Interning At 26, And Into It
I am a smart and capable 26 year old with a college degree and I’m currently interning part-time at a music licensing and publishing company.
I could launch into talking about how sometimes I feel insecure about this (at least for a split second every time someone asks me what I do) but instead I’m going to tell you about how I got here and why I’m choosing to be proud of where I am instead.
Let’s start with some of the fundamentals. I am a fairly anxious person. And the craziest part about my experience of anxiety is that I can see the way in which I work myself into it each time. As an observer, I witness my brain focus on whichever stress or several stresses I’m worried about and then play them on repeat in my mind. Despite my awareness of how it’s all happening, I can’t make it stop. One concept that’s been a key source of anxiety as well as general low self-esteem in my life is career success and feeling like I am unsuccessful.
My dad is someone who I look up to immensely. I look to him for wisdom, I am proud of the ways in which we are similar, and I admire his way of being in the world. My dad is also a wise Buddhist philosopher. I don’t think he’d describe himself that way but that’s how I see him. In this piece, I’m going to share a few key pieces of highly paraphrased and interpreted Buddhist wisdom that I’ve taken from my dad and incorporated into to my mindset towards life- especially the way these ideas help me with my anxiety and insecurities around career success.
Key wisdom from dad #1: All mental stress comes from the stories we tell ourselves. These stories are often based on general narratives that society wants us to operate within. In order to stop anxiety in its tracks, we have to stop believing our own thoughts.
There’s a great Buddhist analogy my Dad shared with me recently that describes our thoughts as dinner guests. They come, and they go. But if our thoughts are guests, then, who is the host? This resonated with me because I feel deeply connected to my thoughts and have a hard time believing the idea that every thought I have is just ‘visiting’ and not a part of me. But I do believe that it is true: we are in control of our thoughts - we can observe them, recognize them, feel the emotions tied to them, and decide whether we want to engage with them. If we do engage, we end up constructing a narrative about ourselves, our opinions, and our view of the world that we deeply believe is inherent to us and who we are at our core. So, what is the narrative that I’ve told myself about who I am?
I am a 26 year-old white female. I’m from San Francisco, CA. I had a beautiful and privileged upbringing with two incredible, loving parents and the coolest younger brother. I’m a nice person. I care about people. I care about the world. I care about human rights and the environment. I went to college and studied Anthropology. I speak Spanish. I’m somewhat politically engaged, but not as much as I sometimes feel like I should be. I love music. I love dancing. I love my family. I love my friends and I love meeting new people. I’m a highly social person. I am outgoing and extroverted. I am generally optimistic. I am driven and motivated to be successful in some sort of career path. I am hard working and ambitious.
The last two pieces of this narrative are items in my construction of self that I realized only recently, and that I still struggle with believing from time to time. For the longest time I was worried that despite deeply valuing hard work and professional ambition maybe I just wasn’t hard working or ambitious myself. I was scared of the possibility that despite hugely respecting these qualities in others, I didn’t have them. Maybe I was too privileged to ever know the true meaning of hard work the way others do, and too focused on other things that weren’t ‘professional’ or ‘career-related’ to be ambitious and driven in that space.
I still have these fears and insecurities that are directly linked to my career path and the idea of success, but, I’ve done a pretty good job of tackling them for the most part. This is how:
Part one: Recognition of my own privilege and banishment of the guilt surrounding it.
It took a long time for me to truly internalize this, but eventually I realized that guilt is simply not a productive emotion. I spent too much time feeling unworthy of all the opportunities I’d been afforded without working hard for them, and the little that it felt like I’d accomplished in comparison. I think it is hugely important to be aware of privilege, but I think it is also important not to be paralyzed by it. After completing school and getting a college degree, I was so incredibly lucky to feel as though I could have my choice of a career path. But the lived reality was that I was overwhelmed by the privilege of this choice: I felt pressure to find a job that was the combination of my greatest passions, a day to day experience that I absolutely loved, and something that had a positive impact on the world and helped make it a better place. The problem lay in the fact that I didn’t know what that job could possibly be.
After graduating college with a degree in Anthropology and Spanish I felt totally lost. I had NO IDEA what type of job or career path I wanted to have let alone had the skill set to execute, and I was terrified.
I moved to Madrid to teach English because I loved the idea of living abroad, experiencing another culture, and solidifying my Spanish language skills + I’d always thought I’d make a good teacher. But part of the real reason I did this was to buy myself time to figure out what I really wanted to do.
After 6 months in Madrid I felt ready to move to NYC and pursue a “real job”. I thought I would go into journalism. It felt like an idea that seemed like it could be authentic to my interests and so I latched on to it. But inside I felt like a total imposter. Interviewing for jobs I was saying things that made sense on paper “I’m passionate about storytelling” (I am! I’ve always loved novels and movies and I do believe in the power of stories to move us and highlight our shared humanity), and “I want to have a positive impact on the world” (I do care about doing something that feels meaningful!) but that didn’t resonate as being totally true and something I could say with real conviction and examples of action to back it all up. I found myself studying the “right questions” to ask potential employers as opposed to feeling like I had a natural curiosity that would allow me to be myself. Maybe this is how it goes for most recent grads trying to figure it all out, but I felt deeply confused because I knew deep down that I was grasping at strings, trying to force something that wasn’t necessarily right even though I desperately wanted it to be.
Needless to say, a career in journalism didn’t work out for me. I ended up going into the nonprofit sector, which was something I had always thought would align well with my personal values. I started working at the Centre for Social Innovation in NYC doing events, and picked up a temporary job at Physicians for Human Rights. Then, a bunch of beautiful, fateful factors came together and I ended up helping launch an organization called Swimdo, which focused on drowning prevention in SE Asia through teaching survival swimming. I jumped in head first. We threw a successful fundraiser that took me to Bali for 5 months to help run the pilot swim instruction program there.
All of this felt good and exciting as it was happening (I was finally doing something out in the real world!) but I still grappled with the idea of success. I wasn’t making any money for one. And secondly, where was this project leading me? Was I going to spend half the year in SE Asia doing this work and half the year back in the states trying to do something that would make money, indefinitely? This work was something that perfectly aligned with an idea I had of myself as someone who had made up their mind that they didn’t need to succumb to the idea of a normal “successful” career path with a stable 9-5 job that pays the rent and allows for responsible savings. But deep down, I knew I wanted to live in NYC again, and really be there. I wanted to have a routine, to build a community, and to eventually (a ways off down the road) really settle down somewhere and have a family of my own. So, I left Swimdo and moved back to NYC, a second time.
I got a job at a really cool startup Digital Marketing agency called Anthro where I worked with one of my favorite bosses and affirmed my suspicion that I liked being able to work a 9-5 job and felt personally fulfilled simply by knowing that every day I was waking up and going into work and getting paid for it. Marketing was always something I thought I could be interested in since I studied Anthropology, and Digital Marketing was fascinating, but something was still off. When people asked me what I did - I didn’t leap at the opportunity to tell them all about my job. I found myself mumbling “Oh, I just work at this small Digital Marketing Agency… what do you do?” I still felt like my job was not a true reflection of who I was. And I hated that. But I also convinced myself that maybe it didn’t matter. I fully believed that our jobs didn’t have to be the sum of who we are and that there are more important ways to define ourselves.
I still believe that. But something finally clicked when I started volunteering at Sofar Sounds and eventually getting a full-time job there. I realized that telling people I worked in music felt f*$cking dope when people asked me what I did.
Now, I am here. At long last I am finally deeply content on pursuing a career in music because it feels like the right place for me. I love music, truly, and I’m no longer an imposter trying to fit myself into a box that is almost the right shape but not quite. I also finally feel at peace because I have a general vision for my career path and so the deep self-doubt and insecurity that came along with absolute confusion of what I wanted to do is finally gone. And yet, one thing led to another, I left Sofar Sounds to pursue a different path in the industry, and I found myself interning at the age 26.
I’ll be honest, I don’t love admitting that I’m an intern when people ask me what I do. I still feel like people will judge my intelligence and capabilities. But, I also am really proud of my journey and I feel ok with where I’m at. And so, I reached a point of self-confidence where I don’t really care what other people think. Which leads me to part two of how I tackled my insecurities.
Part two: Accepting my own definition of success.
My definition is different from one that is only tied to a career, but it also recognizes that the internal drive to have some type of impact on the world through a job that fits in to the traditional structure of our society is real. After all, a job is what we spend most hours of our weeks doing. And that’s important.
I used to worry about being successful, which of course came from a place of feeling like whatever I was doing as a job at the time wasn’t enough. Enter key wisdom from dad #2: How do you really want to measure success for yourself? Do you want to measure it based on your career- a recognition of success from peers and the public and/or via a financial metric of salary? Or do you want to measure success based on who you are as a person… for example, did I get angry and did I say something I regret today or, was I a compassionate and kind person? Do I care only about my work or is it ok to be proud of my extra-curricular values and
interests that aren’t related to my job?
I care about what I do and what that says about me as a functioning member of society; what I am spending most hours of the week doing and how this impacts the world. This feels hugely important. But, I care even more about how I am. How I interact with and treat other people and myself is the most significant. I still struggle with insecurities and doubts every once in a while. But I’ve chosen to own my story, own the narrative that I let my thoughts tell me about who I am, and to believe in the person that I want to be. Am I filled with contradictions? Yes. But, is that ok? Double yes.