In my last internship I worked for a French real estate investor in London. I knew it was supposed to give me a taste of how working in the real world would feel, to get me prepared for the stress and responsibility and the inevitable office politics that come around once you find a real job after graduating from college, and even though I’d left positive feedback for the program that had set me up with the internship, I can’t help but feel like I’d betrayed my own feelings. I knew I was supposed to feel jazzed about having the opportunity to learn about finance in London, one of the great economic and cultural centers of the world. For a long time, as the initial luster of the job slowly waned, I would force myself to think about the positives, that 40 hours a week in front of a computer doing mind numbingly repetitive tasks was building the character and the experience to help me become a better candidate for future jobs. That consistently falling asleep at my desk after lunches was the result of my failure to remain engaged with work, rather than a reflection of the inherent monotony of the task at hand.
I denied the true negativity I’d started feeling for the job to affect how I wanted to feel. Around the half way through the internship, I began to confront these feelings, the feelings that the placement program tried so hard to convince students to ignore. That this internship was complete bullshit. No pay, heavy hours, repetitive tasks, no office community. I could tell that my one other co-worker from Arizona felt the same way, but he similarly chose to “bear it and grin”, surfing the web generously when he could, and suggesting we take longer lunch breaks. And we did; a few times we would walk to a pub for lunch and got buzzed enough to get us through the next four hours of cold calling and square footage comparisons. During the last week of the internship, our balding, French managing director thanked us for all the hard work, apologized that he didn’t “take us out to happy hour or something”, and wrote us generic, identical reference letters. That was it.
It’s only now, three months after graduating from college and unemployed, that I’ve had the leisure to consolidate my thoughts about the experience, and it’s only now that I’m learning to follow my gut feel. If there’s a reason you have to “grin and bear it”, chances are there’s underlying negativity that’s forcing you to take a position of forced positivity. To a certain extent it’s important, and even valiant, to push through during difficult times, but for me, I’ve learned that resigning myself to unhappiness for the sake of a reference letter, resume material, or a pay check is ultimately a disservice to my own well-being. At a critical junction in my life as a recent graduate, I’m finding value pursuing my interests and taking the time to enjoy life. For the time being, I feel no rush to apply to jobs that I know I don’t have much interest in because I’m already doing the things I enjoy; I read, I write, I learn about photography and I volunteer at an animal shelter. I feel better knowing that my choices are going to give me more satisfaction in the long run, and for that, I have everything to thank for shitty summer internships.