in which I discuss the finer points of interning

Before we being, let me start with a disclaimer: this post is in no way intended to come off as ungrateful or entitled, and I apologize if that tone comes through. I realize that I am in an incredibly fortuitous situation, and, to quote Charlotte Bronte, “I hold myself supremely blessed – blessed beyond all language can express.”

But let’s be serious. Internships are hard.

Not hard because the work is necessarily challenging. I wouldn’t call reading news stories and watching YouTube all day particularly hard work. In fact, I’d call it down right enjoyable. And the whole idea of an internship is wonderful. It is a chance to try out a career the way you’d try on jeans at the mall.

But I say it again: internships are hard.

Working for NPR is the second internship I have had; I previously interned for Utah State University Press. Both experiences have been invaluable. I have learned a lot, met some infinitely lovely people, and overall been incredibly pleased with my experience, and yet at each office, I have found myself in the same awkward position of feeling placed in the corporate friendzone.

Internships are hard because you have an expiration date. And, just like it is hard to get invested in a relationship when you know something is inevitably going to split you up, it is really hard to settle into a job where you know you are going to be leaving in three months. And it’s not just the fact that you will be leaving that is off putting. It is also the fact that you are part of an infinite cycle of interns.

In any office, interns are a rotating cast. I can only assume that everyone knows not to get attached to the interns, because, much like my favorite British nanny, they’ll be gone before the winds change. As much as I appreciate the care and attention that is given to me each time I meet a panelist or a producer, or someone at WBEZ, each time, there is a nagging in the back of my head, reminding me that they roll out the welcome wagon for everyone. Every three months, they prepare to go through the shaking of the hands, the changing of the emails, the new face at the corner desk. They tell themselves, all I’ve got to do is remember this girl’s name for three months. Then we can move on to the next one.

And it’s not that I think I deserve any sort of praise or adoration above what former interns have received. But I certainly would like to think myself something worth remembering. It is hard knowing that you are destined to be forgotten.

On occasion, stories from the tenures of former “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” interns get tossed around the office. They are generally nondescript and unenlightening, things such as “Remember that one intern we had who always fell asleep?” or “Remember that one intern we had who was neurotic about keeping things clean?” Which left me with generally no clues as to how I was expected to behave. Was I talking more than other interns did? Sending more emails? Not sending enough? I hoped for some sort of guidance from above, preferably in the form of a story about how I was better than everyone else who had come before me.

Then, a few weeks ago, my predecessor sent thank you notes to everyone in the office. They were well received. Very well received. Everyone took a moment of “Aww”ing to fondly look back on her, share their favorite memories of her, and comment on her wisdom, and what a great job she had done, and the smart life choices she had made since her departure. They all seemed very invested in not just what she was doing, but what she had done.

And I couldn’t help but feel a little overshadowed1.

I wonder what they will say about me after I’m gone. I don’t think I have been very memorable. Perhaps memorable only in my follies.

Like most humans, I have become obsessed with the legacy I will leave behind me, and my current preoccupation is the legacy I will leave at NPR. In a few months, when there is a new intern at my desk, will the producers tell them things about me? Will they say, “Remember that one intern who was sarcastic to the point that we thought she was an idiot2?” or “Remember that one intern who always filled Peter’s water cup really full?” or “Remember that intern who spontaneously dyed her hair pink?”

But most likely it’s going to be, “Who was that one intern we had – the one who almost never said anything?3

Being an intern is like looking at a jigsaw puzzle that is already complete, and still trying to cram yourself in, even though you know you might not fit properly.

It is about walking a fine line between being recognized for the good work you do while simultaneously not overstepping your welcome. It is doing work that you often don’t feel qualified or necessarily equipped to do, and trying to pretend you are much less panicked about this than you actually are. It is knowing that there have been other interns before you, and there will be others after you, and many of them will be infinitely better at this than you are. It is trying to get invested in a job that you know you are about to leave, and knowing that in a few months, they might not even remember your name, but doing your best anyways.

But mostly, interning is about awesome. Every day, it really just gets more awesome. I get to surround myself with people who are cleverer and funnier and wiser than I am, and work with them on things that really matter, things that are heard by millions of people. I learn things every day about the creative process, and collaboration, and working under deadlines. I am so grateful for the people I work with, and the chance I’ve had with NPR4.

  1. If interns were colors, I would be beige and she would be flaming red.
  2. I am often so dedicated to my sarcasm that I come off as being stupid. Leaving me a legacy of, “Remember that one intern we had who owned a shirt that said ‘to be or not to be’ but didn’t know Hamlet was from Denmark?” Because that happened.
  3. Because I’m not a naturally chatty person, particularly around people who I think are awesomer than me. I generally stay quiet, because I now that when I open my mouth, something stupid will probably come out. I have no idea how my chattiness, or lack there of, compares to other interns, but I sometimes feel myself to be rather bland and quiet.
  4. Hopefully ending on a positive note didn’t make me sound too grumpy or spoiled. Because seriously, I love NPR. I love “Wait, Wait,” and I loved University Press. I just find myself in a point in my life where I seek permanence. I am tired of drifting. I want to find something stable that I can hold on to – job, apartment, friends – something that does not come with a sell-by date. And I think that feeling has subconsciously seeped into my work and reflected there.
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One thought on “in which I discuss the finer points of interning

  1. Interning is a very strange time of life, for sure. At least you enjoy your internships. Mine was lame. And I know what you mean about that cycle of interns and wondering how you compare to the others. Just enjoy what you can of it and figure you’re nowhere near the worst intern that they’ve had. Doesn’t matter if they forget you – I don’t think your legacy will be as an intern, but as something infinitely cooler. :)

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