From what I’ve gathered, interning is an iconic rite of passage for New York hopefuls, particularly in the media world. I wouldn’t know firsthand because I never did it. Not five times, not once. That’s why the first time I received an email seeking advice on how to break into the biz-with-a-z, I almost fell over. I have no idea, I thought, I don’t even know how I did! But I’ve marinated on this like a good little chicken and I might actually have a few ideas. Although my advice on how to get here or anywhere you want to go is less formulaic than many would find satisfactory, I do have one good bit of news: it doesn’t have a single fucking thing to do with interning.
As a kid, I hated to read and loved to draw and act and sing. As a teenager, I was a dedicated year-round athlete who liked math and science and English and art. I went to school for International Business and minored in Spanish and Latin American Studies. In college, I worked as a computer lab technician and a copy editor for the school paper. I spent a lot of free time doing DIY projects with my roommate, drawing doodles for my Tumblr blog and teaching myself about typography. I served on the board of my coed professional business fraternity and made most of my friends there. After graduation, I worked as an office manager at tech startups for two years and then as an HR strategist for a design company for three years. On nights and weekends I’d write for my blog, take dance classes, do freelance graphic design and help my friend with her retail business.
If you’re dizzy from reading that, I know. I promise it was even more chaotic to live. By the end of it I was 25 and lost. A sentient pressure cooker of vague desires. I either had too much direction or no direction, I wasn’t quite sure. I oscillated between content and miserable, which was irritating in that it didn’t help me paint a clear emotional picture of what I wanted. But shit, I’ve talked about this before, haven’t I?
I didn’t get my dream writing job because I’m an obsessive journaler, because I was a copy editor in college, because I wrote to an audience of seven for years, because I emailed Leandra until she responded (sorry Leandra). I did those things, sure, and I know it sounds good, but saying so would be a lie. Because between those tidy steps I committed to going to art school, becoming a program manager, succeeding in human resources, becoming a graphic designer, becoming a retail buyer, pursuing psychology…I could go on. If I trace my steps back from now to the eye of my confusing storm, the only thing I can safely say got me here was running like hell from apathy.
The biggest misconception I had through all of it was that I was supposed to know my narrative arc. That there even was one. But narrative arcs are built only in hindsight. Not everyone’s path is linear. And if you’re really fucking confused about what you want, I don’t say any of this as consolation, I say this as congratulations. For me, not knowing what I wanted was the most effective fuel imaginable. I cared for a long time about a whole bunch of stuff and the result was breadth I hadn’t sought and happenstance I couldn’t have predicted.
It’d be easy for me to say I always wanted to be a writer. That the piles of journals and external hard drives of documents are proof that I could never have been anything else. But I know better than to construct such a linear narrative. Most of us don’t get the linear narrative. There is no magic number of internships that can guarantee you’ll become a compelling person with a point of view and something to add. No number of checked boxes will make you more interesting than simply staying interested.
The bad news is there is no recipe. The good news is there is no recipe. All you have to do is keep giving a shit.