Letters to Home: The Case for Sticking It Out

Like Charlotte, I’ve traded the typical abroad experience for a 50-hour work-week, Saturday classes, and a 20-hour weekly commute on our Silicon Valley Program. I didn’t go in with the expectation that it would be fun or anything like CMC. I expected it to be a challenge and a valuable experience; what I didn’t expect was the profound unhappiness I would face. On paper, my internship sounds fantastic. I report directly to the CEO of a fast-growing healthcare start-up. I get to work on projects directly presented to leadership of our clients and help forge potential partnerships for the company. My co-workers are some of the nicest people that you could meet and are so willing to work with interns. They’re incredibly flexible about schedules, not to mention they have good catering for Friday lunches. With this fantastic of an opportunity, how could I possibly be unhappy?

The side of this internship I wouldn’t put on my resume: Our CEO doesn’t really have the time or the capacity to manage interns, so my projects had no direction or feedback, but when he sent me messages at 11:00 at night, I felt like I needed to respond and act. I worked with a lot of data to present to our clients, but it was confusing data and I didn’t know how to manage the delinquent collection process. Every day is a roller coaster for the company’s success (as it is for most fast growing start ups), and it seems you can't plan more than a week ahead of time. Additionally, all of my wonderful co-workers are 25 years old and have dedicated their life to this start-up willingly or unwillingly, so they worked all sorts of “flexible” hours and it seemed like I was expected to do the same.

I thought it was me, so I worked harder, but working 10-hour days with a 1.5-hour one-way commute along with classes isn’t a recipe for happiness, either. What was worse was knowing that it was my decisions that led to this unhappiness. I chose to do this program, I chose the company, and I chose to commute. Individually, all of these things aren’t that bad, but the combination doesn’t work for me. I didn’t understand how my mental calculations were so wrong. About halfway through the semester, I was ready to leave the program. I talked to our program director about it. He tried to help me understand that it was a systemic issue and encouraged me to switch to a different company.

I could have switched. I probably could have been happier for the remaining six weeks and avoided some tears on the Caltrain. I decided to stick it out, and I think learning how to deal with this unhappiness is one of the most valuable things that I’ve gained.

I forced myself to identify the specific things that were making me unhappy: ill-defined projects, lack of external validation and disorganization, and then define new metrics for my happiness and success. I’ve learned how to make my happiness independent of feedback from others and manage my expectations of myself. I’ve had some tough conversations about my dissatisfaction with my internship and my performance with my boss, and fortunately was able to identify a mentor to help me navigate these conversations. I have had to say “no” to projects and be selfish about my time.

It’s been a tough semester, but I’m sure that I will have projects and periods of my career where I will be far unhappier, and I’ve learned coping strategies and skills that I will be able to employ in the future.

Throughout the semester, more than anything, I've wanted to return to CMC and just be happy again, but I've realized it’s not that simple—nor was I really that happy at CMC. It was just familiar and safe. I’ve had to ask myself some serious questions about what it means to be happy and why people pursue it. I’m not fully satisfied with the answers I’ve come up with, and I expect this will be something I wrestle with for a long time. I should be able to be happy, after all, regardless of where I am.

While I can’t wait to return to the “happiest college in America,” I’m beginning to learn that I have to make my own happiness—anywhere I end up.