When you think of an intern you probably picture a naive young college student trying to earn credits and put something other than “barista” on her resume. Not this lady. In my 30s with a Master’s Degree in tow, I’m an intern. Yikes.
You always see those movie previews about the guy in his 50s who ends up with a 30-year-old boss. How embarrassing that is for him. Well, try being 33 (almost 34) and being an intern surrounded by 23 year olds who are far more office savvy than you are. This could be the plot of a great movie, right? Where Jake Gyllenhaal comes to my rescue as the rich executive who falls in love with the artsy intern and….snap, back to reality. I’ll be lucky if I can remember not to make a wildly inappropriate joke at the much younger operations manager. Remember, I tell myself, those people are your supervisors, not your peers. Well yeah, I’m way too old to be friends with the actual employees of the company. Though oddly enough, I find I’m much less embarrassed about this than I thought I’d be – in fact I’m kind of proud.
As our generation finds it’s much more difficult to make money in our dream careers, I see many people headed back to school in their late 20s, early 30s. My choice seems like a much more affordable and less time consuming way to (hopefully) get the experience I need to move further into my field. (Plus TWO master’s degrees? Ugh. Talk about overeducated. I think not.) Anyway, both the organization and the field I’m interning in are good ones, so I feel positive about my possibilities and where I’ve ended up. It took me a couple tries to find a place that would accept someone out (far out in my case) of college and someone lacking in admin skills, but I somehow lucked into a well-respected national arts org.
The hardest things for me to deal with are not the embarrassments of being old and unskilled, as I thought they would be, but way more about basic needs: money, time, and energy. I don’t care what anyone says, but sitting at a desk for hours at a time is far more exhausting to me than working on my feet all day. I am tired in a way I don’t even understand. It’s not my usual lack of sleep, or sore muscles, or body tired, but I’m mentally zapped of energy. How do you 9-to-5ers deal with this?
The other thing, of course, is money. You have to spend it to earn it. And while I luckily don’t need to take out hundreds of thousands in student loans, this internship means I have less hours to work, which means I make less money, and my credit card bill are going to skyrocket. I knew this going in. Three months, how bad can it get? Right? It can get BAD in a city like D.C. if you aren’t careful. Which luckily I am… but still. I hate the idea of being saddled with ever-growing debt. Then again, what are my options? I need the experience, or I need to go back to school. Either way I’m taking a financial hit. I’m hoping the experience will be enough to get me a job, but it might not be. Or I may find working in an office is the horror I’ve always imagined it to be, and in order to save my soul from being drained altogether I may end up back in school anyway.
We used to hear a lot about people going through a mid-life crisis. Okay, got it. You reach middle age and find that being married with children isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Then we heard about the quarter-life crisis, the “what do I do now that I’m out of college” soul-searching phase. But what about us 30-somethings who have stagnated? Who want more without taking steps backward? Who maybe want to have children and own a home, but don’t have the money or career success to do it? What do we do? This is perhaps the scariest crisis of all: to know you have busted your ass for the last 10 years out of college and gotten just about nowhere. So what to do next? My theory is, put your fingers in as many things as possible and pray that something (or maybe many things) will accumulate into something that will pay the bills AND feed your passion. In the end I still believe it’s possible. We’ll see if the rest of my 30s prove me right or wrong.