I’m sure you’re familiar with LinkedIn: the social media platform apparently focused on employment, but more frequently used to find out just how many synonyms there are for the phrase “I am delighted to announce.” In my experience, LinkedIn is also capable of putting you in a career-oriented downward spiral. We would all love to see the anxiety-inducing element of the site sorted in their next bug fix, but LinkedIn does not seem to be creating this career anxiety as much as reflecting a culture of it. As students consider their career paths, many have swapped ice cream for internships this summer, but what are the pros and cons of this decision? Do they even matter? And how can we combat the all too familiar career anxiety?
There are so many obvious and heralded reasons for using your summer to get some work experience; being an undergraduate student can, for many, mean long summers after intense but short semesters. When else do we have this much time to dedicate to building our knowledge for the working world? Internships offer structure where summer can give way to isolation, as we shift away from the routine of work. The massive lifestyle shift from one extremity — crammed college semesters in the city — to another — watching Modern Family reruns in the isolation of the countryside — can be smoothed over by the excitement of the workplace and the notion of doing something for your future self in your spare time.
However, even as I write about the pros of summer internships with all the panache of a Trinity Careers Service weekly email alert, I can’t help but find big flaws in my own argument. Having spare time over the summer is a privilege not afforded to all students — the cost of living in Dublin often turns the summer break into an opportunity to save money ahead of the academic year. Any unpaid summer internships are thus rendered at best a burden, and at worst a financial impossibility, while paid internships are usually harder to secure. And isn’t the summer break meant to be … well … a break? The pressure to save money before September is already difficult enough, with many students arriving back to college burnt out from summer jobs. The 12 week Trinity terms look relaxing in comparison to a summer of pressure to make money, do an internship, and also somehow relax ahead of a busy year.
“Many who decided to do internships are rushing themselves on to the [career] ladder because they feel they’re behind, when in reality, everyone is behind”
Canice McCarthy, an incoming senior sophister working abroad for the summer, suggests that the feeling of pressure to complete an internship is most potent for the students who went into college during the Covid-19 pandemic: he says, “we missed a college experience”, referring to being in various lockdowns for the college summers of first and second year, and that many “who decided to do internships are rushing themselves on to the [career] ladder because they feel they’re behind, when in reality, everyone is behind”
A Trinity student who wishes to remain anonymous is currently doing a finance internship, and cites career anxiety as “a big reason why [they] picked this internship” alongside “growing up in the recession…and seeing the current economic climate”. The student shared that despite their work experience being paid, and there being other internship opportunities with higher wages, “it doesn’t necessarily mean you are sorted” money-wise, as housing crises and hidden costs in the cities in which the internships take place bring the cost up. That said, the student suggests that it is still worth considering paid internships in the place of hospitality jobs: “I found hospitality so much more difficult than this.”
The truth is, like any other experience, summer internships work for some and not others, depending on what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they can manage it. So whether or not you are doing some work experience this summer, it is the pressure to do so that we should combat. Where is this pressure coming from, you ask? To put it simply, I don’t know. Maybe it is a result of a culture of comparison egged on by our increased awareness of other people’s lives through social media? Perhaps hustle culture is to blame? Either way, career anxiety can make the stress of an internship at least seem like nothing in comparison to the stress of not having one. Hearing the words “oh, I applied months ago” is a feeling akin to not having done an essay that everyone else has handed in. This feeling, like sand in a sandwich, seems to seep into everything and can ruin a beach day. After my own career-related panic, I have come up with some coping mechanisms for career anxiety, regardless of how you are spending your summer.
“Taking your career at your own pace is one of the best ways to feel in control of it”
Remember that it is okay to take your time. Not to quote my Self-Love Mug (so firmly Gen Z it’s revolting), but “you are not late or early in your life journey – you’re right on time!” However cringey that may sound, and however much the world tells us otherwise, taking your career at your own pace is one of the best ways to feel in control of it.
A second coping mechanism: have a time limit if you research career prospects; and allow yourself to feel an accomplishment in doing said research. Swimming into the deep blue of “looking into your career” is exhausting. Keep the shore in sight and swim back – i.e. shut the laptop – when you’ve had enough.
Finally: know you aren’t alone. If this article isn’t enough to convince you, turn to pop culture. Try to remember the ending to The Devil Wears Prada, not just the glitzy bits. Even if the only consistent sunshine you are getting this summer is from watching Mamma Mia again, at least you can heed its message that life can change in a moment, and success is neither linear nor defined by your career.