By Kendall Knaak
A few weeks ago, a handful of my friends moved their tassels to the other side and officially became adults. I liked their graduation Instagram pictures, and held their hands during the stressful moments – until I realized that in less than a year, I’ll be the one decorating my mortarboard and lining up interviews. OK fine, I know my mortarboard will probably have a quote from Gilmore girls on it, but beyond that the future seems a bit fuzzy.
How did this happen?
I’ve spent the past nine months as a self-proclaimed pregnancy cheerleader to my cousin, who welcomed her first child in May. I was there through the nerves, the panic, and the memorable firsts during those months. Five days before Cameron entered the world, I asked my cousin how she was doing. She looked at me, and deadpanned, “I just want him out.” The desire to end the discomfort that only a pregnant woman knows overpowered the nerves and panic about being a good mom. She knew she was ready for the next step, and I knew what she meant.
As it turns out, nine months is the right amount of prep time for parenthood. And four years is a solid amount of time to brace yourself for the real world. Think about it: if you’re a rising college senior like me, four years ago, the biggest thing on your plate was probably convincing your parents to let you drive the car to high school. At the end of my freshman year of college, after taking my first public relations class, the mere thought of entering the workforce as a PR professional resulted in a nervous laugh and copious amounts of distraction. Having an entire company depend on you to do your part? Please.
Three years of classes, and two internships later, I am humming a bit of a different tune. You see, the nerves and panic are starting to abate, and the excitement is starting to set in at the thought of having real responsibilities other than handing in that 30-page term paper comparing and contrasting characters in two Shakespeare plays.
Why do I feel ready? One word: internships.
Public relations is an exciting and ever-evolving field. However, there is only so much you can learn in a classroom before you need to fly out of the nest and begin practicing its principles for yourself.
So, what’s the deal with internships anyway?
Know what your internship entails. Will you be getting coffee for the CEO, or will you be writing practice pitches and meeting with clients? Know what you are signing up for, and don’t be afraid to speak up and prove that you can handle more responsibility.
Internships will teach you what you like, and what you don’t. People can be hesitant to take an internship in a field that isn’t exactly what they are looking for. Don’t be! I had an internship that I was psyched about that was slightly related to public relations, but when I walked out the door on my last day I knew I wanted to be immersed in the public relations world and not just flirting with it. But, learning what I didn’t want to do necessarily proved as helpful as finding out as what I did want to do.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Internships are your opportunity to go out on a limb and try things. You have responsibilities, but you also have safety nets and channels to run things through before they go out into the world. The perfectionist in me is always nervous to not do things 100 percent correct, although at the end of the day I would rather learn how to do a task properly as an intern instead of being exposed to it for the first time as an employee with far more pressure on me.
Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg wrote an entire booking on the subject, which is advocating for women being an active part of the conversation at work, and not doing only what they are told. This idea is applicable to all levels of the workforce, but especially to interns. Be an active participant at meetings. Offer suggestions to lighten your supervisor’s workload. Learn all components of the job. If you are the company’s social media intern, don’t just do the required posts and hide! Ask to sit in on client meetings and read pitches put out by your supervisor – being a well rounded intern will make you a more marketable professional.
And finally, advocate for yourself. Internships are a mutually beneficial relationship between a company and an intern. Yes, perform the tasks asked of you, but don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor for performance feedback or ask questions about how to do your job better. No one is a better advocate for you than you – don’t be afraid to speak up!
Long story short? Change is scary, and becoming a full-fledged adult is a big step. But, you’re ready. Be your own cheerleader (and find some others who are as psyched for you as you are!), and trust in the fact that just like millions of women have successfully given birth, that you can successfully enter the workforce. You’re ready.
In the words of Monica Gellar, “Welcome to the real world! It sucks. You’re going to love it.”