My freshman roommate once asked me, as she blinked awake to the cloudy, Ithaca sky filtering through our dorm window, “Kelly, are you ever so stressed that you can feel it in your chest when you wake up?” I, having just woken up ten minutes ago, looked at her, looked at the fort of laundry between us that needed to be done and just nodded.
Earlier this week, almost exactly three years since that conversation, I woke up to that feeling in my chest again. Immediately, I thought of her and our yellowish wood furniture and string lights that clearly violated safety hazards — what a stressful, chaotic, beautiful time. It occurs to me now that her musings always came at a particular time, and it happens to be that time of year again — early March or, more to the point, summer internship acceptance season.
When someone brings up the words “summer internship,” I am immediately overwhelmed by a series of thoughts: I have not found one yet. But I’m a junior and that probably means I’m screwed for my career. But I also don’t have the energy to apply for more. Even if I wanted to keep applying, have they all passed already? Does it really matter? Of course it does — everyone says a junior internship is the most important one. But is it bad that I’m also kind of exhausted and just want to fly back home and eat popsicles with my sister on the back porch? Is it wrong if I just want to go home for once?
That’s the thought cycle that keeps repeating itself in my head. What will happen to me if I don’t find an internship, and does it make me a failure if I don’t have one?
Apparently, I didn’t learn anything from freshman year. My roommate and I scrambled around our room for the first half of spring semester, editing cover letters and compiling twenty different versions of resumés. But by the time April hit and I still didn’t have an internship, my heart was palpitating at dangerous speeds. “Dear God, it’s over,” I thought to myself. “I’m never going to be hired for this summer, which will mean I’ll never be hired for the rest of my life, which means I’ll die alone and miserable. What am I going to do, just go home to California?” I remember feeling, much as I do now, like I am five steps behind my peers who have already received their offer letters — they know where they are going, and I still have no idea.
But all of this, it turns out, is an illusion. Many cups of coffee later, I ended up receiving an offer my freshman year to write breaking news for CNBC. When I received my offer, I remember breathing a sigh of relief. But I also remember not being able to fly home to see my family for more than ten days that entire year. And the same again for the next year. Soon, I had forgotten entirely what my bedroom at home felt like.
It occurred to me, later, how freshman year might have been the only time I could have afforded to go home for the summer. I was so busy stressing about finding an internship that it didn’t occur to me there were other opportunities I would be missing. It just goes to show there are always two sides to every coin, and usually, only a fraction of our stress is truly necessary.
As a junior now, I admittedly still can’t exactly practice what I preach. My stomach still drops when I hear about internships; that’s just what we’re all trained to default to at Cornell. But maybe it’s time for all of us to reorient our values. Too often, blinded by stress, I find we end up working toward someone else’s agenda rather than toward our own.
My circumstances are different than many others’, and I recognize that it’s a privilege that I can consider just going home for the summer — for many, it’s a vital time to be earning money. Personally, since I’ve already interned for two years and journalism doesn’t demand as many undergraduate internships, I can afford to consider alternatives. But everyone has different levels of what they can afford to give and take — it just might be worth reevaluating what matters. Perhaps it is worth it to take the small company with a job we love, rather than chasing after a big name. Or to pursue a research project or travel abroad. Or in some cases, to simply go home and spend time with family.
In the case of this summer, I don’t know what I’ll choose to do. Perhaps I’ll end up picking an internship anyways. Or perhaps I’ll choose to fly home to California and eat those popsicles with my sister on the porch, finally. Either way, it’s not worth thinking the world will be over. And it’s certainly not worth feeling the stress in our chests first thing in the morning. Everything, hopefully, will fall into place for all of us who are still searching.
Kelly Song is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Songbird Sings runs every other Thursday this semester.