All I’m saying is give my generation a chance

“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?

cover111024_250I 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.

getting-a-job-2We’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.”

20something-1990-time-magazineBut 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.

2 thoughts on “All I’m saying is give my generation a chance

  • July 25, 2013 at 8:33 PM

    Your peers are facing a tough and unforgiving job market, which your predecessors did not face, at least on the same level. This is truly unfortunate and very discouraging for your generation. But the reason people are so frustrated with Millennials is because they want to be given things that previous generations worked for. (And yes, their parents did give them this entitled mentality. Once upon a time, middle class kids had jobs in high school to make a little cash. Today, their parents think mowing a neighbor’s lawn or flipping burgers is beneath their precious child.) You may have skills, but they are nowhere near as developed as someone who has been working for 10 years. And you actually have very little experience by definition. Perhaps you heard the recent story about the kid applying for an internship in finance? He sent someone an email saying he wasn’t particularly accomplished, but he wanted to learn and he would do anything, just to be around the best in the business and learn from being in such an environment. His email got forwarded to finance shops around the country, and he was offered several positions. If you show up, have a great attitude, are humble, do whatever you are asked, and try to learn, people will help you. Last fall I was on a plane, sitting next to a young PR exec a year or so out of school and working at a major agency in Chicago. How did she get her job? She interned, stayed at the office however many hours it took to finish her assigned work, and did her job with excellence. When she graduated and needed a job, they hired her. (And I think she had even secured her first promotion by the time of our chat.)

    • Jana Stambaugh
      July 26, 2013 at 6:36 AM

      Thanks for your thoughts and response, Saida1. I appreciate what you’re saying.

      I wonder if it’s fair to blame Millennials for their parents’ attitude? In my experience, this generation would flip burgers (and have in high school and college), but aren’t hired to do so now because they’re “too experienced.”

      I would also suggest that this generation is not expecting to be handed everything as much as they’re hoping to eventually be given a chance. They’re happy and ready to work hard, but need a starting chance to do so. We all have to start somewhere, right?

      I think your story makes a valid point. Securing a job takes hard work, ambition and persistence, but what do you say to the hopeless who go on interview after interview and get dropped time after time again? That’s not laziness or entitlement. That’s despair. Eventually the older generations will have to incorporate the younger one in a way that’s more substantial than interning and I’m wondering how they’ll do so.

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