Why It’s OK To Hate Your Internship
Some internships seem better than they actually are. And that’s OK.
In 2009 I shipped off to London for the trip of a lifetime. I spent six months living in a flat with ten of the chicest French exchange students I had ever laid eyes on. I backpacked through Europe, smoked my first cigarette, saw about 100 castles, and ate my body weight in fish and chips. I was 19, and I was on top of the world.
Sure I was young and studying abroad, but I knew I couldn’t spend my entire time overseas partying through Europe. So to make right by my responsible-college-student-self, I made the conscious decision to study in London because the program offered an internship placement. I was enamored with the idea of working in a foreign country. Then when I saw CBS News London as one of the internship placements I nearly passed out. I HAD to get this job. You see at the time Katie Couric was my idol, and broadcast news was my destiny.
Long story short, I got the job. The internship coordinator at my host university said I was very lucky because CBS was the cream of the crop internship. I knew I had hit the jackpot and for the first time ever I was excited to be an intern and “get to work”.
Fast forward three months, and I’m sitting in the CBS Newsroom holding back tears. Looking back, they honestly could have been tears of boredom. To this day I had never been so underwhelmed with a place. It wasn’t miserable, it just wasn’t the dream workplace I had built up in my head.
I had expected the hustle and bustle of a live newsroom and being pulled in all directions to help with this shoot or that story. Instead, I spent the majority of my days at a computer transcribing interviews and watching raw Reuters footage come through. Occasionally I would be pulled out on a field shoot, but there were so few of them it was hardly something I grew used to. The office was actually quiet. It was a hub for all the European correspondents, but we almost never shot anything live. The people were friendly but aloof, and would go days without really interacting with the interns. Like I said, not exactly the internship I had dreamed about.
And what actually made it worse was the constant praise and admiration I received for nailing such a coveted internship. I was embarrassed to say that my time at CBS was actually not so fabulous. It felt wrong to dislike what seemed like a such a great opportunity. Even when I got back to the U.S. I spoke of the internship the way I thought I was supposed to. I focused on all the “good” parts, embellished on the not-so-good parts, and just repeated how lucky I was for such a cool opportunity. After about the tenth time, I had my story down. Everyone bought it. I could tell that my brief stint at CBS impressed people, and I knew if I played my cards right, it would probably get me my next internship. And while all that is true, I couldn’t help but feel a little disturbed that I was capitalizing on this experience that really wasn’t much of an experience.
But that’s where I had it wrong.
Up until now I never openly admitted that I “hated” my CBS internship, but I’ve known for a while that my biggest takeaway from that experience wasn’t about figuring out what I liked. It was about figuring out what I DIDN’T like.
My CBS internship did exactly what it was supposed to. It gave me leverage. From then on when I looked at other internship or job opportunities, I had a real experience to compare them to. Not only did it prove that broadcast news wasn’t the right path for me, but it gave me some red flags to look out for. For example, never again would I accept an internship where I sensed a disconnect between managers and interns. I knew I should look for a fast-paced workplace that gave me a lot of responsibility, and a team that made me feel valued. And even though I didn’t get that experience at CBS, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
Hopefully you will have a lot of internships at the start of your career. Some you’ll like and some you won’t. And guess what, THAT’S OK. Allow yourself to take the experience for what it is, and when it’s over, move on. Whether it was a good or bad internship there is always something to learn and take with you.