“Go do an internship”, they said. “It will be good for experience,” they said. “Get a part time job,” they said, “It’ll train you good for the long, tumultuous journey of toil ahead”. Being the ever-so-obedient teenager I was, I undertook not one, but two internships, in addition to a few other office jobs. It’s safe to say that by the time graduation rolled in, I had more than an idea of what office life was about.
For a while during university, I had dreamt a lot about the career I would have ahead of me and how I would go about rising to the top in the fastest way possible. I prepped myself by vigorously volunteering for every event that I came across, and took on heavy responsibilities like no one’s business. A lot of my peers did the same and together we marched industriously around campus, moving swiftly from meeting to meeting, almost like a parody of adulthood, which involved a lot of talking on the phone and sighing with resignation at the thought of all the things that needed to be done. But what should have prepared me for my career, backfired, and instead of propelling me forward, I found myself slowly wearing myself out and backing away bit by bit.
It didn’t help that my seniors who had graduated with high aspirations and a bounce in their step eventually came back regaling haunted tales of months and even years in involuntary hibernation among the snow-white mountains of rejection letters. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment I realized I didn’t want to go down that route. I was sitting down to lunch with a friend who was mourning a milestone; he had sent off his eightieth cover letter to yet another company (who would eventually reject his application as well two months later) worldwide. Suddenly he goes, “So I was researching the other day and I found out that accommodation and living expenses are really cheap in Pakistan!”. Seeing a lettuce leaf from my salad slowly exiting my wide open mouth, he hurriedly pled his case as he tried to convince me that North Korea was also ripe with employment opportunities. It was right then and there that my soul pulled an Elvis and left the building. I was done before I had even properly started.
Determined to get myself out of this funk, I tackled my last internship at a TV station abroad with enthusiasm and vigour. I was the ultimate eager beaver and I observed as much as I worked. However, if anything, getting a firsthand experience of the typical working life deterred me instead of prepared me. I am no stranger to keeping my nose to the grindstone and yet watching my colleagues work round the clock with little to no satisfaction of how their lives were turning out made me wary. It all made me wonder if there was more to be enjoyed in life than the traditional office structure, working under your boss’ thumb in a starchy, stiff number and counting down the minutes until lunch break. It’s all good for those who don’t mind it, but for the rest of us with an itch for something new, life is too long to spend the rest of it in this never ending cycle.
Today’s society pressures us a lot by insisting that we show up well-prepared for everything. Be prepared to jump straight into working life, be prepared to work long hours, be prepared to hustle your way to the top, be prepared to kiss a lot of… cheeks. Friends and family with good intentions will encourage you to take up an internship while you’re in unemployment limbo in hopes of you getting taken in for a permanent job eventually.
However, another lesson you might learn that no one tells you is that, internships can also help you realize what you don’t want to be doing in the future. Maybe when you’re somewhere along your fourth office coffee run that day or fixing the photocopier jam for the third time that week, it’ll hit you that this life as a runner isn’t the life for you. Perhaps internships aren’t supposed to just prepare you for what’s coming; maybe it’s meant to give you a push in the opposite direction.