At this point, I might as well let people sit on me. I’ve sat on library furniture so much, I’ve become it. Muted reds, greens and sterile cream? Buddy, that’s my colour palate. I even have the stray hairs and faint odour of alcohol wipes. I look like a very, very modern art installation.
Oh, how I wish for the stress to be simply deadline-based. Oh, how I hope for the stress to vanish back into its dark and fetid abyss on one horrific Thursday. Oh, how I dream that the ills of the world be cured by a post-submission trip to Aikmans. Hmm, the glorious crunch of curly fries.
Yes, deadline season is more akin to India’s monsoon season than perhaps to an Andalusian autumn, but the stress, worry and insecurity, much like the Mponeng gold seam, runs much deeper.
But enough of the Geography imagery, I realise you’ve all (mostly) left your colouring-in pencils far back in the past. So, “what’s bothering you?”, I hear the more kindly of you ask. (The rest of you uncaring gits, well… let’s just say that we need words.) What is bothering me is the other stuff. No, it’s not the broad brush, arm waving, over-yonder expression that means to encompass my entire life outside of academia. By the other stuff, I mean the future — cue mass gulping. This word, concept, idea seems to be appreciated only by two types of people: rabid idealists, and Charlee, 21, who, according to a local Facebook group, just “cannot wait” to start selling her Avon goods to the townsfolk.
The future rarely bears thinking about, and when it does, it’s for short periods and individual events. Seeing a friend from school perhaps, or going home for the weekend. That sort of stuff. The good stuff. Overarching, life-changing plans can, of course, be noble, attractive and necessary. But such ambition oft recalls to me the great wisdom of Robert Burns, the renowned Scottish poet whose work inspired Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: “The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men/ Gang aft agley,/ An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,/ For promis’d joy!”. Such grand goals, as tantalising as they may be, often give way to so much more stress, than a quiet journey home, or a pub-bound reunion. Trying to foresee our future career, worthwhile internships, beneficial endeavours, is a prominent player in this big-picture stress.
I, however, have invited such stress into my life. Indeed, not only have I opened the metaphorical door to stress, but I’ve cooked a five course meal, offered a hefty glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and bragged about how comfortable my many spare beds are. Stress will be here to stay. All I can say is that the choice has been forced on me… oh, how I hate self-interest and peer pressure. “Forced how!?”, you may wonder.
Internships. I want a job after university. There, I said it. I also want a well(ish) paying job over the summer. Please don’t send me back to hospitality. It’s the closest thing we Brits have to a military service and perhaps the greatest argument possible for reinstating it: compared to hospitality, military service pays better, is aesthetically much cooler, and probably has a lower chance of killing you.
Sadly, the process is not as simple as stating that I want an internship. There has to be career planning, there have to be cover letters, CVs, interviews, etc. — oh, and did I mention a success rate so low that this application process will have to be repeated umpteen times over as I apply to numerous different schemes. In short, there has to be effort, and to put it bluntly, I don’t know how much effort I should be putting in.
I simply don’t have spare time. Alongside a full time degree at, need I remind you, one of the UK’s top universities — perhaps even the top university (up yours, Oxbridge), I play sports, write articles (clearly) and have aspirations to BNOC status. I have a filled schedule. But, I hear you say, can’t you drop a sport, maybe miss a few practices or not go to that dinner party?
The honest answer is no. No I can’t. Obviously, I can miss one or two practices, not be quite so social this week, etc., but in the long run, this just isn’t sustainable. Like all of humanity, I need some socialisation and I need some exercise. I need some form of balanced routine if I want to avoid burnout, and worse, poor grades. Being human really sucks.
Working to get an internship will eat into that balance. Let’s face it, applications aren’t exactly the most enjoyable, relaxing or even stimulating activity in the world. Of course, I enjoy talking about myself, obviously. I’ve just written an article about myself (which I hope is somewhat relevant to you, dear reader). But, I draw the line at sharing yet another “event that shaped me”. I am not some papier mache science fair entry, made, shaped and produced over the course of an afternoon.
Indeed, the topic of this article pertains to much more than a mere afternoon. It pertains to how we shape and produce ourselves over the course of years. We all know the types; there are students amongst us who, since first year, have been bursting at the seems to land that top city internship. This consisted of constant class rep meetings, interminable extra-curricular nonsemes, self-aggrandisement galore. At one point, they presided over 13 societies — including, apparently, the United States of America — lectured classmates part-time, volunteered in the South Pole, and solved world hunger. At least according to their LinkedIn.
Frankly, I relate to such people. Their motivations and desires are wholly understandable, but when I feel such ambitions resurge from within myself, I know that they are coming from my worst depths. The depths that forget compassion, that willingly detach me from friends, the depths that see the world as a dog-eat-dog slogging match. And perhaps the world is exactly that; perhaps the idea we’re ‘all in this together’ is but a blag, obfuscating the reality beneath that not to possess a self-earned Rolex by the age of 40 constitutes a total failure.
Evidently, not everyone who applies for and gets themselves an internship is a raging Thatcherite ideologue, much in the same way someone who slides a couple of quid into a charity collection isn’t a red-or-dead Corbynite. Like many of our other modern travails, internships are just another one of the tribulations that be. It is merely custom to apply for them, and it seems custom to fail repeatedly. Life resembles art once again as Samuel Beckett’s adage, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”, propels itself triumphantly to the fore.
So, am I wrong to feel anger about internships? About the process? About what they do to my time, to my life? Perhaps the anger comes from anger at myself. Maybe, deep down, I feel I mismanaged last week and perhaps this is why I’m answering so negatively? Oh, to have the luxury of time to go a-pondering.
But really, why can’t these people just take my word for it? I am a nice person, I will make a good part of your team, I promise. Now, let me get back to enjoying the events that shape me.
Illustration: Calum Mayor