It was March and unseasonably warm in London, England. Tree blossoms burst brilliant and white against the clear blue sky, and fell to the asphalt under their own weight, to the warm concrete below.

 

Obviously it was a perfect day to have a life crisis.

 

Crying pitifully on a park bench on this lovely day, I imagined my future: bleak, directionless, purposeless, and me, wholly unqualified for any meaningful work despite the promise of a liberal arts degree just over two years away. “What am I going to do with my life?” I wondered over and over.

 

Since I hadn’t bothered to hide my shame more than 50 feet away from the entrance of the university building, one of my portly British professors toddled over and offered an ancient handkerchief. He welcomed himself to the seat beside me and said, “You think too much. Just do something.”

 

Just do something. Something. What was my something? The vagueness of ‘something’ didn’t limit me to a box, to my major, to a goal of adulthood achievement. I could just start something and see where it goes.

 

I hit up Google for internships. I had no idea how many opportunities were out there waiting for a motivated student (or one in a life crisis with serious self-doubt). As I looked, I began to get a sense of direction. The world of internships was a confusing city, but navigable. It wasn’t a wilderness meant to lose and confuse me.

 

Between that moment and this one, coming close to 10 years later, I’ve held half a dozen internships, covering industries from public relations to non-profit, corporate coffee-runner to fine jewelry consultant. Would I do it again? Yes. And twice over again.

 

But why listen to me? My very first internship (I interviewed on Skype from another continent) went from summer internship to full time salaried position within two weeks. I have designed my own internship programs at professional organizations for pay or educational credit. And every time it has panned out into something magnificent. Or crazy.

 

Those first internships I applied to from my efficiency flat in London were the beginning of a creative, life-altering, and daring process of self-discovery. Each opportunity offered a unique perspective on professionalism, and general “adulting,” as the kids say. Within every role I took I learned a little bit more about what I wanted to do, and more importantly, what I absolutely did not want to do.

 

The lessons learned are innumerable, and even in my full-fledged career (a real adult job), I apply what I gained each day on the job. More important than the reality of “how to do a job,” internships reinforced a pattern of strategic professional development. It became like muscle memory to target potential opportunities, determine my objectives within the internship, identity the key people I could target as mentors, and squeeze every last drop of knowledge and experience from it.

 

So, what are you looking for? Are you feeling stuck, or just overwhelmed at the thought of entering the “real world?” Maybe your parents just want you out of the house? Whatever – it’s reason enough to look for an internship.

 

Bethany’s Top Five Tips to Get the Most out of Your Internship Experience

  1. Be Passionate: you get out of it what you put into it.
  2. Do a strategic self-assessment. What are your growth opportunities? What is standing between you and your dream next step?
  3. Assess the opportunity landscape. What opportunities exist in the areas you’re looking? Are you limited to paid internships, or are you open to unpaid? (often some of the best opportunities for learning are in unpaid internships.)
  4. Determine your objectives. What do you want to accomplish and how do you get there?
  5. Identify and Connect with your mentors. Who are the people who have done what you’re doing successfully? Which community leaders can share their knowledge?

 

Follow these tips and see where your next opportunity takes you. They say when a door closes, a window opens. Right now, all your windows and doors are wide open.

 

Happy Internship Hunting!