“What do you want to be when you grow up?” When we are children, we are asked this question excessively. Then we become adults, and we still haven’t found the perfect answer. Perhaps the answer is evolving, changing as the world does around us. The many options can be overwhelming, too. Internships provide a great opportunity to learn about some of these options and helps you to hone in on what you really want to do, while also offering experience in different fields. Here are four lessons I have learned from my four internships:
#1. Internships are a place to learn.
Freshman year of college, I was eager, ambitious and ready to take on the world! I was ready to be a journalist, or so I thought. In my eager pursuit, I began my first internship with the school paper. I discovered a lot of new things about myself, one of which being how stressful I found writing articles to be. That semester challenged me in ways that I did not even realize were possible.
My experience as a journalism intern allowed me to learn and improve my writing. It also taught me how to deal with deadlines under pressure and patience. I was forced to learn how to extend grace to myself. Starting the internship, I had this expectation that I would blow everyone away with my talent and ability. This unrealistic expectation only added personal stress and revealed my prideful thinking. An internship is a place to learn, to work hard and to grow. Your employers do not expect you to know everything when you begin.Learning from the internship doesn’t always mean you have to you will love your internship. I was a journalism intern for a semester, in that time, I realized that I did not want to be a journalist or even a writer. The writing experience I gained from my time with the paper has helped me in later internships and in my school work. The life experience that I gained has taught me how to handle stress, how to ask questions, and how to be honest with my struggles. Fortunately because of my internship, I was able to change my major in college without having to take more classes.
#2. Internships help reveal what is important to you.
My second internship was with at a nonprofit organization. I was a development intern, and I focused fundraisers, community engagement and donors. Part of my job was to write thank you notes to our donors. When I first started doing this task, I did not really understand it. Why not just type a single base letter, change the name, and send them out? My handwriting was nothing special, nor was the handwriting of my boss, who was also hand-writing thank you letters weekly. There are lots of reasons to write thank you notes. Handwriting postcards or letters give the message a memorable touch that will connect you to your donors and clients.
Working in an organization that valued this personal connection with its donors and clients helped me to see that this was something important to me. I began to see the importance of this simple act. While working with this nonprofit did not give me a clear “I know what I want to be when I grow up” answer, it gave me direction. I know that I want to work with a business that takes time to do things the right way and values people. I learned about what kind of work that I would like to pursue and personal ways that I can say thank you to those who help me as I am working, if that would be in the professional or nonprofit world.
#3. You don’t have to take every opportunity that you are offered.
My third internship was not a bad experience, but it was also an experience offered less benefit than the others. I worked for another nonprofit, but by this time, I knew that I was not interested in nonprofit work. I was really just looking to gain more experience anywhere I could find it. While, again, the internship itself was not a bad internship, it was not one that pushed me to grow.
If I were to do things differently, I would decline the offer to work here for a few reasons. One, it was an unpaid internship and they were asking me to work more hours than I was initially interested in. Two, it was not in the industry I wanted to work in. And three, it was not the experience I was looking for. But, I felt as though I was given an opportunity and if I turned it down, I would miss out on something. The truth is, I missed out on other opportunities because I took that internship. In business you learn about opportunity costs- if I make this decision, what other opportunities am I turning down? It is the same with deciding on an internship or a career. To accept one opportunity is to turn down another. I am glad I learned the importance of that lesson in a temporary internship, though, rather than getting stuck in a job that was a poor fit.
This is a lesson I am still learning. Every opportunity that comes across my path, I tend to jump on. This is a lesson on patience. For me, I had to learn this lesson the hard way, I jumped too quickly onto the first opportunity. You also have to tread carefully here, though. There will be no perfect opportunity.
#4. Internships get you out of your comfort zone.
Currently, I have been a business intern for Nova Ivica for over a month, and I have already taken on challenges and outside of my comfort zone, which is enhancing my outlook and knowledge on what I would like to do when I graduate university. The good thing about pursuing an internship as a college student is that you have some time to get out of your comfort zone and test your abilities. When you finally start a career, it becomes difficult to want to step out, especially from a job that is paying you a salary. Being out of your comfort zone from time to time creates just enough good stress to ramp up your focus, creativity and pace, and it helps you respond to life stress when unexpected things happen.
Also, getting out of your comfort zone challenges you to see what you are capable of. In my internship at Nova Ivica, I have been asked to accomplish tasks I thought I was incapable of, but I was. And now that I have tackled these, I am more confident and more prepared to take on the next ones. It is not always fun or easy, but it is amazing to see what you can accomplish. You are likely capable of a lot more than you realize, but first you have to try. You also may find that what pushes you out of your comfort zone becomes one of your favorite things. It may be you find what your niche is. You may also find that’s not for you. Both are good things to learn.
Internships help you shape and create a vision for what you want to do. They reveal to you your strengths and your weaknesses and prepare you for your next step. I still don’t have the exact answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up” but I have narrowed down my options and no longer feel the overwhelmed by the array of possibilities before me. I also know I can turn down what doesn’t seem to be the right fit. Doing these internships throughout college have prepared me for my career, they have given me experience in a variety of areas and shown me what I really value in my future job.