I imagined my first post-graduate thought, diploma in hand, would be, “Okay, what’s my thing?” Of course, I also imagined that thing would be at least a paid internship. Now, in our current economic climate, the first post-graduate thought has splintered into, “What’s my unpaid thing?” With the number of job openings on a steady decline, and unpaid internships on the rise, the post-college, pre-career set are forced to weigh not only the financial repercussions of their choices, but also examine any potential side benefits. The unpaid internship, while not exactly new, is now de rigueur, or if you didn’t take French, you have to.
If I can put the economic variables aside for a moment, because suddenly there aren’t any, I think the unpaid internship might just reveal itself as advantageous for a number of reasons. Though we constantly learn new things about ourselves, I also have to consider that by twenty-one years old, the good ship, ‘What’s My Thing,’ has already sailed. With more expected of us at a younger age, the modern process of identity exploration begins a lot earlier. We’re supposed to suspect what it is we want from life by the time we begin our college applications even though the reason we decided to apply to college in the first place was because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t get paid.
So, badly fooled, I prepare to enter my senior year and am actually considering what I want to contribute in my profession instead of how much my profession will contribute to me. “What is worth my unpaid while?” The greatest fear of the post-graduate has to now be, “What if I like my unpaid thing better than I like my paid thing?” Because with a paid internship I get to say, “Look ma, a check,” but with an unpaid internship I might actually get to say, “Look ma, check me out.” I believe in time I will be paid for something, but for now I look forward to contributing some ideas for free. There’s freedom that comes with that. (The author was not paid for this article.)