To Intern, or Not to Intern…

Graduating from college? A million congratulations. The world is yours, hip hip hooray, and all that good stuff.

Now, if for some odd reason that diploma you’ve earned doesn’t imply the experience you need to actually survive in the world, you can gain potentially lucrative knowledge by applying for unpaid internships. For what they lack in fiscal gain and actually helping you stay alive, working for free gives us hope for the birth of a beautiful bouncing young career; but when do the labor pains end and the seemingly distant euphoric rush set in?

Working for no money doesn’t exactly fit into the post grad plan for most. Many of us dream of having textured business cards with our names written in gold as soon as we step off the graduation podium, or maybe living cheap and chic in a New York City loft while we save up for that mansion. The reality is that the lure of a dream career may inspire a move into one of those ever gentrifying big city neighborhoods, where the two paths in life are then magnified: one of those neighborhoods that have supermarkets that sell cage-free, hormone-free, sorrow-free eggs, but have inhabitants loitering outside of them who practice the rituals of the destitution like heirlooms to be passed down generation after generation. It can be absolutely terrifying to wonder which side of the supermarket door you will end up on.

Even more terrifying are some of the statistics on internships leading directly to paying careers. According to a 2013 study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 37% of unpaid interns received a job offer, versus the 35.2% of those offered jobs without an internship in their pasts. The same study concluded that those unpaid interns were offered less money for permanent positions than those who never interned.

Statistics like that make the line between paying your dues and slavery very blurry. However, even if your ambition runs toward a notoriously unprofitable career like those of the artistic pursuits, working in sync with your desire can lead to a fulfilled life. A study conducted by Harvard University followed 300 male students over the course of their lifetimes and measured their rates of happiness. The conclusion was that being content with one’s work is correlated with one’s overall satisfaction in life, but salary and power are not.

Bottom line, the true question when applying for unpaid internships should have less to do with whether or not it will lead to a job, but whether it will lead to contentment. An unpaid internship is not likely to catapult you into a corner office or even a rickety desk by the utility closet; but if you are in a field that you love, we will surely become a masochist. Yes, working for free runs the risk of you dying of starvation. But if with your last wisp of living energy all you can think about is the lucky son-of-a-bitch who will replace you at your non-paying position, will then, you’ve made the right choice.


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