Many of you should be starting your summer internships soon and we already gave you some advice on how to be a rockstar intern. I, however, think that’s easier said than done. I’ve had 5 internships (6 if you count the one I did during high school), I’m not humble bragging so much as letting y’all know that I am an “experienced intern.” I’ve been at big magazines and small. I learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of.
For example, I interned at an INCREDIBLY SEXIST newspaper in NYC. Not only was this paper sexist, it was very pretentious and patronizing toward its interns. If you were a girl you’d be told things like, “If you want to be a real writer you can’t spend all your time doing your nails!” But if you were a guy, you were immediately given an in, better assignments and invited to hang out. We were expected to go to school full time and turn out well-reported articles in very short periods of time. The staff was very negative, clearly overworked and unresponsive to us. We were routinely berated for not extending ourselves, not volunteering our ideas then when we did we were promptly ignored. We were clearly just there to do the work the company couldn’t afford to pay real writers to do. It was a very stressful experience and it bruised my ego a bit. Any effort I made went unacknowledged and because I was interning there and at another magazine, I was a full time intern, a full time student, and a senior working on her thesis without any source of income. STRESS.
Besides learning that sexism in the workplace is very real in some offices, I learned that I could deal with different personalities and that I stress-eat like a motherfucker. Most of all, I learned that if this is what being an intern is like then getting a job was going to be an uphill battle.
Workplace dynamics and expectations of interns are different in every office. I think you have to quickly pick up on those dynamics or you’ll get left behind. I realized, as an intern, I didn’t make much of an impression. After every internship I didn’t feel like the editors I worked for were people I could reach out to ever again, I felt like I could have done more, spoke up more, that I had did everything they had asked well but that I didn’t have much of an impact on anything.
My final internship was at a great online publication and it was the internship that I had that was closest to the kind of writing I wanted to do. I was excited and the staff was great and funny and it was a huge relief after my previous experiences. But my ego was still a bit bruised and I was too quiet, too scared of messing up, too scared of not leaving an impression, of stepping on someone’s toes, of finding out, again, that if I extended myself I’d just be ignored or rejected. I psyched myself out so bad the first couple of months I was there.
It was like someone kept throwing this ball at me and it was a great throw, and it would have been so easy to catch for anyone else, but I just kept dropping it. It didn’t feel like myself and every mistake I made just made me mess up more the next time. Nothing was difficult, I just wasn’t performing because I wanted to do well so bad.
Then I was called out on it. It was bizarre because it felt like the first time in a long time that I had ever “gotten in trouble” and it was also the first time I felt noticed as an intern. I was terrified and told that I needed to shape up. Worst of all, I was told that I didn’t seem like I “wanted this” or that I “cared.” That was a huge blow because I cared so much. Just to clarify, my supervisor wasn’t being mean she was being honest about my performance, which was just a mess. I was a mess. But I had to accept the challenge. I was determined to shake myself out of my ironically miserable comfort zone and just do a damn good job.
In editorial meetings instead of being scared of speaking out of turn, I volunteered my ideas no matter how stupid I felt like they were. It’s better to try and fall then not try at all. I pitched ideas and I volunteered to do assignments, instead of just assuming that they wouldn’t want some intern to do it. I showed them that I could use Photoshop pretty good and this allowed me to do assignments that other writers couldn’t do. I tried my best to be a part of the team instead of a scared intern on the outside. It was not easy, I second guessed myself the whole time.
It was hard for me to come out of my shell or even convince myself that I was good enough to do the job that I had always dreamed of doing but I forced myself to fake it until I made it. Half way through my internship I was asked to switch from 2.5 days to 5 days a week, then when my internship period was over, I was asked to stay again. It felt great, my co-workers were encouraging, thoughtful and just cool to work with. I can only hope that everyone gets a chance to intern at a place like that at least once.
After 9 months of interning there, they weren’t able to hire me and it was a bummer because I just loved to be there. What they did do is help me get this job. My editors gave me tips and glowing recommendations, it felt really good. When the editor position opened up here, I was recommended, got an interview, did my edit test and here I am.
I guess the point of this post is that I know how frustrating, defeating and harsh internships can be. However, I think there is value in them, especially in my field where you have to have internships. (Which is incredibly problematic because most students can’t afford to work for free, I worked, interned and went to school most of the time.) There is definitely something to be said about faking it until you make it, as long as you can deliver, and stepping out of your comfort zone. It took me a hell of a lot of tries to go from being mediocre to being employed. Stick it out. Don’t give up. And work work work. (Then twerk.)