The Riskless Rewardless Life
Your Boat and the Immensity of the Sea

A Life of Internships

I think experiential learning is the most important and meaningful form of education. In my humble opinion learning by doing has no peer. The idea of internships may be at least 150 years old. Its origins really come from the medical profession where docs in training learn, under expert supervision, about the body and the various disciplines--to understand the whole of medicine and in part to select a specialty. I love this as an metaphor for life and careers--Continuous education about the "body" of your work and your life. A process to adapt, morph, and sharpen your understanding of what you want and the whole of who you are becoming. 

For students in school, internships may be more important than any elective. A student who graduates without experience: volunteer, internship, apprenticeship, or work is at a serious disadvantage. But more important, the student--now just an alum--has not learned about what they want. One's career development can not come from a book or even a blog for that matter. :)

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.  Confucious

For students of life ( that would be everyone!) the concept of internships has to be adopted as a part of your life. Shorter stints that stimulate your intellectual and spiritual self. Internships are "test drives", career dress rehearsals, due diligence with experiences.

So internships have been elevated to a new level. They enjoy a new popularity and status amongst people who left the ivy covered halls decades ago. Now there is even a movie coming out this summer about this! Why? Simply put, people are trying to adapt. Trying to figure out what they are going to do next. They lack the experience in a field that appeals to them. But this movie and the popularity of internships are too often thought of as an emergency oriented intervention. A drastic last resort step that requires sacrifice and risk to reboot a career. While that can and does work, internships are most effective as a mindset. An open mindset of learning, seeking experiences, and for mentorships. Testing new ideas, interests and embracing failure. 

One of my major gripes is the linear nature of people's approach to education, career development.... There are steps, there is myopia, there is a focus that ultimately ends the same way--too many eggs in the same narrow basket of experience. Wow, is that risky!

How do you become multi-talented, multi-facted? How do you invest in your career to make it more recession proof? More resilient to change, turbulence, and downturns? No financial portfolio that intends to grow and survive is invested in one thing. You need growth opportunities, and less risky investments that "hedge" the downside. You need international and domestic. You need large cap and small cap. The same applies to a career. Silly to rely on a single job to sustain your development.  

Every good job is an temporary assignment that is an adventure, a seminar and is fulfilling. Dick Bolles 

I think life is an internship, many internships. You enroll in internships to continue to grow, experiment, and learn. Your job is your core internship. Your hobby is an internship. Your start-up on the side is an internship. Your volunteer work is an internship. 

Your approach to all of your internships is the same. Who will mentor/teach me? What do I want to learn? What will make this experience meaningful to me? 

If we understand the truth that nothing is permanent. That our expertise is perishable. That our connection to our evolving personal, spiritual, financial, and professional needs needs to be dynamic. Then we realize that doing our job will predictably and inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and worse--the inability to transition to other worlds. This always makes the whole of life less rewarding. So how will you change this outcome? 

Fish out of water
Courtesy of Start-Up You

Throughout my career (of internships) I have worked with and met many people who have used internships well. A few examples:

  • 24 year old employee who asked to do "extra work" at a school mentoring project I was managing. This was an internship added onto her job.  She wanted experience with "education". Today she is a principal of a school.
  • 48 year old consultant with an MBA who interns to use his expertise to help non-profits become more sustainable. 
  • 30 year old lawyer who wanted to go into marketing and volunteered for the marketing committee of her favorite charity. Today she is the head of marketing at a telcom company.

They came to the realization that there current "portfolios" were inadequate. They needed to branch out. They had to diversify.

Here's the kicker, internships super charge your network. New colleagues are a new network. While you should invest in reinvigorating and deepening your network at your job, having a constellation of mentors and networks has gigantic advantages.

So I am advocating that you evaluate your current opportunities for internships. Follow your heart and find intentional experiential assignments both in your job and outside that will deepen your understanding of the body of your work and life.  

Thanks for reading. John

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