TLDR: Internships are valuable opportunities for one to learn and grow. Every internship is different and there’s no need to compare. As great platforms for networking, internships can allow us to be bold and to speak out.
Internships have now become a rite of passage for university students. Lessons are learnt. White hair appears. Overtime (OT) drags. I was part of a challenging yet exciting project as an intern. Here’s what I did and my 3 takeaways.
During my internship, I worked for and with a group of solopreneurs – people who set up and run a business on their own- who were commissioned by the Chinese government to organize and host a regional China-ASEAN Startup competition.
This competition aims to bring aspiring startups and established businesses across Southeast Asia (ASEAN) into the hub of Nanning.
Being a politics and international affairs geek, I was excited to be a part of this project!
This competition is one of the subsidiary events of the high-profile China-ASEAN EXPO, where state leaders of both regions regularly attend. This attachment was not your typical corporate internship. With my unique experience, I learnt not to compare with my fellow schoolmates.
1. Comparison is the thief of joy
It’s our human nature to compare. At times, comparisons encourage healthy competition and push us to improve. However, we must be careful of envy’s trap.
When I was in my polytechnic days, I used to envy friends who secured internships with internationally renowned firms. I was dejected, demoralized and desperate when my applications were rejected.
I felt that opportunities were only reserved for the rich, bright and powerful.
Little was I aware that I was a victim of the “three poisons” (Anger, Greed & Ignorance) and experienced Dukkha (Suffering). This cycle of anguish formed from Taṇhā (Craving) as I desired to conform to stereotypes and to be accepted as a contributing member of society. Thankfully, this mindset was all but in the past.
As I aged and gained wisdom from the Dhamma, I realised that interning with big firms does not necessarily mean that they are the right firms for us.
These firms may mass employ undergraduates and drive more competition. However, interns may get less opportunity to learn and shine as the same ‘workload’ gets diluted with many other interns.
Coupled with high expectations and added pressure, internships with these firms may not always be the thriving spot for some. I gleaned this insight from my friend’s experiences with global corporations.
Everyone learns at different speeds. In large firms, interns are often put together in a graduate program and expected to be on the same learning curve.
I used to be a slow learner and appreciate colleagues giving me the time and space to find my feet. Working in a small group for my internship with the startup competition project, I could take adequate time to learn the ropes. With more confidence, I contributed more to the project. I had greater exposure and was able to learn more.
Every internship is different and each internship brings something different to the table. No one size fits all.
Some questions to ponder for those finding internships: Prestige or growth? Short-term or long-term? The questions help us recognize that no path is the same and it’s in our power to chart our path. Instead of comparing our internship experiences, we can focus on our learning journey and choose a firm with a culture that we stand to gain the most from.
2. Linkages – Our network is our net worth
The best part of an internship is the opportunity to network and establish links. Internships are not merely for us to gain exposure to the working world.
As cliché as it sounds, our potential net worth is indeed determined by our network.
Internships present a valuable opportunity to speak to industry experts, high net-worth individuals, business leaders, and even government officials.
I like having choices. An internship opens as many doors as possible. We never know which door will be open. For those of us considering a career switch, we could potentially chance upon someone in your desired industry during networking events.
For instance, my interest is to become a sinologist and this internship presented me with the opportunity to network with key Chinese government officials and intermediaries. Pushing boundaries, and seizing networking opportunities led to me meeting personnel from Alibaba Group, Chulalongkorn University, Startup founders among many others.
How do we network?
Start with weak ties such as old friends in industries you are keen on or seniors from previous internships or acquaintances from networking events.
We’d be surprised how many people say yes to small favours to connect with us. For the brave, you can try lunchclub.com (https://lunchclub.com/) which connects you to different like-minded people looking to network.
Networking helps expand’s one connection and creates potential opportunities to open more doors. However, it requires stepping out of the comfort zone which I know some may be fearful of. This brings me to the next lesson.
3. Understanding Fear
Buddhism teaches us that all beings feel fear and anxiety. It’s normal to feel a sense of apprehension about joining a new firm or saying hi to strangers in networking sessions.
Often, our nervousness, anxiety and fear engulf us, making us meek out. Having faith in our potential to learn and grow counters that fear with gradual confidence. Confidence is crucial even as an intern! There are benefits to honing our confidence.
Being open and ready to speak out conveys our knowledge of your material. As an intern, speaking out establishes clear boundaries to co-workers and signals to others that we are not easy pushovers.
By speaking up, we learn more and gain respect for being humble at learning. Internships are all about learning so it is alright to make mistakes. Be bold and optimistic rather than submit to the corporate hierarchical order.
Here, I am not endorsing interns step over authority!
Rather, I believe we learn a whole lot more by speaking out (whenever necessary) since we stand to lose more opportunities to ask questions by staying quiet.
During my internship, I liaised with an external firm for creating marketing collateral. The firm assured us that the final product would align with our expectations. I suspected that the firm inferred our instructions differently and might produce something that’s below expectations and might cause delays.
Recollecting the Buddha’s teaching of Ehipassiko – come and see for yourself or simply to investigate – overcame my fear of speaking out. True enough, upon further probing, my suspicions were proven true as there was indeed some misunderstanding.
Beyond practising mindfulness we must also investigate before jumping to any conclusion. By doing so, we would not just seek the truth but also insulate ourselves from false accusations.
It’s also crucial to be firm and speak up if we have any concerns. In normal circumstances, as an intern, I have limited right to speak out against leading marketing experts for an area where I have got no experience in.
However, by knowing the project’s needs, in this case, the direction where the competition should be headed, I had the duty to manage these external stakeholders.
The purpose of an internship is for you to learn. Thus, it’s important to step out of the comfort zone, be bold, not be fearful of making mistakes and always be ready to speak out.
Through these lessons, I have grown to be a much happier and confident person. By not comparing, I was able to block out negative externalities and focus my time and energy on what matters. Doing so, I gained confidence and was able to expand my connections and overcome fear.
These are my 3 takeaways from my experience as an intern. I hope this advice would provide you with some useful insights to gaining confidence and overcoming fear.
- Comparison is the thief of joy: Understand which internship path helps you to reach your learning goals
- Build that networking muscles by reaching out to old friends in exciting industries or seniors from previous internships. Getting the first ‘hello’ is probably the hardest but most fulfilling step!
- Know that dear friend fear. Countering it with knowledge, courage, and mindfulness can slowly decrease its grip on us