I call it the “labor trough”: Me, approaching 33, and about a dozen college sophomores crowd long tables in the fluorescent-lit offices. They ask me if I’m also a student and I try not to laugh. To be fair, this is a decision I’ve made peace with—me, giving my labor away for free when I should be saving for a down payment on a house—but the day-to-day reality of toughing it out at the bottom of the career ladder at my age is not as sunny as my inner life coach would like to believe.
A little backstory on how I ended up here: I decided to make a career change to a small, insular industry in my 30s. I showed up to my interview wearing second-hand designer clothing, heels, and full makeup (a rare occurrence for me). I felt poised and excited, like I was in some rom-com: Successful City Woman leaps out of the cab en route to the rest of her life!
Of course, my life is decidedly not a rom-com, and I was abruptly reminded of this as I met the individuals with whom I would be interviewing: two women in their early twenties who had just been interns themselves, who probably (still) think that thirty is, like, SO old. Nevertheless, they were able to see potential in my geriatric skill set, and I landed the internship.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that it’s been easy. It’s really very not easy. The truth of the matter is, while I think it’s worth it, I’m run ragged. I have to work two other paying jobs to support my unpaid internship. There’s a lot of valid criticism going on of whether unpaid internships are an abuse of labor practices. And for me personally, it’s hard not to think about the money I could be making at my freelance gig while I’m at my internship doing mundane tasks that were tolerable in my 20s because the notion of working in an office was still novel. At times, it feels impossible to see the skill set that is supposed to emerge come from literally copying and pasting from one database to another.
Still, I’m confident that I can make the best of it, because here’s the thing: I have some super powers now that I didn’t when I was nineteen. I’m no longer shy, and I can even be charming. I’m confident in my work, and am unafraid to ask for clarification or help. I know the importance of networking, and in a small industry, seeming like a good person to work with can be as important as being good at your job, for better or worse. I’m pretty sure I can tolerate a little madness for a few months to transition to a worthy career. It might be a little degrading for a little while, but that’s OK until it’s not, which is another grown-woman super power I have now: knowing when to put yourself first, walk out that door, and find the next great opportunity.