It’s the last week of my internship and as I near the end, it’s bittersweet. In some ways, it feels like time is moving too slowly this week after rushing past me for the last eight weeks. I’ve been jittery and while I prepare to send out thank you notes, get cupcakes for my last day, and ask for feedback, I’ve also been reflecting on my first internship as a college grad and how it’s gone for me and which lessons I’ve learned.
It feels a little strange to be at the lowest rung of the career ladder and to talk of learning lessons on work-life balance, but it’s something I’ve definitely had to grapple with. I’m also trying to pay more attention to my experiences here, as the trends here may continue to crop up later in my life and career.
Growing up, and even today, I always saw my parents working extremely hard at their careers. They moved cities often, usually separately, returned home well past dinner time and worked at home through weekends, as I felt mature and grownup making sure they ate through the day. My mom loves video editing and while she pursued it well for some years, she’s let it go as a hobby to be pursued post retirement.
(sometimes I’m afraid I’m getting too personal in these posts, but if a blog isn’t created to communicate, what is it for?)
The drive with which my family pursues their careers has always been deeply inspirational to me, but it also means that I never understood the concept of a work day ending at 5 p.m. or of how to balance an active inner life in conjunction with my work life. In short, I began to see my work as the only thing in my life that could provide me with joy and meaning constantly. This message is especially driven into us as millennials and Gen Z’ers. It’s mandatory to be busy.
The riddle of today is: If your life doesn’t have at least two projects at a time taking up over twelve hours of your day, are you even living?
So when I felt my spirits flag a little towards the end of the fourth week of my internship, my imagination went into overdrive. Clearly, I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing. I had made a mistake in spending my summer here. I wasn’t cut out for this kind of work. It was utterly incomprehensible to me that a career, if it were the career for me, would ever give me something other than continuous and complete satisfaction.
Over the weekend, I tried to regroup and get my thoughts in order. I opened my computer and looked over my work of the past few weeks. Logging into Coursera, I took the next lesson in the course I had been avoiding for four weeks. Then I took another. Then another. I took out my ukulele, which had barely been used for three weeks and tried to strum along to simple songs.
And honestly, as relaxing as that above paragraph sounds, it wasn’t. At all. I couldn’t really get over my feeling that I was doing something wrong by focussing on something that wouldn’t really make me a better person, that instead of working out or writing or reading reports, I was wasting time by strumming an instrument I could barely play. I knew I had lesser hours in the day to be productive, due to my long commute, and so, my brain reasoned, did I want to waste my weekends too?
Except, it was then that I realized I was exhausted. The “New Phase, New Me” siren call, while still attractive, was in actuality so rigid, with its daily regimen of podcast listening, working out and studying that, while enjoyable, felt very all-or-none. Instead of giving myself time to look outside and explore new facets in a new place and position, I had imposed a schedule on myself that constituted looking mainly inward and that stuck to rules I had created for myself at a different time. In this way, while I wasn’t consumed by work in the same way most people are, my life had become an endless litany of chores, where I was constantly checking my emails and working and reworking reports.
I decided against my yoga practice that Sunday and spent it on the couch with soup and sitcoms instead. Monday morning, I spent my commute looking outside the window, instead of engrossed in podcasts. And while my Monday didn’t go perfectly, I definitely felt more of an inclination to look around me, reawakening my interest in my work. I had been so used to relying on my inner reserves for energy, I hadn’t noticed when they almost ran out. It was enough to let me see that I should be scheduling in a few more breaks and prioritizing a few goals amongst the arrays I had set for myself. I concentrated on reading and studying post work. This allowed me to focus my energies and most importantly, complete all my work while focussing wholly on one task.
While most people face very different problems when it comes to work-life balance, I believe the underlying perfectionist attitude remains the same. As 50% or even 75% effort in any endeavor now becomes increasingly seen as too little, it has become almost necessary to carry out a diverse array of projects with a depleted source of energy.
As my internship draws to a close, I’m still struggling to figure out this elusive thing called a healthy balance, especially when I’m not sure what parts are work and which are life. Especially as the parameters are constantly changing and most of us, and clearly me, are left struggling to model new equations for old selves.
We all have dreams we’d like to achieve in each aspect and it’s hard to sometimes know which parts of our lives should take the most precedence. Perhaps as a child, it was simpler. Most of knew to focus on the immediate, the tests that came around weekly, monthly. They were also our investments. As lives develop and expand, it becomes a little more difficult. The immediate and the life investments begin to merge and diverge at different times. And no matter how difficult and complicated it might get, I look around me and choose the complicated life. I choose my inner millennial (though I think I’m actually Gen Z?) who wants it all. It doesn’t mean that I try everything. It just means checking in and looking at what’s best at every stage, as I pass through it.
Has there been a time when you've struggled to have it all? How did you respond?