For college students, fall is a crisp season of beginnings. This means the start of classes, a new fling, a fresh cinnamon candle and, for some, 30 new internship applications.
While 30 might be an exaggeration, to call the dread I feel when I think about internships “overwhelming” wouldn’t be. Dealing with an attention deficit, online school, a financial strain and environmental stressors has left me neglecting my career development. Even though internships make up the tail end of the professional food chain, they still require experience. As I fill out my applications, I can't help but wonder if I’ve done enough in college to attract potential employers.
Over the summer, I attended my first virtual conference for the Asian American Journalist Association. In one Zoom meeting, recruiters from The New York Times asked student attendees to introduce themselves. The other young journalists immediately began self-pitching. Many of them were editors of their school paper and had several internships already under their belt. When I realized that the introduction I had been reciting in my head paled in comparison, I swiftly clicked out of the meeting.
Even though I am just as capable as those other students, I couldn't help but compare myself based on productivity. Maybe if I had just put down my phone more often, if I had made a better connection with a professor, if I had taken on that extra writing assignment ─ I would be in the same boat as them.
However, that is not necessarily the case.
Coming from a working-class family with no connections to the media industry, my chance at success relies entirely on my commitment to the “grind.” As a result, I feel an insurmountable guilt when I take a break.
“Laziness” is an idea instilled by the capitalist system. With our economy in the gutter, young people are pitted against each other in a desperate battle to get paid. The need to stand out in a growing labor pool makes individuals feel it is their own fault for not taking on extra projects or having certain specs on their resume. Any time spent away from priming ourselves to be fit for an employer is time that is wasted.
My generation and the generations before me were raised in a country that considers the 40-hour work week as the standard. Today, the work week doesn’t account for the labor of unpaid “opportunities.” For example, students within the School of Journalism and Communications are advised to offer free photography and writing assignments for the sake of portfolio building. Especially in the media industry, where jobs are insecure and seniority is valued, young people are expected to work extra.
And while hard work is revered in our society, the ability to take unpaid internships, spend time on personal projects and connect with professionals are opportunities determined in part by socio-economic class. I am grateful for my opportunity to pursue a higher education, but the stepping stones needed to obtain paid internships are often inaccessible for students like me who are not privileged.
I’m not alone when it comes to work-related guilt. Every Friday on our nights off, I have at least one friend who can’t relax due to an upcoming deadline. Our efforts to secure a post-graduate career comes at the expense of our mental health and free time. A well-rounded, fulfilling life is not valuable to a capitalist structure. We need jobs to survive in our country and American work culture exploits us by blurring the line between work and play. My unpaid labor is expected, congratulated even, and I am promised the reward of more work for doing so. If the reward for pushing myself to the brink right now is to be subsumed into the same system that creates these conditions, what do I really gain from my diligence?
As I type this, a phrase that has cycled through Twitter comes to mind:
“I do not have a dream job. I do not dream of labor."
In my toils to complete these applications, I will no longer let myself feel guilty for any “lack of” achievement. At the end of the day, my resume does not determine my worth.