“Are you in school?” I get asked this question a lot. I also get carded when I order a Mojito at a rooftop bar on a summer evening in Annapolis.
Maybe I have a baby face. Maybe I just emit a youthful exuberance. Maybe I’m the intern… again.
You know the saying “always the bridesmaid, never the bride?”
My generation is always the intern, never the employee. It sounds like something we should be embarrassed about. Like we’re delinquents and we’re doing something wrong. How did Justin Bieber make it in his teens so he could grow up and openly pee in a restaurant and we’re still getting coffee or the never-glamorous equivalent?
I feel foolish – like I missed the boat that came and quickly went without me on it. And, yeah, admittedly, I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but who does? In 10 years, I’ll want something else. I want some things now that my 18 year-old self didn’t – I mean, who asks an 18-year-old what she wants to retire doing anyway? She barely knows what alcohol tastes like or where to find the quad for sun bathing.
I’d feel badly and start self-degrading myself like I’m some kind of sad loser, but then I look at the 27-year-old who just finished grad school… and got an internship.
And as I pick something up off the floor that the 2013 graduate asked me to get and as I think to myself, “In the time it took you to ask me to pick this up, you could have picked it up yourself, you short hobbit,” I decide: We should say “no.” My generation. We should just say “no” to internships. Because being paid in experience isn’t enough and I want some benefits, gosh darn it!
I start to idealize the effects this movement – this revolutionary protest – will have on my generation, on the work force and on the economy. We will not be abused. …But neither will the work force. In fact, protesting internships would be about as effective as Occupy Wall Street. And we all saw that.
We’d essentially be agreeing to sit at home unemployed, which is exactly what people without internships are already doing. And these companies are already paying people to work for them – so they’d pick up the interns’ slack with their paid employees until a new class graduated in 2014 and took the intern slots, surpassed us in experience, and snatched the jobs we’ve been waiting for years on. All while we perfected our Wii game… are people still playing Wii?
Our egos fight internships because they sound lowly, bottom-of-the-rung, and involve picking things up off the floor. But I’ve never had an internship that didn’t pay off in some way – be it a connection, a freelance gig, or a job opportunity down the road. …WAY down the road.
And I did gain experience. I hate to admit it, but I learned something new. So maybe if we’re interested in something – we should intern the heck out of it because we enjoy it. I’m not saying we stop looking for paid work. And I’m not saying we only do free labor – because, well, that’s wrong. And we’re past that in this new Millennium.
We shouldn’t be taken advantage of. And it’s OK to say “no.”
But I do think this generation has developed the notoriety for being lazy. I would argue it’s not laziness that makes us despise interning. It’s that we know we can do more and we want to do more and we would do more if we were only given the chance.
When we have the skills to do something and we don’t have the chance to do it – and when this happens over and over again – we start to think that maybe our skills really aren’t that valuable, that maybe we aren’t that smart, that maybe we aren’t that experienced.
And maybe we aren’t. Maybe the older generation is right when they say we’re enabled and want everything instantaneously. But maybe we’re still skillful, knowledgeable, and experienced. Maybe it’s time we see that. Then maybe others will, too.