It took me a few days to eventually sit down and write the ‘what I learned’ portion of this post – the honest reason being, I wasn’t sure what angle to take on this. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you that during the J1 Graduate Programme in New York City I learned how to banish cockroaches from my apartment, what it’s like to go on an online date, how to navigate the Subway while drunk at 4am, take a nap en route and wake up at your stop. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you I learned that it’s easier (and usually correct) to assume the older guy chatting you up at the bar has a wife / girlfriend, that the job offer that seems too good to be true probably is, that I learned how to cook a Christmas turkey dinner in a kitchen the size of a closet or what it’s like to high-five your best friend over a lap dance at a Manhattan strip club. Ahem… Instead, I decided to dig into the emotional roller-coaster that was the J1 Graduate Programme. And here’s what I learned…
Don’t work so much you forget to experience it.
Intern life is not easy. It doesn’t matter how great the company you’re working for is. It doesn’t matter how well you get along with them or how much great experience you’re getting. It’s tough to be an intern. You work for free and you work a lot. You probably live really far from where you’re working and have very little time to do anything but commute to work, work, come home, repeat. Take charge of this. Know when enough is enough and allow yourself time to meet people, see things and experience the amazing opportunity you have before you. It doesn’t happen twice, so go to a game, visit a state you’ve never been to, see a show, have a drink on a skyscraper rooftop bar, make friends with a stranger, take photographs.
Get out of the city.
It’s likely you’ll do your internship in a big city. That’s great. City’s are amazing places packed full of opportunity and activities. But city’s can grind you down. They can make you feel more lonely than you’ve ever felt even when you’re surrounded by millions of people. When you’re exhausted from working and you feel completely worn down, get out of the city. Find nature and just be. Put your toes in the sand, have a picnic in the woods, go for a hike. You will return refreshed and more ready to take the city on.
From time to time, be silly.
This is a time in our lives when we feel like we need to start getting our shit together and we probably do. That being said, don’t lose your sense of fun. Visit friends in other cities, have friends visit you, have experiences together. For one night, promise to forget your struggles and just be silly. The laughter and memories will get you through the tough times and one day you will look back on it and think ‘that was ridiculous’ and you’ll smile.
Lessons, not regrets.
You might do things you regret. Maybe you were drunk, maybe you lost your way, maybe you have no explanation but you will probably have regrets. This is a crazy time of change and learning about yourself and the world and the important thing to remember is not to simply regret, but to learn. In the whirlwind of confusing emotions, fears and experiences you will have, try not to forget yourself. Be true to who you are and when you lose sight of that, acknowledge it, reaffirm yourself and move on knowing that you have learned from the experience and you are better for it.
The big city dream doesn’t have to be your dream.
We grow up seeing the tall buildings and city lights in movies and TV shows. The big city is described as a land of opportunity where, as the media and pop culture tells us, we can ‘make it’. The city is romanticised as this magical place where dreams are realised. Well, guess what? For some people, that may be true but for many more the city is a struggle. If it’s your dream to go there and work hard to get to where you want to be, absolutely go and grab your dreams by the horns but the big city dream doesn’t have to be your dream and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t allow the media to tell you what you should do or where you need to be. Only you can decide that. Follow your dreams where you heart feels at home.
It’s ok if you change your mind.
You might have grown up thinking you knew exactly what you’ve always wanted to do and now you’re not so sure. People change and so will you and it’s ok to embrace that. Change is terrifying but resisting it only delays the inevitable and makes you bitter. It’s not too late to change course. Don’t view it as failure. Be thankful that this opportunity helped you realise what you want from life and go for it. Take a leap.
The J1 Graduate Programme was a huge growing experience for me. I learned a lot about myself – about how strong I can be in the face of adversity and also how weak I can be. I learned to let go of my mistakes and to move forward. I learned to chase what makes me happy even if that means taking a giant leap of faith into something unknown. I learned that it’s ok to fail and that moving forward in life with those failures and lessons under my belt has already helped me to find a path to where I want to be and what I want to do. If you have the opportunity to take a year to do the same, I highly recommend it. It may be the hardest and most rewarding thing you’ll do.