#BacktoSchool: How My Summer Internships Widened My Comfort Zone

I have a habit of acting over-confident during interviews. Even though I’m sweating profusely through my natural deodorant and professional dress and chunky heels, I act like I’m an outgoing extrovert that loves getting to know people during interviews, that I’m not completely awkward when talking to new people. And then I get the job. And then I remember that talking to new people, especially over the phone, scares me to death every time.

Not surprisingly, the cycle continued this summer, as I landed two new internships – one as a reporter and one as a communication intern at a nonprofit. Figures.

Every day, I would crank out a new story for the daily paper for which I worked. Every day, I would call or physically meet someone new, and I would try my hardest to think of the open ended questions that the Journalism School drilled into my head since the beginning. I wrote over 60 articles, each one with at least one source. What did I learn from the experience?

Public speaking and social anxiety are two things that people claim can fade with practice. From my experience, that claim is half true.

I still have to psych myself up before an interview. I still sweat through my work clothes, and I still leave awkward pauses between questions and stumble over my words. The difference, however, is that it doesn’t feel impossible anymore. After a summer of talking to strangers, I can pick up my phone and call my dentist or answer a random call without panicking. And sometimes, I can even feel confident during an interview.

Similarly, my nonprofit internship has given me a unique skill that furthers my interviewing ability, a skill preparing me for a career in feminist writing – interviewing sexual assault and/or domestic violence survivors.

Survivors Best Friend is a nonprofit that unites shelter animals with survivors, giving each a new opportunity to heal through whatever trauma they may have endured. Part of the nonprofit’s mission is to empower survivors and shift the narrative from the perpetrator to the survivor. In other words, we listen to and share survivors' stories.

During my first week at the nonprofit, I had my first experience interviewing a survivor. She was completely open about her experience, which made it easier, but I was still scared to say the wrong thing or make it awkward. But I realized halfway through that we’re all human, and there’s no reason to be anxious when someone is sharing his or her story. The survivors are the ones in a vulnerable situation, and I’m just there to support them and report their stories.

While I’ve accepted that I’ll probably always be a bit awkward, and maybe reporting isn’t a great career for my anxiety, my two summer internships have widened my comfort zone tremendously. The girl who would happily sit in the corner silently can now feel somewhat confident talking to strangers and make an effort in conversation. The girl who would decline every call once it popped up on her phone can now answer the phone without a problem.

And that girl is ready to utilize her new skills to make a positive change in the world.