Why I Quit My Unpaid Internship
Last week I did what may as well be considered a mortal sin among LHSC students and quit my internship.
I know, I know. You might be gasping in horror; and quite frankly, if you told me a few months ago that I’d be quitting this internship so soon down the line, I might have gone all out and pulled a Victorian faint.
When I first heard that this company was offering internships, I was over the moon; I had worshiped them since freshman year and the idea of getting to work with them was a total dream come true. I wasn’t sure if it was paid or not (spoiler: it wasn’t), but I figured there was no harm in applying, especially since I was super qualified for the job. I scored an interview, where I confirmed that the internship was unpaid and that they wouldn’t be able to provide a transportation or lunch stipend, either.
You may be wondering why I took this internship in the first place. From the interview, I could tell that I would be doing a lot of real work, not just fetching coffee and other stereotypical intern duties. So, ignoring every cell in my body (as well as most of my friends) that screamed at me to not take unpaid work, especially not after doing a paid internship over summer, I happily accepted when I was offered the position.
Whenever people asked why I was doing an unpaid internship, I justified it by saying, “I wouldn’t have taken this internship if I didn’t think it had a lot to offer me.”
And it did. There were plenty of perks, don’t get me wrong. Free cold brew on tap, and even free beer and cider on tap, as well as a spot on the guest list for every event the company threw. And the first day that I took my lunch break to sit by the river and gaze at the skyline while wolfing down pasta I’d brought from home, I felt that same spark of naive romanticism toward the city that I felt when I was first applying to Hofstra because it was “right next to New York City.”
The environment was certainly high-pressure, but it was because I was doing real work with high stakes. I’m used to that kind of environment – I edit this section of the paper and have to deal with everyone’s hot takes. The problem was that this internship simply wasn’t offering me enough.
And perhaps if I were a different person with different needs (read: a lot more money and a lot less mental illness), what that internship offered would have been enough.
But I realized that having so much on my plate at once – interning twice a week, working a part-time job, editing The Chronicle, being involved in student activism and still maintaining full-time student status – was affecting my ability to function. What’s more, it was affecting all of the people I work with – in my personal life, at The Chronicle, in my organizing duties – who were relying on me to get stuff done.
I rarely acknowledge my own needs until it’s far too late and I’m past my breaking point. So, for finally recognizing the stress I was putting on myself and taking action proactively, I am a proud quitter.
Again, this kind of attitude seems to be a total taboo in the school of comm. So often, it seems that I hear my fellow students almost boast about how overcommitted they are, how few hours of sleep they got the night before (if they got any sleep at all), how many caffeine-induced panic attacks they’ve had today. It becomes almost a point of pride to tell people that you are neglecting your personhood so severely for the sake of the work.
I get it. The field of media as a whole rewards this culture of working yourself to the bone, especially in New York. I’m not at all saying that we should abandon our ambitions and chill out forever. I’m saying we could curb the bloodthirsty edge of those ambitions and take some time to be human every so often, especially since we’re all still college students; we have the rest of our lives to be soulless media junkies. And maybe, just maybe, if we change the culture of neglected mental health at the collegiate level, we can make it so that media doesn’t have to equal misery.