Picture this: it’s April, and you’re a junior. While your friends seem to all have summer plans lined up, you’re scrambling for an internship while trying to finish your second to last year of undergrad strong.
If you’re me, you don’t need to imagine. That was my spring semester until I got a message on Handshake from Aflac W-PA. I quickly accepted the opportunity for an interview and accepted the offer. All I needed to do was to pass my license exam to sell insurance and spend my summer as a benefits consultant.
Or so I thought.
The first time I took the exam, I did so a mere day after an unfortunate trip to the ER. I failed on a 160 question exam… by one question. Of course, missing by such a slim margin wasn’t pleasant, but surely I could try again. On the second time, my panic disorder sent me out of the exam room. Again, I was barely shy of a passing score. This pattern repeated.
The exam wasn’t the only source of defeat I was facing. I shadowed cold-calling with my mentor. She was a fantastic mentor, showing me how to be a personable salesperson and radiate positive energy to those around me. However, I was quick to realize that I was not cut out to do door-to-door sales.
I noticed that I lacked the energy or motivation to even invest in projects that were and are meaningful to me. My therapist noticed that I grew more apathetic and detached. Even though I had the time to cook and write and turn to my creative outlets, none of those things really felt like they mattered. My appetite was diminished, which was the last thing I needed in my recovery from an eating disorder. I felt the cost of doing sales not only mentally but physically.
True, doing over a hundred in-person cold calls per week would exhaust anyone (especially if you’re like me and still have to rack up courage to ask a waiter for extra napkins). However, I knew that this was something more than just disliking my internship. No amount of sleep, caffeine, or supportive calls could fix me or pull me out of my feelings of hopelessness. I needed to reevaluate what I wanted to gain from my summer before my senior year.
“You’re welcome home anytime.” Those words echoed in my head one restless night. My dad had said those words after he helped me move into the apartment I was subletting for the summer. He probably had an inkling of an idea that I wouldn’t be happy doing sales but didn’t want to discourage me from trying something outside of my comfort zone. I knew that even if I went home over the summer, I wouldn’t spend it doing nothing. My father, a tenured economics professor, mentioned the different research papers he’s been working on and how I could join if I wanted to. I was so fixated on having a “real” internship outside of my hometown that I tried to escape it.
Although the thought of coming home to my family was comforting, I berated myself for giving up too easily. I knew that wasn’t the case and that in the month I invested in Aflac, I gave it my all. I lost count of how many times I reviewed the course material for the license exam. I engaged in our Monday morning meetings (MMMs). I networked and connected with the other interns and new agents. I reached out to a friend, both a missionary and a recent college graduate, asking for her insight from someone who shares the same faith and probably similar experiences. I voiced how I felt as though I was ruthlessly discarding a potentially rewarding internship by coming home. That conversation encouraged me to take that leap of faith and return home.
I also talked to a handful of people who work with me in The Tartan. For our last issue, our editorial board collaborated to write a piece titled “Students, enjoy your summer.” The op-ed ends with “The present is fleeting, and the future will be affected by how you treat your present. If you treat it as a time to stress yourself out, then that just negatively impacts your future. You’ll look back on your time with anxiety and you’ll likely continue the same practices of stress in your future. So take the time to slow down now and take a break: a real one. Your future self will thank you for it.” Forcing myself in an internship I wasn’t happy with wasn’t worth not having the energy for the final year of my undergraduate career. An extra line on my resume (which, frankly, would still remain since my manager is allowing me to shift to doing remote work in social media marketing, which aligns with my dream career much more!) isn’t worth a burnout.
As I’m writing this, I’m in the Pittsburgh airport waiting for my flight home. In another tab, I have a flyer I’m designing for a Pirates game. On one hand, I’m sad that my internship didn’t pan out nearly the way I expected. However, when one door closes, another door opens. I’ll get to work alongside my father in researching income inequality, something I have and will continue to be passionate about. I’ll get to spend my weekends with my family and my boyfriend, all of whom I would not get to see except a few times a year. I’ll still be working with a top company; it’s just that this time, I’ll get to contribute to an area that better suits my skills and interests.
Aflac’s iconic duck proudly shows that Aflac has got its clients “under our wing.” The first month of this summer, although a bit tumultuous, has shown me that life doesn’t have to go as planned for it to be under control. Sometimes a change of plans or a change in scenery is exactly what is needed, and sometimes that extra insight gives you the perspective required to create a game plan that better guides you to a better future. It took me longer than most of my friends for me to get my ducks in a row (no pun intended), but what matters is that I got there eventually. You will, too.