To the liberal arts college student, the unpaid internship is a rite of passage. It opens up doors to the Holy Grail (a.k.a. earning them dolla bills). But when you’re balancing latte-fetching duties with a full course load, this stepping stone to future success can seem like a pretty miserable part of your life.
I wish there was an Internship Fairy who could wave a magic wand and make work seem meaningful and fun and awesome! If only that’s what interning meant…
Sometimes though – on very special occasions – you will find that despite the lack of pay, you are motivated to work at your internship. You look at your work and you know you want to be doing it – you don’t consider it as general drudgery, and that’s something!
1. You are in your ideal work environment
If you’re lucky enough to find a natural fit at your internship, then click your heels twice on your way home! You have it made! Some people like relaxed, laid back environments. Other thrive in creative chaos. You might prefer work communities where everyone mills about their business in a friendly way and everyone knows your name! And then, of course, there’s the quirky workplace. I remember interning at a start-up where they had giant Jenga blocks that we would play with during little breaks from work. That usually went on after our push-up breaks (we were aspiring to be the fittest company in the restaurant technology industry).
2. You get oh-so-many perks!
Sometimes you can convince yourself that this is better than getting paid! All your friends envy the fact that you get to shake hands with John Stewart or that you get free alcoholic beverages as part of your gig. The experience you get in an internship is valuable in the long-run, but it’s much easier to appreciate free stuff.
3. You get to occupy your time in a more meaningful way
What else would you be doing right now? You’re at a point in your life where most of your friends are seeking jobs and internships. And it’s nice to be busy with something that is more constructive than making your way through every Netflix original series. Throwing yourself into work is also a natural coping mechanism. Ideally, you’d be passionate about what you’re doing. However, if you just got out of a long relationship and you’re struggling to fill your new free time in a healthy way, going to your internship is a much more handsome alternative to openly weeping on your lawn in fetal position. (Not judging, that stuff happens…)
4. You are proud of your part in the company’s operations!
Three cheers for task significance! Making your way through the world and trying to fathom just how big it is, it’s easy to let yourself overflow with ennui and tell yourself you can never make a difference. That’s why it is surprising when your small part is appreciated by your coworkers and when you realize that you are a useful part of the team. Nothing kills your drive like facing an entire week of pointless stapling or collating. But when you get to work on small projects and to create a plan or product or conduct a research study – you’ll feel yourself beaming as you strut around the office. Yay for making a difference!
5. You can’t stop thinking about work after you leave for the day.
It’s one thing to show up, do your part, and go your separate way. When you become invested in the organization, you make it a part of your life. You’re wondering about how to solve problems with your work constantly and you never stop brainstorming new initiatives or ideas. These ambitions can be so lofty as to present changes to the business plan or they can be as simple as thinking of new ways to interact with people through Twitter or blogs. You may not even realize it but you told your roommates everything you did at the office today… thrice. Work makes you giddy and you crave work at your internship. I like to think of this (very lucky) occurrence as the equivalent of trying to learn a foreign language and waking up one day to realize that you can dream in that language.
6. You are being challenged in an environment where you can grow
This is the dream. More than once I have been excited by an internship opportunity and found the actual job rather boring or lackluster. When your role changes and your responsibilities grow, you’re being tested. Once you’ve proven to be a star intern that can get everything done, work stops being interesting. Switching things up will help you keep focus and gain momentum in your work. Ah! To be challenged and to see yourself step up to the plate and exceed expectations! What better feeling is there? Of course, it’s not just the company’s responsibilities to help their interns grow professionally and intellectually. It’s also kind of an you – you’re the one who will be doing the hard work after all!
At least it’s worth it!
But yeah… getting paid ain’t too bad either!