Life lessons learned during a summer internship
For young professional women, an exciting summer internship is the ultimate goal. During the school year, I spent unhealthy amounts of time applying to them, taking the time to write individual cover letters for over 15 different companies. When I finally landed my internship at USA Today, I was thrilled to pack up my little Toyota and drive 10 hours north to Washington D.C. to begin my adventure.
But what happens once you get there? We’ve got you covered on the professional front: click through the articles and you’ll find countless guides to impressing your supervisor from the beginning to the end of your internship.
There’s another dimension to this summer experience though that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, and that’s what you learn about yourself and the world outside the office. I am officially a month into my internship and I feel as if I’ve aged 10 years already. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
Pay attention to the little things
My first week on the job I was stressed out. The company is huge, the building itself is so expansive they call it a “campus,” and my daily tasks include meetings with representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Most of the time I feel like a little girl stumbling around in her mother’s high heels during a game of dress-up.
One day during this first week, I realized I had left my water bottle in my car. I headed down to the garage, relieved to steal a moment alone. I sat in the dark interior of my car trying to calm my mind and give myself a pep talk.
It wasn’t until four hours later, when I was standing outside my car after work digging through my purse for my keys, that I realized what I had done. I peered through the dirty window and, sure enough, saw my keys sitting in my passenger seat.
Crisis ensued. Two hours and $200 later, I drove back to my dorm in rush hour traffic, spent.
This could have all been avoided if I had focused a little less on my ego and a little more on whether my keys were inside or outside my car as I locked the door. The big things are important; that’s why they’re big. However, the little things have a tendency to become awfully big in a moment’s notice and those are the ones that can really get you.
Cultivate a support group
I went to school 5,000 miles away from my family and I generally feel comfortable navigating a new situation by myself. What I didn’t anticipate this summer was sweat dripping down my back on move in day as I pushed a bin full of my clothes down a D.C. street in the summer sun. I didn’t anticipate just how alone you could feel in a crowded Target surrounded by girls on the same mission, to make a new dorm livable. Unlike me, they had dads who could carry full-length mirrors and moms who would provide an extra set of arms for lugging bags.
What I didn’t expect was the solitude that comes along with moving to a city without context.
Ever the Army brat though, I knew I would tough it out. Slowly—very slowly—the urban street on which I live became more familiar and the Metro station less sinister. I met fellow interns through the Local Levo’s D.C. chapter. After tentative initial dinner dates, we have become great friends sharing in the very best moments of this experience, from navigating career anxiety to discovering little nooks of the city together. This support isn’t something you stumble upon—you have to seek it out and it takes work. You realize your effort has paid off when you find yourself giggling with a new friend over inside jokes and late night sweets.
The beautiful moments will happen
Tears dried from the key debacle, I spent my first Friday night in D.C. with a friend from University of Georgia. Eager to hear about each other’s internships, we grabbed boxes of takeout fried chicken and walked around the Capitol Hill neighborhood, looking for a spot to sit and dish. It was then that my friend looked over my shoulder and saw the top of the Supreme Court peeking out from above the trees.
“Why don’t we go there?” he said, a mischievous grin spreading across his face. So we walked, even though my feet were sore, and we ate our chicken on the steps of the Supreme Court.
“Can you believe,” he said, “that this is the place where they decided you would be allowed to marry in this country? And later this month, this is where they’ll decide if I’ll be allowed to marry.” His eyes were bright, referring to the Supreme Court case on the Defense of Marriage Act, which was under consideration at the time.
The sun was setting behind the U.S. Capitol dome. I rested my hands, sticky with grease, on the white marble as I leaned back and considered the historical significance of where I sat. While I spend my days working hard at my internship—and I’ve learned a ton—these are the most valuable lessons I will remember from my summer away from home.
Internships like this allow for professional growth opportunities, but the experience as a whole is a chance to grow as a person. If you’re lucky enough to spend a summer away from everything that is familiar to you, keep these lessons in mind and learn as much as you can from your experiences—good and bad, scary and beautiful.
Have a favorite life lesson learned from your first job in college, or your first days on the job? Share with us in the comments!
By: Alex Laughlin
Alex Laughlin is a contributing writer at Levo League, where a version of this article first was published.