Put Your Big Girl Pants On and Go to Work: A Not-so-Perfect Summer and the “Real World”

If there ever was a place to fully feel the strange fear and excitement of your early twenties, it would be during a late June summer in Washington, D.C. Looking into a sea of tweed and pantsuits, I struggled to imagine myself ever being a part of it. Working in an office with no window, at a desk with a landline, became my summer reality, and way of beginning to understand what I might want out of my future. But, just because I learned, doesn't mean it was perfect.

I've determined this to be the strangest phase of my life so far. I know almost nothing about what my future will be like after college, or how it will feel to be an "adult" (yeah, right). With my legs crossed underneath my too-short desk, knee grazing the inner roof, I'm slowly  deciding whether I want eight/nine hour office days to be a temporary, short chapter of my life. I often leave the day with desperate jitters, needing to be run off under the shade of suburban streets. I'm outside of the city/downtown, but it all still feels unfamiliar compared to the quaint comfort of my nestled college town. I think I missed my college town more than ever this summer, which is good, now that I can return and feel a stronger appreciation amidst the everyday frustrations and fears of graduation. 

As a follow up, I also determined that it's absolutely wrong to think that everyone around you knows more than you do. Word got around that this company I was working for was a particularly hard internship program to get into. I felt like I had sort of just fallen into it by chance, somehow getting an interview and ultimately, an acceptance. Naturally, these thoughts only fed the assumption that everyone else was extremely qualified, while I wasn't. I soon discovered that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. You’re familiar with the phrase, “fake it till’ you make it?” I feel as though this applies to almost every aspect of the intern experience. Not to say that all of us were dumb and walking around aimlessly. In fact, all of the other interns were intelligent in ways I could never imagine, many of them some form of Engineering or Aerospace majors. You can see the separation between my expertise and theirs. Pretty much all the time, I felt as though I was just winging it. As an English major, I approached my internship with so little knowledge of government policies, technical writing, or contracting in general, that I was left wondering whether I’d be able to contribute in a meaningful way.

 

While I was given the opportunity to contribute, completing tasks that were genuinely helpful and not just busy-work, I've spent a lot of my time this summer doing work I didn't particularly enjoy. There was valuable learning within it (and a pretty hefty paycheck that sure helped) that I'm sure will benefit me in the future. Even if I didn't particularly like the work, everyone around me cared enormously about what they do. This in itself is a hopeful sight- to witness many people well into a comfortable retirement age, continuing to work not because they have to, but because they want to. Having that sort of passion for your profession, or whatever primary way you choose to spend your days, is commendable and something I vastly respected each individual for. I want that passion too...just not on this same path.

Over an early afternoon phone call with my mother, she reminded me, in between my sniffles of self-pity, that this is my first "real-world" job. A big girl job. And there is no requirement to love it. Others might, and certainly do, but it doesn't mean I have to or need to feel guilty for not liking it.

 

At times, I worried and focused on the hope that others could view my internship as something I'm accomplishing. I wanted so badly to say that I did something this summer. Maybe some part of me deep down, that I rejected admitting, wanted to incite some jealously in others. My small online presence saying, "Hey, friends, family and practical strangers! Look what I did! I went out and did things and I'm going to be successful and, like, so happy." What a load of shit. Projecting my true feelings of frustration to anyone outside of my close circle seemed like I something I wasn't supposed to do. Like it was embarrassing to not be living out the best life possible this summer. But I haven't been happy at every moment.

 

It's been challenging and informative, but frustrating, not completely fulfilling, and mentally straining at times. I harbored a silly desire to convince anyone who cared that I've been living a wonderful summer in the city. We're in such a bizarre age; lives being recorded and documented all for the sake of "why not" or convincing ourselves that others care. But, who am I kidding? I'll say it! I'll scream it! I DIDN'T LOVE MY TWO MONTH INTERNSHIP AND THAT'S OKAY. I wanted to love it, I really did, but as much as I would like to imagine my life as a balmy summer-time Hallmark movie, where there are only small conflicts, and always crew neck sweaters, it's just not.

 

This is not to say that I didn't have great moments of the summer. I got to see Hugh Jackman live, having all my Greatest Showman dreams come to life on an arena stage. I got to wander around the Botanical gardens, a place that never fails to calm me and dazzle my plant lady senses. I went to a Nationals baseball game and drank my first, very legal, beer at a sporting event. I went to precious, local bookstores and, although it took longer than I wished, I made friends with other interns, which is something I hoped to do, but wasn't sure if I would. I toured the White House for Gods sake! That's something I might not ever do again, and got to experience it was someone great. In fact, I got to experience all of these things with wonderful, important people that made my summer worthwhile. Including my internship.

It's August now, the summer reaching her arms out into the beginnings of a new season, and I'm days away from packing my bags to make my way back home. Approaching the end of the internship, I'm trying to be appreciative, maybe even a little nostalgic if I can muster it, of the time I have left and my experiences thus far. I've learned exponentially from the people who've patiently guided and mentored me through the workplace, grateful for their kindness. I don't think this career path will ever be my own though. It's just not my thing. And it was challenging some days to go to work knowing I'd be left feeling generally unfulfilled. But it still mattered. Even the shit I hated doing, still mattered.

 

There was never a moment where I did not feel welcome, and the rarity of this is something I took for granted. It's okay that I didn't like the field my internship fell into. I know more now than before I started. I have learned and grown, therefore it is valuable.

 

The strange fascination with having the "best summer" seems to perpetuate a desire to out-do each other. In reality, I didn't spend nearly enough time in the places I wished I could have for the majority of the summer. While there was an enormous sense of growth, there was also a great sense of, "well, now what?" We put too much pressure on ourselves to have an idyllic summer, and ultimately, life. Not every moment, or summer, can be that way. So, we should be gentle with others, being mindful of their differing experiences, while also being gentle with ourselves.