. Then, you have to pick it up, find someone to install it, but if they install it wrong, you need to go ahead and order it again! There’s a whole behind the scenes that happens inside designing a space.
ME: What was your biggest challenge during your internship at ASH?
AO: I would say staying on top of everything. There were a lot of things going on at the same time, while I was learning how to organize my calendar, schedule and thoughts, literally!
ME: Did you ever imagine yourself working at ASH?
AO: For an entire year I visualized myself working for a big designer in Puerto Rico, so when it happened I was like BAM! Law of attraction! This is what I was looking for and it actually happened.
ME: How was your internship experience while having your little girl?
AO: Wow! While my little girl was in preschool, I was working at the restaurant as a manager some days and then working at ASH the other days. I would go out to look for her in school at 2PM to drop her at my mom’s and come back to my internship until 6PM. It was not an easy schedule! But thankfully all of that has changed.
You need to have determination to do this. A lot of people would give up! Without the help of my friends and family, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I owe them that and so much more!
ME: How did you learn to organize yourself?
AO: I have binders with sections subdivided by to-do lists, with files that I need on hand for each day and divided by project. I also have my daily planner that I take with me everywhere like it’s my cellphone. I also use my phone’s calendar to let the team know about my schedule.
It’s important to know that you’re not perfect and that at some point you’re going to get disorganized. But you have to set out a day of the week to take care of it, go back and put whatever you messed up, back to the way it was!
ME: What would you recommend other students that would like an internship in the interior design field and how can they excel at it?
AO: I think that you have to face your fears, specially if it’s your first internship or real job. Even though you might not even know what’s going on, there’s going to be a lot of insecurity, but you have to look past that and do it! Be fearless of what you want.
Also, you have to be willing to do what you have to do! Stop putting excuses.
ME: What are your tips towards finding a dream internship?
AO: I used to think that this internship came to me by luck, but the truth is I was a really hard working student and I was referred by a professor because of that.
In any moment you could make a connection with someone who could help you. That’s why it’s so important to keep good relationships with as many people as you can. You never know when you’re going to see them again!
ME: Describe a normal day as an intern at ASH?
AO: Everyday was different. But one example could be arriving at the office, having a status meeting at 9AM and then it was time to go out and find sources for faucets, furniture, and delivering store merchandise to our clients. It was all behind the scenes the design process. I was helping everyone in the team!
ME: What is the difference now that you’re a full time employee?
AO: Now I have responsibilities that are set and I have projects that I’m in charge of. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I keep assisting anyone that needs my help around the day.
ME: What was your biggest lesson once you finished your internship?
AO: Once they made me full time I had to leave the job I was working at. It was super scary since I was very comfortable where I was, and I had a lot of experience there. But it was 20 thousand times worth it. So my biggest lesson was learning to step out of my comfort zone.
ME: What was your favorite part of your internship experience?
AO: The team work dynamic and the open door policy. If you felt uncomfortable about something, there was no problem in saying it. We are a support system!
ME: What advice would you give a student who is going to start an internship at ASH?
AO: Don’t take anything personal, work hard and watch your attitude. Attitude is everything!
ME: Have you ever been a victim of mommy shaming for being a working mom? If that’s so, how did you manage it?
AO: Of course! Not everyone is capable of respecting you when they have different ambitions than yours. A lot of people don’t get it and that’s why I don’t take it personally. Everybody has their own path and goals to accomplish.
The only opinion that really matters to me is my daughter’s. That’s why we constantly talk about this topic, and I explain to her the importance of fighting for your dreams. But most importantly, I make sure that our time together is quality time, without interruptions.
I make sure to let her know that her opinions and her emotions matter to me and that’s how we come across agreements together. That’s all that matters to me. If others don’t understand it, that’s completely out of my control, so I don’t even take it into consideration.
ME: Puerto Rico is going through a tough economic recession, so there’s a lot of people advising others not to waste time in artistic careers. What advice would you give someone who is pursuing a creative career but is overwhelmed by all the negativity?
AO: If you focus on what’s going on around you instead of what you want, you’re going to be going back and forth trying to please everyone your whole life. If you have a passion that you know you want to do, go for it even if the odds are against you! If you feel in your heart that’s what’s going to make you happy and you’re willing to work for it, life will give you all the tools you need to make it work.
If you listen to everyone’s opinion you will never do anything!
ME: Many women think that after having kids, their dreams are put aside, but clearly this hasn’t been your case. What advice will you give other single moms?
AO: What better example could you give your kids than following your dreams, working hard, never giving up, not been mediocre, not settling and to keep fighting to make a personal change? Those are life’s biggest lessons. Here is my advice:
- Make a support system of family members, friends and even support groups where you can find help and good advice.
- Read. Educate yourself by looking for information about educating your child and about not only being a parent, but a happy human being.
- Look for your passion and practice it. Do what makes you happy and let your kid see you being happy.
- Look for people who motivate you and are good examples for you and your kids.
- Last but not least, stop feeling guilty because you’re taking time for your own personal development. Kids learn to be happy and independent by watching you. The best lesson you can give your kids is to show them how to be a perseverant person and to live life with enthusiasm and purpose.
Interested in being an intern at Aaron Stewart Home? Keep reading.
- Are you a visionary?
- Do you have the skill of looking beyond your assigned tasks?
- Are you willing to give your all?
- Can you multitask projects?
- Want to be a part of a fast paced environment?
- Can you see yourself being part of the future of Aaron Stewart Home?
If you replied yes to all of the questions above, send your resume to email@example.com. Good luck!