Seven seasons of the West Wing into my job search, the riveting stylings of Aaron Sorkin had convinced me DC was the place to be. So I went off to apply to jobs in the city of “taxation without representation” under the recommendation of my favorite screenwriter. My greedy capitalist heart drew me to the often-disdained path of a lobbyist, and with that I had my summer plans (Note: My only exposure to lobbying at this point was Thank You For Smoking; somehow I still thought this was a good idea.).
I hated my job this summer. It was also one of the best things that I have ever done.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved DC, and I completely understand why so many of Claremont McKenna’s finest are enamored by the city. But from nine to six every day I was… not in my happy place. Lobbying, it turns out, was entirely too bureaucratic for me (What? DC is bureaucratic?!). For a start-up baby used to working all over the place, the structured, hierarchical atmosphere of government work was just not where I belonged.
Until I tried it out, however, I had no idea where I would be happy. Without anything to compare with, my inexperienced self may have thought that a job where I could get away with sneakily taking a three-hour lunch break was perfect. And had I not tried lobbying, I would have never known why I enjoy working in technology. I would not have understood that the freedoms of a start-up could woo me in the way no amount of time spent on hold with a congressional staffer could. I would not have known our soda-stocked kitchen could not rival a tech firm kitchen. But mostly I would not have understood that, for me, it is better to work twelve hours a day at a job I love than eight at a job I don’t. I learned this only because I let my Sorkin infatuation guide me.
In a school where students are as hyper-focused as CMCers tend to be, it is important to entertain those transient thoughts—whether fueled by a surprisingly interesting class, a Wikipedia obsession, or a television-induced ideal. It is the possibility of finding something you may like better than what you once predicted or the potential to create a yardstick with which you can measure your experiences. Having a diverse portfolio of experiences not only allows us to better understand our interests but also to better understand our strengths.
College is by no means our last chance to entertain our fleeting desires, but it is one of the most convenient. There is no safer way to find out what you like or despise in a career than to spend twelve weeks working at it. While many of us look at internships as a way to gain experience and earn credentials, we should not overlook the unique opportunity they give us to try to find where to best translate what we enjoy learning into what we enjoy doing. In the fall you get to come back to CMC with a newfound perspective of what you like, what you hate, and what exactly you are looking for.
I know this may not be for everybody, and some are lucky enough to find their niche very quickly, but for many I think this experimentation is a great way to grow. I, for one, left this summer without having found Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, but having found some peace of mind in my major, my goals, and my choice of internship this fall.