Suck It Up, Buttercup

Sometimes, you just need to chalk it up to a new experience. Stay positive, suck it up and learn.

This is what I told myself for half the summer, on the early mornings when I couldn’t pull myself out of bed and during the lunch breaks that always seemed too short. Discouraged questions rattled my brain and beckoned a voice. Why am I here? Can I even help? I feel useless.

I had what one would call a “bad” internship. I made Ikea shelves, chairs, you name it. I burned my eyes sifting through excel documents. I’m not even sure if everyone knew my name. I hated to admit it, but I didn’t enjoy the work I was assigned.

While this internship seemed unfavorable on the surface, I actually took away many lessons from this experience. They may not be traditional, meaning they probably won’t translate into bullet form on my resume, but they were experiences all the same.

If you ever find yourself in the middle of a “bad” internship, here are a few suggestions to help you not only get through it, but also find the positives that might end up being more helpful than you expected.

For one, stay productive, especially if you’re getting paid. The staffers may not need your assistance at the moment, but don’t be a total waste of space, even if it’s for your own personal productivity. Research more intern opportunities or update your resume, just as long as you’re discreet and not obnoxious about it. It also never hurts to ask around if anyone needs some intern help.

Two, whatever you do, don’t spend your days scrolling through Pinterest, although it’s tempting (trust me, I know). Since my workload was usually light, I had a lot of time to read. Every morning I would load up a queue of articles for the day, ranging from the upcoming midterm elections to long feature articles on politicians I knew nothing about. I have never been more conversational about current events than I was this summer. Call me a nerd, but it’s really a great feeling.

Three, make friends with your fellow interns. After all, you’re in the same boat. Some of the best conversations I’ve had are with interns I work with because we usually share similar visions and goals. You also never know what their stories are. One fellow intern this summer was 31 years old who was making the switch from sales to politics. He had a lot of guts to move to DC and completely change his life around and he was willing to lend me some advice. You never know what kind of people you’ll meet, even in your secluded intern corner.

Four, stick up for yourself. I learned this lesson the hard way. In the professional world, no one is going to spoon-feed you. If you need help, ask. If you aren’t working on anything, offer your time. Your job is to make the staffers’ jobs easier, even if it’s dull for you. This is usually what makes “bad” internships feel suffocating and boring, but being polite and efficient will go much, much farther than a bad attitude.

Also, don’t be afraid to converse with hired staff. Talking to interns is easy since they’re usually your age. Staffers, on the other hand, are where the wisdom lies, even if it’s not serious wisdom.  For example, one of the partners at the firm I interned at always wore crazy shoes with cats on them. After asking about them, we logically talked about the ethics of animal illustrations on shoes and the necessity of mismatched socks. After discussing the ratio of peanut butter to chocolate in Reese’s Peanut Buttercups one day, I learned that he was formerly White House Videographer under President Obama. And even then, he still wore cat shoes.

At the end of the day, interning during college is a tremendous opportunity that all students should take advantage of. It’s a time to see how our skillsets apply in the working world and allow our interests to be highlighted in ways that are invisible in a classroom. It’s a chance to meet professionals in their field and learn how they got to where they are.

Of course, you probably already know this. I did. I just didn’t know that all this was still apparent in a “bad” internship.