People love asking “What did you learn from your internship?”
This question is asked with good intentions and it’s usually followed up with skills that were improved or learned. My answer, however, would be that I learned how insecure I was in my own capabilities and how insecurities in college definitely follow you into the real world. The experience of the internship itself was great, but the roller coaster of emotions I put myself through wasn’t.
Taking us back a few months ago…
As my freshman year came to a close, I was scrambling to find an internship, since getting one would mean that I would be set for a successful and productive summer. Right? With as much weight as I put on finding an internship, I really only applied to one. That being said, I earned the right to be excessively excited and scream in my bedroom at Shaw when I found out I would be interning for the congresswoman who represents my district. I was set.
On the first day of my internship, I walked hesitantly into the office building where I met the other intern, who happened to be a Harvard undergrad. Harvard? Are you kidding me? Doubt started to cloud my mind. I instinctively thought I was way in over my head. We were greeted by our intern coordinator who trained us for the day on the basics of constituent services, which involved assisting people with district-expedited processes like passports or receiving updates from federal agencies. I was relieved that we were starting at a slow pace. Then, the relief was shattered by the second week.
We were trusted to take calls on our own and log them in. Don’t get me wrong—we were capable, but with each call, I felt a surge of panic because I wanted to provide every caller with the most accurate and helpful information possible, which sometimes required research. I quickly realized how un- “set” I was because now the effort, confidence, and initiative within my role–as well as the interpersonal skills within my role–all became so much more real.
The first weeks of the internship felt like my first weeks of college. I naively thought that getting into college was enough and that the rest would fall into place because I was where I was supposed to be. The hardest part should be getting in, right?
The hardest part is getting through college by challenging yourself with academic rigor (simply passing classes), e-board positions (commiting to one of the hundreds of email lists you signed up for during the involvement fair), or simply by approaching new people. These challenges would make for a perfect student, but we’re so far from that. At least I am.
I’ve taken on all of the above and each one with a surge of panic that I may be taking on more than I’m realistically capable of.
To combat my overthinking, I decided to ask for feedback. I swiveled my comfy office chair to face my intern coordinator, praying she didn’t notice my trembling. I asked with a shaky voice, “How am I doing as an intern? Is there any space for improvement?”
She assured me I was doing a good job. The rational thing to do would’ve been to believe her, but like every other “impostor,” I didn’t. We were told countless times that we were the best interns they had had in a while. I instinctively thought the staff said it to everyone who interned. My insecurity lessened the initiative that I took in my role and my authenticity. Everyday my insecurity added constant worry about every interaction.
The anxiety and impostor syndrome I was experiencing wasn’t anything new. Coming to Boston College meant that being valedictorian in high school didn’t matter, averages for courses were not available until the end of the semester (so I couldn’t get constant validation), and if I didn’t believe in myself, no one else was going to.
My identity as a Hispanic, first-generation, low-income student will always be connected to these emotions simply because being in college is a dream for my family and me. I can’t say that I see myself in a lot of the students on campus or even a lot of the professors here. I got a terrible high school education while others went to boarding schools, had tutors, and still have easily accessible resources that I don’t. It’s extremely easy to feel like you’re behind when you can’t relate to people around you. My spot didn’t feel deserved here. When I came to college, I knew that I had to make a 180 from high school and make connections to advocate for myself and find community.
So is this all to say that I am an insecure wreck? Maybe. But I gained more from my internship by realizing that although college is kind of like playing pretend, the feelings we experience are very real, so we shouldn’t take them lightly. Addressing what you feel is needed and will make you feel more secure about experiences out in the real world.
Arriving to work day to day with anxiety and insecurity would be exhausting and miserable. We’re often aware of the areas that need improvement, but we don’t do anything about it, which in the long run can lead to feeling shitty at an internship or worse … your job. I hope that you do take the time to reflect, not only to make yourself a better employee, but also to really, really believe that you deserve the position.