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I Demoted Myself To An Unpaid Intern, Here’s What I Learned

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When I decided to submit my writing for publication on this esteemed forum, it wasn’t born from a sudden realization that I’m funny. I’ve known that since around the age when I realized I wasn’t going to be pretty. As they say, when one door closes, another opens, right? In December of last year, I was just coming off of probably the hardest four months of my life. And yes, I am extremely lucky that those hard months were not nearly as difficult as they are for many less fortunate people in this world. Graduating college and becoming #PGP certified in the real world was NOT my cup of tea. I was a lost lamb and couldn’t let go of the fact that I would never get to experience that part of my life again. My identity was challenged and my will tested (I honestly wish that was a cliché and not real life, but I cannot tell a lie). My first attempt at writing something coherent that wasn’t grossly similar to a journal entry revolved around the idea that I was so average there wasn’t even a space for me. (But thank God I decided to rant about LuluLemon instead, right?)

Coming from a middle-class upbringing, achievement and success were expected. Yeah, we all knew we had to “work hard,” but in reality it was more of a “don’t royally fuck up” mentality. This privilege, I believe, is what led me to be ill-prepared in my transition from a Division III hero to an all-around nobody. It sounds depressing, but in reality, I’m glad I got a swift c u next Tuesday punt from the world. I learned a lot. Like, maybe even more than I did at my fancy school (I’ll be excommunicated from alumni happy hours for saying that, mark my words). The synthesis of these lessons is taking place right about now during my extensive stay at Hotel Mom and Dad. To give some context to these lessons that I hope some of you may relate to, It makes sense for me to deliver the abridged version of my past year:

Graduated from respected private school, moved to New York City within three weeks, started work in big law firm, realized law was not for me, considered going back for Ph.D., realized I was largely underqualified and didn’t want to be poor for the minimum six years it takes to get said Ph.D., continued to be confused as fuck regarding what to do career-wise, decided to aim in the general direction of sports since I was once a huge jock, spent three months applying to said jobs and ran into the new-age chicken and egg problem of entry-level jobs wanting experience in the industry when I neither majored in the field nor interned in it as an undergrad, settled on summer internship for collegiate team, tended bar so I could make money to eat, returned home to Mom and Dad, present day.

I know there are plenty of you who want to shit on me for my journey and criticize me for doing it wrong or whatever. I don’t care. That’s not the point. This is the path I took after literally lying awake at night and consulting anyone and everyone from CEO and VP alumni in the field to my 12-year-old cousin. I didn’t choose any of this lightly, and I considered how all of it would look on a résumé 12 years from now. That being said, I still managed to insert myself into two of the most fun situations I’ve been in in my life. I tell people I finally decided to have the summer I should have had at 22. Oops.

The point is, this postgrad, pre-career crisis phase taught me so much. Or, at least, everything I need to know for right now.

You don’t outgrow worrying what other people think of you.
This is a really confusing reality for me. For a long time, I generally haven’t cared what people think of me. I’m not even trying to humble brag and I can’t pinpoint why I’ve had a rather laissez-faire approach to how others perceive me. I’ve always been pretty confident, which is also confusing since anyone who’s seen my headshots knows that the word I’d most frequently use to describe myself is “woof.” I was even very recently told that someone liked my voice and especially my laugh. I couldn’t help but laugh, because I’ve been told on more than one occasion that it sounds like something is dying when I laugh and to kindly “shut the fuck up.” When I asked why, the person said it was because you could just tell I don’t give a fuck. Probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, really.

Are you picturing me as some brute with zero fucks to give? Good. But I’ve recently realized it’s not true. Maybe the most ironic part is that this realization comes at a time when I have way less interaction with judgmental peers than at ANY point in my life prior to now. I should have been worried back when my bowl cut was strong and my buck teeth prominent, not now when the only people I see are my parents, literally.

The thing is, I realize I care about other things besides if people like me or think I’m pretty. That ship has sailed, thank fuck. I do, however, unfortunately care if others think I’m living up to the expectations I wrongly think people have of me. Expectations like how I either need to be saving the world and taking $0 in compensation for it or crushing everything in my path en route to a gazillion-dollar home and a long life of philanthropy after my retirement at age 45. Then I realized…

The expectations we hold for ourselves are (often) bullshit.
So what did I learn when I realized I still actually gave fucks? It’s that I’m giving them for the wrong fucking reasons. I’m a pretty introspective person. I like to credit this to my psychology degree and utter disregard for emotional regulation. Oh, and my (saint of a) mother. I know myself well and I know my weaknesses. I think our entire generation is relatively good at this. I mean, after all, we are obsessed with ourselves. Within the last year, I realized one of the biggest influences on the decisions I made was how people would think of me as a result. Like, not really what people would think if they saw me burying a Big Mac on my stoop so much. I still don’t care about that. More so how quitting my job with an unknown future would look. How getting the fuck out of Manhattan would look. How moving home to the suburbs of Connecticut would look. I don’t make decisions based on a simple cost-benefit analysis. I also don’t make them based on a whim.

Even in this middle ground, I found it hard to imagine “demoting” myself. I feared it would look like I couldn’t hang, like I couldn’t live up to the expensive and esteemed degree I earned that now sits in my nightstand. I’ve literally said to my mother that I can’t justify working somewhere where the person sitting next to me went to [Insert low-level state or community college here]. I mean, I have family members who have gone to those schools, or who didn’t even go to school. Once I realized this was one of my biggest fears, I also realized I was the biggest asshole I knew. Yeah, sure, I worked hard in school but in the real world, that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about the person you are now and how well you work in a specific role. It has almost nothing to do with your Anthropology 204 grade.

It’s even funnier because every time I told somebody that I quit the big leagues to go drink six days a week all summer and gain “experience,” the response I got was overwhelmingly positive. Most people were insanely jealous and wished me the best. It turns out that these expectations and standards I thought everyone would judge me against were mostly made up in my mind. Clearly I have some sort of Napoleon complex going on–I blame it on being the third child and the only girl in my family. I can’t say that I don’t still feel apprehensive at the thought of going backward to go forward, but I can say that I understand my status and recent history realistically have almost no bearing on my future.

Learn from the people around you how to be happy with what you have.
If you really think about it, the mentality of always striving for the next level is a vicious cycle. People who adopt this life motto often think that everyone around them who are “content” in their positions are settling, and, subsequently, don’t want to really associate with that. But while you’re looking up to the next manager or CEO or founder or Dan Bilzerian, those people who you emulate so dearly are, in fact, doing the same thing. They’re trying to get to the next level, that next high.

How can you possibly be satisfied when you’re chasing some ideal that never comes to an apex? Maybe it’s time to change your perspective. Those people around you who are happy where they are aren’t always settling. Perhaps if you were in their shoes, you wouldn’t be happy settling at the same point in life. More importantly, you need to take a look at your goals in life (yes, even at a young age) and attempt to decide where it is you will find satisfaction. Few things ignite panic in me as much as the thought of never feeling content with my accomplishments and/or myself, and in a society like ours, that’s an extremely viable–and unfortunate–reality.

In the last year, I spent time in both (literally) the heart of our nation’s physical manifestation of the Rat Race (midtown Manhattan) and a vacation destination. I’ve seen both ends. It’s a simplistic analysis to say the least, but I can certainly tell you I saw a lot more happiness in the people around me at the latter locale. I bartended in a private club for very wealthy people and even with the quality of life that they toiled for years to enjoy, it’s easy to see a lot of those people are now realizing that’s not what it’s all about. Maybe it’s the nature of the job, but the happiest people I spent time with were my coworkers. And I mean coworkers who had never even heard of Ivy League schools, people who were just grateful to have a job, and one that they enjoyed on top of that. It was honestly so refreshing to see that some people are oblivious to these expectations that many of us have faced since freshmen year in high school or earlier. I looked at those people, and although I don’t have the same goals as they do, I learned from them. I learned how to appreciate both what I have been given and what I’ve earned on my own. Because of this, I’m more grateful now back in my childhood bedroom than I was in my Upper East Side apartment. And, of course, it’s also always good to know I still have a five-day bender in me.

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Mary Swanson

Both a bitter and optimistic 24-year-old entry-level underachiever with 2-4 friends and 0 talents. Washed up is an understatement. I prefer almost all my food luke-warm, what does that say about me?

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