Making the Most of an Imperfect Summer Job
Guest Blogger: Caroline Albro
Everyone has a horror story of a bad summer job. Maybe it was the summer spent babysitting a trouble-making child or flipping hamburgers at the local fast-food restaurant. But what happens when the summer job or internship of your dreams turns out to be less than perfect? I spent the summer of 2019 working at an academic summer program for middle school students at a college on the East Coast. This program is designed to allow kids to explore their interests, live on a college campus, and make lasting friends over the course of a few weeks. I loved the idea of spending a summer away from home on a beautiful college campus, working with other college students, and making money, so I decided to apply for a position. While I knew that I didn’t want to work in a teaching or residential advisor role, I applied to work as the scheduling coordinator for the program, which had me organizing the daily schedules of nearly one hundred staff members.
At first glance, this job seemed perfect for me. I’m organized, I love to plan, and I would have a real responsibility and purpose at the program. However, after a few days, I realized that I was not cut out for this job. I had hoped to have the opportunity to collaborate and engage creatively with others in my office, but I found myself glued to my computer screen for the majority of my day, individually scheduling meetings and requests from emails and various spreadsheets. Furthermore, the program was designed with employees often working 12 hour days, with few breaks to explore the area or decompress. I was quickly burning out. Even after reaching out to my manager for help, this job did not fulfill my hopes for the summer. I stayed with the job in an effort to carry out the commitment that I made to myself and the program, motivated by each passing week and paycheck. At the end of the seven weeks, I left feeling drained and slightly upset that I had wasted a summer in a disappointing job. But after speaking with family and friends about the experience, I came to understand that I had not wasted my summer. In fact, I had learned more in those seven weeks than in any other experience in my life.
No, the experience was not what I had hoped for. Nonetheless, it taught me valuable lessons about what I want (and what I don’t want) in future internships and jobs. For example, the lack of opportunities for creativity and teamwork showed me that I need those elements to feel content in future professional experiences. On the other hand, my role over the summer did allow me to feel responsible, purposeful, and powerful, which I found myself enjoying. I would hope to maintain those components in my career someday.
Despite the difficulties of this job, it also instilled confidence in myself that I will carry into future experiences. I now know that I can accomplish challenging things, whether it be studying abroad in a month or writing my senior thesis next year. I proved to myself that I have the grit and tenacity to work harder than I thought was possible, often with a smile on my face.
Now that I’ve returned home and have had ample time to reflect on my summer experience, I understand that it is influential in developing my maturity and life outlook. As I begin to think about internships and jobs for next summer, I constantly draw upon the minor details of my role at the summer program. When it’s all said and done, I am happy that I stuck with the imperfect summer job, coming into the office every day and working hard. In return, this role gave me important skills, like effective communication and organization, but more importantly, it gave me the right mindset to tackle any professional hurdle in my future.
Caroline Albro attends Scripps College in Claremont, California. Outside of her academic pursuits in sociology and economics, she enjoys spending time outdoors, reading, and has recently taken up embroidery.