Beautiful

It’s been a long time since I felt beautiful.

My hair is at an awkward growing-out stage ever since that shaving-my-head episode. I’ve worn the same shorts for days. There’s a stubborn pimple on my chin, and I can’t remember the last time I put on make-up or earrings.

Since I’ve been working from home and leaving the house only to pet my dog and learn karate—where, honestly, I’m going to be a sweaty mess anyway, so why try—this doesn’t bother me much until it’s time for a photo. I never notice how often photos happen until I actively dislike the way I look in them; then suddenly Snapchat is a hazard and those passport photos feel more threatening than usual.

Last night I hid in my room and spent probably ten or fifteen minutes working to get this selfie, because I thought the message was worth putting out there, but I couldn’t figure out how to get my face in the frame and still ever leave my room again.

 

I’m not particularly in love with my appearance at the best of times, but I’m not used to feeling unbeautiful. So last night, after the selfie thing (and after a shower, because I’m not kidding about sweaty), I stood in front of a mirror and gave myself a good hard look.

I did not suddenly realise that I’m gorgeous, but I did suddenly realise that I was looking for all the wrong things.

So I don’t feel beautiful. So what? Here’s what I do feel:

I feel strong. This summer has pushed me in ways I never expected. I’ve held a full split until I thought my legs would break, done jump squats until I couldn’t breathe, run until the world narrowed to the pain in my body and the desperation in my lungs and the zigzag cracks in the pavement. I’ve walked down a mountain and carried my sleeping niece and coaxed impossibly tight compression stockings onto my granny’s feet.

I feel healthy. Despite my natural bent toward a happy couch potato lifestyle, I’ve spent the summer taking care of myself, body and mind and soul. I’ve eaten fresh vegetables from the garden, gone on long walks at sunset, and paid uncharacteristically close attention to hydration. I’ve faced anxiety and given myself room to breathe, reminded myself to sleep and rewarded myself with hours upon delightful hours of binge-reading.

I feel brave. We all live with fear, but this summer I’ve decided to live past that fear. I’ve stood my ground in difficult conversations, applied for new jobs, and stayed with strangers. I’ve made scary phone calls and I’ve asked scary questions. I’ve faced the reality of my next two years and made preparations instead of hiding. I’ve begun learning the kind of thing you’re supposed to start as a child and, despite my fear, I’ve shown up to every lesson and learned to laugh when the five-year-olds succeed and I fail.

And after staring into that mirror and thinking about these things, I realised that it doesn’t matter if I feel beautiful, because beautiful was never the standard to begin with. Beautiful can be achieved any day with some cosmetic products and some time on my hands; Youtube has proven that.

Who I am is more fundamental than my skin tone or my hairstyle.

It’s in the way I hold myself when things don’t go my way. It’s in what I do when I’d rather do nothing. It’s in how I get back on my feet after a tumble.

Maybe you’re feeling beautiful today, and if you are, I’m genuinely thrilled for you, because there’s a confidence in that feeling. But if you’re like me, if you can’t remember the last time you felt gorgeous, take a closer look at yourself and decide what’s fundamental about you—what can’t be created with good contouring or a new outfit, and what can’t be taken away by a bad hairstyle or a few down days.

Because you are beautiful—but you are so much more than that.

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Advice: What I Wish I’d Been Told As A Freshman

Did your family ever have one of those gag gifts that made interminable rounds? Maybe it was an ugly knickknack passed on every year to some new relative who didn’t want it and who would chuck it in a closet until next year provided an opportunity to dump it on someone else. In my family it was an old musical on VHS that bounced back and forth between my brother and my dad for years.

I’ve realised that there’s another gag gift we give without warning: advice. I don’t mean to diminish the value of wise words spoken with care, but a quick review of advice you’ve received should show you that while some advice is thoughtfully given, much of it is slapped about with a dash of cliche and all the serious forethought of a late-night ice cream binge.

College students in particular are singled out for the well-meant but ill-considered gift of unsought advice; we’re young, we’re at a potentially difficult stage of life, and we’re leaping into new experiences and challenges without much idea of what they’ll entail. The words of wisdom I’ve received over the past four or five years could fill several books, ranging from the profound to the laughable.

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.
—Oscar Wilde

And yet, really, good advice is one of the most valuable things we can give each other. Words well thought through and given in love can be as meaningful as slapdash adages can be useless.

So, in the spirit of one of my favourite Oscar Wilde quotes, here it is: the advice I wish I’d been given when I started university.

Don’t do things for the resume.

Trust me, assuming you have a job and some involvement on campus or in the community, your resume will be full by graduation. By signing up for anything and everything that looks good on a resume, you leave yourself no time to pursue things that really matter to you. Almost any activity can build your resume in some way, whether it’s by developing career skills, demonstrating responsible activism, showing your leadership, or simply proving you finish what you start. The difference, though, is that when you get asked about a line on your resume that you took simply to look good, you can only spout a list of typical job skills. But when you get asked about an activity you chased after because you’re passionate about after-school programs, or international relationships, or whatever it is—you could talk for days about all the ways you were challenged and changed. Your passion comes out in your voice, and you stand out. Don’t do things for the resume. Do things because you care about them.

You don’t have to know everyone.

I come from a small school in a small town. Everyone knows everyone. I came to college thinking it would be the same—that I should know everyone’s name. That somehow I was a good person if I knew everyone and a selfish person if I didn’t. Focus on others, I’ve been taught. Care about the people around you. Important attitudes, of course, but impractical when you take “the people around you” to mean every single person with whom you interact. I wish someone had told me to differentiate between common courtesy and real friendship, that someone had reminded me that while I should smile and hold doors and say “thank you,” I could forego learning thousands of people’s names and instead focus my energies on cultivating close friendships with the handful of people near me. If you’re the kind of person who wants to know a hundred people, of course, go meet them. But with a limited amount of time, chances are you won’t have know every person around. That’s fine. Be nice to strangers and save your time and emotions for the few people with whom you’ll develop lasting, meaningful relationships.

Some classes will be bad.

College is an opportunity. Whether you’re working hard and scrounging pennies to make it financially viable or riding it out on your parents’ generosity, you’ve got an opportunity that not everyone is offered, and you should make the most of that. Don’t throw away chances to learn merely because you dislike a teacher or don’t care for the subject. At the same time, recognise that some classes are there to be passed and then forgotten. Maybe it’s the freshman orientation class filled with cliche life skills, or maybe it’s that Spanish class that, it turns out, replicates the one you took in high school. Not every class is well planned, and not every professor is good at teaching. Let the bad classes heighten your appreciation for the good ones. Sit through lectures and do your homework, because sometimes in life we do things we don’t want to, because that’s part of being an adult. Appreciate any brilliant moments in the semester, check the requirement off your catalogue list, and move on. It’s okay to dislike classes as long as it doesn’t keep you from learning when there is something useful to pick up.

In the interest of being fair to all the loving relatives and friends who gave me college advice, I have to admit a lot of it was useful. A lot of it came at just the right moment to encourage me or change my perspective. But we all have lessons we learn the hard way. You’ll make mistakes no matter what, but maybe you can avoid the ones I made.

Reading as a Guilty Pleasure

Talking with a fantastic writer friend the other day, I brought up what I thought was a unique problem: I know I should read more, but at the same time, I feel guilty spending time on books. Turns out it’s not unique; Kate has the same struggle. And, since probably a lot of other people do, too, we decided a joint blog post might be a great way to share some insights on the issue.

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Me: We were talking the other day about how we feel guilty reading, like we’re wasting time we should be spending on something else. Is that something that happens even when we don’t have, say, homework we should be doing?

Kate: Oh definitely, at least for me. I always feel like there’s something I could be doing. Part of that comes from our writing classes, I think. We’re taught to always be writing, always getting more bylines. Reading doesn’t feel as productive, because it doesn’t have a tangible result. Reading is not work. And I’m at the stage of life (wow that makes me sound old) when I’m really focused on my future, building my career. Reading doesn’t seem to fit in, so I don’t make time for it. Even though I should.

I feel you on the career thing. With a limited number of hours in a day and a lot to get done, I often skip things that I want to do because I can’t see how they’ll benefit me later on. That’s probably the saddest thing the career drive has done to my reading/writing; I sacrifice what I get excited about for what I think I should get excited about. And when I do have time to read (or, y’know, when I decide to put off other things in favour of reading whether I have time or not) there are SO MANY BOOKS. Do you ever have the problem of not knowing where to start, so you just don’t?

Absolutely, yes! I have such a huge list of books I’m interested in, books people have recommended, books in my genre….it never seems to end.

Do you have a system for deciding what comes next? Lately I’ve been trying to mix it up—read a few “easy” books (read: YA spec fic) and then read one or two “hard” books (read: memoirs, literary fiction, etc.).

I tend to go by word of mouth. What are the people with similar tastes to mine reading and liking? Have I heard about a certain title more than others? Plus, you know, whatever’s closest and easiest to get hold of.

So you just go with whatever’s caught your fancy most recently?

Pretty much. It may not be the most efficient system, but it works. I mentioned earlier that I think  part of my weird fear of reading stems from some of my classes, but what else do you think contributes to it?

One of the big problems is how I was raised. Don’t get me wrong—my parents were fabulous, and they taught me to love books above (almost) all other things; my mum had me reading before I was in preschool, and I read a lot, really early. But because they turned me into a bookworm, there was this problem of me constantly being hidden with a book when I was supposed to be doing something else. Homework, chores—you name it, I chose books over it. So whenever I was reading, my parents would be suspicious, and “Should you be reading or doing chores?” became a really common phrase. They taught me to always think, whenever I picked up a book, Is there something I haven’t finished yet?

Same sort of thing for me. I can remember actually getting in trouble at school for reading instead of paying attention. I can also remember hiding a flashlight in my room and sneaking a book under the covers at bedtime because I was almost done with the story and just had to finish it (although ‘almost done’ was a relative term; if I was hooked on the story, I’d stay up until all hours to finish it, even if I was only halfway through). If I had a chance of getting away with it, I’d pick a book over homework, chores, sleeping… pretty much anything. It’s a weird thing to say I got in trouble for, but reading has a guilty connotation for me now. I can’t help but figuratively look over my shoulder whenever I open a book.

I totally agree. I can remember teachers catching me with a book under my desk; seems like teachers should be excited for students who read, but I remember getting in trouble a lot, despite the fact that reading during class wasn’t affecting my ability to get better grades than anyone and everyone else.

Under the desk or stuck in another book? I used that trick a lot.

Heh unfortunately most of my classes weren’t “have your textbook open” types. I did used to hold books inside my desk in elementary school, back when we had desks, and then slouch and read through the tiny crack that my wrists held open.

Gosh, between reading through cracks and with tiny flashlights, it’s no wonder we need glasses.

Seriously. And the reading-by-the-passing-light-of-streetlamps-on-roadtrips thing? It’s a miracle we can still see at all!

No joke! So how do you deal with your reader’s guilt?

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Denial is a powerful force… Haha just kidding. It helps to consciously recognise it. It helps to recognise that it’s not always a valid guilt. And sometimes it’s true: I do have other things I should be doing. At those times it helps to have a plan. For example, this weekend I spent hours just reading, but I knew what else I needed to do, and I set limits. I was allowed to read a book in one sitting, but then I had to get a certain number of assignments done before I let myself start the next book. And knowing why I’m reading also helps. Being able to specifically say, “I’m reading a recently published book in my genre because it’s important to keep current with what’s happening if I want a career in this field”—that really helps. How about you?

I’ve got a similar system. Almost every writer I’ve gotten advice from starts with the same thing—writers are readers. It’s how we grow. We practice our skill, but we have to study it first. So that helps a little. But I also have to set time aside to read just for the joy of it. I need a break from constantly working; everyone does. But unlike some, who run, or go for coffee with friends, or watch Netflix, I read. I find it relaxing to consume a book for the sake of the story with no ulterior motives. I have to find that balance you talked about, though. I’ll often reward myself with a new book if I can get things done by a certain time. It’s one of my favorite and most effective reward systems.

Do you set a specific time to read or just let it happen when it happens?

I try to fit it in the natural lulls in my schedule. I have busy times and calmer times, so I take advantage of the slower parts to read more. But if I’ve been super busy (like I have been the last few weeks) I might say, “Okay, I’m going to read for the next two hours, just to give my brain a break from thinking so much.” How do you fit reading into your schedule?

I used to just try to let it happen where it happened, but I’ve recently realised the importance of all those little cracks. So I have a three-hour shift at the library once a week, and instead of trying to do homework (I can’t use my laptop at the counter, so that makes it hard anyway) I’ve decided I’m allowed to read for those hours. And those are interrupted hours, of course, because I have to do my job, too, but it gives me a time to pull my book out. I also like to have a book out when I’m walking between classes—that’s five to ten minutes I can be reading—and I keep one in my bag in case of unexpected delays. A meeting postponed? No problem. I have a book. Finished my quiz early? I can read another paragraph or two. Stuff like that.

Agreed. Unexpected openings are the best. That’s one of the reasons I like having an e-reader. I can open up to whatever I was reading in a matter of seconds. And I feel like you can always identify the book nerds like us by whether they’ve mastered the reading-while-walking-and-not-killing-themselves skill.

It’s an important skill. (Back in high school, I had a daily 45-minute bike ride home from choir, so I also mastered the reading-while-biking-on-the-highway skill; my dad was not pleased.) Do you think there’s a hierarchy of types of books that we should be reading? I mean, are there certain books that really should wait till we’re done with all the other Adulthood Responsibilities, or is everything fair game?

I suppose I give higher priority to books in my genre, but I’m not sure if that’s me being responsible or just the fact that I write in the genre I love most. I try not to say that some books are “better” than others (though there are certainly books I consider “worse”). Any story that an author has taken time to craft has inherent value. I tend to gravitate more towards books on writing and books in my genre (fairy tale retellings, fantasy). But again, it’s not generally intentional. Do you prioritize?

Aside from prioritising homework assignments or things I’ve promised to read, I don’t think I do in practice. But I do know I have a tendency to feel I need to justify “easy” reads. Like, if I’m reading nonfiction or literary fiction or a classic, I’m totally cool. Those are accepted as important things to read, and I look smart and educated and stuff. But if I’m reading children’s or YA or fantasy, unless it’s something really well known (anything by Neil Gaiman or Tolkien, for example) I find I have to justify it to myself, remind myself that this is also valuable literature, that just because it’s not hard for me to get into or doesn’t have these huge sweeping “LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION” sentences doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have something meaningful to say. I noticed on the subway in New York over the summer that when I was reading a memoir or literary fiction, I’d hold the book up higher than when I was reading YA spec fic. That’s what got me thinking about it.

Oh yeah, that’s really tough. I read a lot of YA and fantasy (again, because that’s what I write) and it’s hard to feel confident about that. I find myself thinking, “I’m a 21-year old college student; I should be reading something more advanced than this.” But I can’t help but love some of those books. When I find myself questioning the value of kids’ books, I remind myself of the Narnia series. It’s a kids’ series and it’s become a classic. It’s good to remind myself that children’s literature can carry a lot of weight and be very significant in the literary world. But most importantly, I’ve learned that I never have to justify my choice of books. People should never be judged on what they’re reading. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you’re reading something.

That’s a good point. I think children’s/YA books have a lot more content than people give them credit for, and because they’re written for children, they can’t be obscure about it. They need to have a purpose and get it out there in a way that will be straightforward enough for children to understand, subtle enough not to sound condescending, and entertaining enough to keep kids reading. And I think that’s a huge value. I think looking for the less obvious messages or worldviews in kids’ books helps me see their value beyond just entertainment. So moral of the day: Don’t be ashamed of what you’re reading. Recognise its value. Don’t feel guilty about reading. Life is way too short to pretend not to like good books.

Kate Jameson reads and writes faerie tales and loves hedgehogs. (Hedgehogs aren’t part of her official bio, but it’s true.) You can read her blog at kategjameson.wordpress.com or connect on Twitter with @KateGJameson.

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An Open Letter to Freshmen

Dear Freshmen,

Welcome to this world of late-night study sessions, early-morning panic attacks, coffee addiction, and registration confusion. This is your home now. I know the furniture is strange, its blocky shape designed to let a hundred different people stack it into a hundred different temporary arrangements. I know your new sheets smell wrong and you miss your dog and all you want is to go home, away from this place where strangers pass you in the bathroom and nobody gets your in-jokes—but give it a few weeks, a few months.

This will become home.

It will become home as you sit in the suite with the reflection essay you don’t understand and the new friends whose names you can’t remember; as you ask dumb questions and make bad jokes; as you laugh with people because they forgive your quirky humour. It’s okay if your laughter shakes and wobbles to begin with. Those midnight giggles will turn to sobs sometimes. That’s normal. Cry on your new friend’s shoulder and let yourself notice that this stranger is growing familiar. Tell stupid stories about that time you were ten and you thought you wanted to be a doctor even though you hated needles. Admire your suitemate’s new tattoo. Eat ramen at three in the morning while you wonder whether you can call your mother without looking uncool. Call your mother whether it’s cool or not. Tell her you miss her.

Then hang up.

Hang up on that home and immerse yourself in this new one. Take part in celebrations of school traditions whose beginnings are buried in grainy black and white photos of people you’ve never met. Let the hodgepodge culture of a thousand people from a thousand places wash over you until you cheer instinctively when a plate shatters in the dining commons or shout, “Pantsless o’clock!” with the rest of the floor when open-house hours end and the boys traipse out. Eat Nutella from a spoon while commiserating with your roommate over midterms. Feel the bittersweet grief of your first birthday away from home. Thank the friends who remembered to make you cards, blow up balloons, and surprise you with gifts of chocolate. You won’t notice it at the time, but they’re becoming family.

Let them.

Let them take root in your heart as you memorise their faces and voices. Notice as you begin to instinctively guard against one’s tree-nut allergy and another’s acrophobia. Realise you miss them when they leave for weekends. I know you’re counting down the days, the months, the years, eyeing the deadline, wondering if a four-year friendship is worth the pain of yet another goodbye. There are times to keep your heart safe, but this is not the time. At this place that will be home, hold your heart open. Let friendships bury themselves in your soul. Let memories twist subtle chains. Leave pieces of yourself in corners of the music building and the writing lounge. At this temporary home, let friends become permanent. Let them catch you when you fall. Let them hold you when you crumble.

And savour the moments.

Savour the happy moments and the sad ones; the happy moments feel better, but the sad ones—those are the moments that make you. The times you think you’re drowning and your roommate sits and drowns with you, the nights of crying into tea as you stare at yet another registration email, the hysterical laughter and tears as you try to pack a year’s worth of life into suitcases grown too small by the end of finals week—these are the things your new home is built of. And when it’s over, when you’ve blinked too many times and four years have passed, these are the things you’ll know for certainty. Not the content of that last class, not your plans for the future, but the content of that last conversation as you packed your room into cardboard boxes, the plans you carried out with strangers who became family in this temporary home.

It’s like nothing else you’ve ever done. It’s scary and wonderful, eternally long and infinitesimally short all at once. Plan it, experience it, tell it, live it—just don’t waste it.

Sincerely,

A University Senior

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Internships: What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Do

Summer hit me like a belly-flop from the high dive this year. I interviewed for my internship eight days before I flew home from school. I got the “Congratulations! You got the job!” call two days before I flew home. I found an apartment and ordered a plane ticket a week before I flew to New York, and I had one day to make sure I knew which train to get on before I started.

I was scared to death. I had no idea what to expect. I considered quitting before I started

The end of summer is hitting me a little less like a belly-flop and a little more like a cannonball—still insane impact and a lot of mess, but much less pain.

I’m glad I didn’t quit, because I had a fantastic summer. It flew by. Working an internship is the difference between practicing a stroke on dry land and trying it in water; you’re submerged in the experience, and I discovered that I love being submerged in publishing. I also like to think I learned a thing or two about what you should and should not do in an internship.

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1. Do: Take your work seriously.
This sounds really “duh,” I know, but it’s tempting to think, “I’m just an intern. I’m temporary. It won’t matter.” But it will. An internship is one of the easiest ways to get a job out of college. Probably half the people I met or worked for this summer had been hired after interning. Even if you don’t plan to go back and work for the company, the work you do is only temporary for you. Any given task and its ramifications may only last till the end of summer for me, but for the supervisor I turn it in to, for the production department who have to work with it, for the book it winds up affecting in the end—even for the consumers who read that book—my work is long-term. It carries permanent weight.

2. Don’t: Take yourself seriously.
People will respect you for the work you do, but they’ll like you for how you make them feel. Be friendly. Chat with people, smile, laugh, listen. Try to see other people’s perspectives and don’t get too hung up on yourself. Remember that you’re an intern, not a full-time employee—meet your deadlines, but take advantage of the flexibility offered, make friends with people who can teach you things, accept that you will fail and that the easiest way to deal with that is with honesty, good humour, and humility. Apologise. Fix the problem. Laugh at yourself. You’ll go far.

3. Do: Show your enthusiasm.
In a world full of stressed people running on the hamster wheel of corporate life, nothing stands out more than someone who genuinely enjoys being there. I’m not saying to pretend to love something you hate, but even the worst job has its perks. I’m fortunate enough to have found an internship I absolutely loved (nearly) every minute of; you might not be—but still keep an eye out for the things you enjoy. Look for the aspects that you gravitate toward and let your supervisors know you enjoy them. Tell people which tasks you could do all day or what about your work is meaningful to you. Your supervisor isn’t there just to hand out work, and he or she will be gratified to hear that you love the idea of helping create a better product for the consumer or that you get excited about brainstorming creative ways to market. Plus your enthusiasm differentiates you from the hundreds of other interns who will be looking for a job soon.

4. Don’t: Say no.
Don’t say no to anything. Get invited to a meeting that seems unrelated to your job? Go anyway. Learn about whatever they’re discussing. I’ve been to sales meetings and question-and-answer sessions for an office move that I won’t be here for. I’ve listened to global executives discuss budgets and artists discuss cover designs. Vital to my particular job? Absolutely not—but they gave me a more complete picture of how the company works, what the different people do, how various departments interact. I’ve done spreadsheets, made phone calls, and scanned cheque request forms. Related in any way to writing or copyediting? Absolutely not—but being willing to do anything makes your supervisors like you and lets you see what other people’s jobs entail, again giving you a more holistic view of the company. The point of an internship is not to make money or to simply survive it—it’s to learn, so don’t ever say no to any opportunity to learn anything.

5. Do: Ask questions.
“Ask questions” is a common piece of advice that people don’t follow much. Don’t just ask questions when you need information in order to complete a task; ask questions about everything. Ask what part your small piece of work plays in the bigger picture. Find out who a job came from and where it’s going. Find out what that guy in the cubical down the hall does and how it relates to what you’re doing. Email people and ask for informational interviews—they’ll be happy to do them, and you’ll learn about jobs you never knew existed or insider secrets of how or where to apply if you want to get to a certain position, and you’ll meet someone who might become a valuable contact in getting to an interview. If nothing else, you might make a friend.

6. Don’t: Just float.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options, the uncertainties, and your growing recognition of how little you really know about your chosen field. Feeling so at sea, it can be easy to just bob around, taking whatever opportunities you get but setting no definite goals. Don’t just float. Pick a goal and work toward it. Remember that goals can change; that’s okay—but pick a milestone or you’ll never get anywhere. Even if you’re taking whatever job you can get without being picky, set yourself goals. Decide what you want to learn or what job you want to transition into. Don’t let yourself float aimlessly when you could be getting somewhere.

Backshot

Beyond all that, enjoy yourself. An internship is a fantastic opportunity to try a career out and see how you feel about it. If you discover you hate your chosen path, search for the humour in it. If you discover you love it, savour every moment. The important thing to remember is that it’s a temporary adventure, so appreciate it before it ends.

Pizza: Free. Advice: Priceless.

Every Thursday, I stand outside a locked door and wait for someone to let me in. I think I hate it more than anything else I’ve had to do since coming to New York (and that’s saying a lot; this morning I took all the subway stairs in one embarrassing, painful step).

Why put myself through it? The quick answer is, “Free food!” Because, let’s face it, I’ll do a lot for free food. The more honest answer is complicated. It’s all tied up with scary words like “networking” and “career opportunities,” but I guess it comes down to this: people who made it to the top are telling their stories and answering questions, and I want to know what they’re saying.

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So every Thursday, I wait outside that locked door for someone to let me in. I walk into a small conference room crowded with summer interns all hoping these few months will give them the boost they need to start climbing that ladder. I queue for free pizza, and I find a seat as near the door as possible, and then I listen to a professional talk about publishing, or editing, or whatever they do, and I try to hear something relevant.

A couple weeks ago, in one of those crowded intern luncheons, Will Schwalbe said something I love: “You can’t make money doing anything cynically.”

This came in answer my question about striking a balance between doing what you like and doing what pays. And his answer has stuck with me. I see it as presenting an ultimatum: either you do something, or you don’t. But if you decide to do it, do it the right way.

Don’t be mercenary. Don’t do things because you think they’ll pay off. There are so many reasons to do things—you should be able to come up with something more creative than money. Do it for the experience. Do it for the challenge. Do it because someone has to, and you’re willing to be that responsible person.

Or don’t do it.

Time

If you have to do it, find a way to value it. There’s a 300-name spreadsheet I’m filling in at work. I have the choice of how to do it, and if I’m doing it cynically, I’m missing out. Some things don’t slap you upside the face with how meaningful they are; you have to dig, imagine, get outside your box.

Experience, as I’ve mentioned, is a good motivator for me. The story I’ll tell about it later often makes up for what I’m doing at the moment. Or maybe it’s just the satisfaction of a job well done: 300 names in neatly formatted columns? Sign me up! Maybe it’s the perspective I gain along the way—I’m seeing a broad comparison of psych professors and schools across the country in a way I would never have known otherwise, and I’m getting insight into what the sales departments deal with.

So no, walking across the park to wait for someone to let me into a crowded room full of strangers is not my favourite thing. But I do it every week. Why? Because I think I’ll make valuable connections that will pay off in the future? I did the first day. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that this is not about the pay rate it might secure me later on. This is about learning about something I love, from someone who’s loved it longer, surrounded by other people who love it too.

scribbling

…but the free pizza doesn’t hurt.

6 Things I Tell Myself Daily

Last Monday morning, I walked into the Flatiron Building twenty minutes early (because my nerves woke me before my alarm), wearing four-inch heels (for confidence), trying desperately for a smile on my face despite my trembling insides. This Monday morning, I walked into 41 Madison on time, wearing flats, pausing to smile at the security man on my way to the lift.

I had no idea what to expect when I accepted this internship. Now, with one week’s experience in New York City, I feel qualified to share a few things I’ve taken to telling myself daily.

  1. Wear flats on the subway.
    FeetHeels are fantastic. I love my four-inch spikes. But rush hour means you’re liable to stand for forty minutes, and even if you don’t, you’re going to push your way through crowds in doorways, up stairways, and along walkways. You don’t want to do that in heels. Plus, if you make a spontaneous outing (or get lost and walk twenty a few extra blocks), you want comfy shoes. Give yourself a break. Keep a pair of flats in your bag.
  2. Smile.
    If you’re nervous, smile; it tricks your brain into releasing happy chemicals, and you’ll feel better. If you’re not nervous, smile; people like you better when you smile. It brightens everyone’s day a little. Don’t be the grouchy person who ruins the morning for someone else. Engage those muscles. Put a sparkle in your eye.
  3. Step out. Literally.
    step
    I knew maybe two people in the entirety of New York City when I got here. But now I know more than two, because I told myself, “Self, your coworkers are your community this summer. Don’t be a recluse.” So when the editors I work for invited me out for a spontaneous Broadway show, I stepped out and had a fantastic evening and made friends. We chatted. We laughed. They made sure I got on the right train home. When they invited me to a department happy hour and trivia night, I stepped out, even though crowds and party games aren’t my thing. I shook hands and learned names. I laughed and drank and offered wrong answers, and I made friends. Doing stuff that scares you is good. If nothing else, you’ll have a great story.
  4. Do the details right the first time.
    details
    No, I don’t love scouring websites for professors’ contact info to solicit textbook reviews. I don’t love checking every citation against the original source so we don’t get sued for reprinting a graph. But any job comes with perks and downsides, and if you want the fun stuff (yes, I’m geeking out about copyediting psych textbooks!), you have to do the not-so-fun stuff. Do it well. Realise the little details you work on in your cubicle in the headachy last few minutes of work are little details that matters in creating the big picture. Maybe nobody sees your little detail specifically, but they’ll see if you do it wrong. Take pride in your work, even if it’s scanning last year’s check requests for five solid hours (yes, I did that).
  5. If you don’t know, ask.
    Nobody expects you to remember every name the first day. Nobody expects you to know the secret of working the finicky scanner keyboard, opening those reports, or memorising the last year’s ISBNs. They’ll help you. They’ll tell you their tips and tricks, walk you through the process, tell you how to find the answers. Humility goes a lot further than fumbling attempts to do it alone. Just ask.
  6. Enjoy the scenery.
    SceneryI’m in the city that supposedly never sleeps. (Spoiler alert: people sleep in New York.) Here, amidst the express trains and honking taxis, I’m learning to slow down. No matter how impatient you are, you can’t make the subway go faster. Instead of worrying, smile at the kid trying to climb to the top of the pole. Marvel at the diversity of language around you. Read; you can’t be responsible, because cell phone service dies on the subway, so let yourself relax. Stop rushing to get there—to graduate, to find a job, to get promoted. Stop. Look around. See where you’re at and appreciate it. Stop thinking about the doors this will open, because where you go doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you are. I’m trying to stop watching the clock and appreciate that I get to sit in the office of a well-known publishing company and work on books that will influence students across the world. That I get to learn while I work. That I love my work. That I even have work. I have so much to be thankful for; why rush?

I remind myself of these things daily, moment by moment, because I still feel nervous when I step off the train and can’t remember which exit to take. I still eye the dragging minute hand on the clock and consider pitching textbooks out the window when I come across yet another table that might need copyright permissions. I tell myself these things because I have an opportunity that not many people have, and if I end this summer with only a fatter resume and four practicum credits on my college transcript, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

So tomorrow morning, no matter how my nerves feel, no matter what’s waiting, I will walk into 41 Madison on time, wearing flats and a smile.

New York