On my way to the first day of work I did my best to walk down the street like I fit in. I blended in just fine in my suit, but couldn’t shake a sense of discomfort. That morning I had struggled to tie a nicely-knotted tie, had nearly forgotten my lunch, and had no idea what how many metro stops I needed to take to get to work. No one around me knew that I had just one year of college under my belt and felt unsure if I was really equipped for my internship position that summer, but those thoughts were forefront in my mind.
After arriving to work at the Niskanen Center (a nonpartisan policy think tank), my boss had just finished giving me a rundown of how to work the coffee machine in the break room when I received my first assignment. The Chief Council of the Niskanen Center, a man who I would later learn had managed a case presented to the Supreme Court, asked me to collect data about natural gas by analyzing several reports. I would soon learn that these were by no means short reports and that I knew next to nothing about natural gas. I also soon discovered that I was the youngest intern among the twelve at the organization. Most of the other interns were graduate students and the handful that weren’t were either rising juniors or seniors in college. While I watched other interns busily complete tasks, I sat googling the difference between natural gas liquids, natural gas plant liquids, and liquefied natural gas- and yes, they are different. I felt far less equipped than the other interns who seemed to be taking everything in stride.
I felt like I didn’t belong. More specifically, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there because I lacked the same level of experience and knowledge as my peers. I found myself needing to work up the courage to ask questions for fear of making myself seem less intelligent or exposing my confusion. I felt lonely as the youngest intern and I felt out of place while traveling to work on the red line even if my suit offered me a disguise.
Luckily, I quickly realized that my initial thoughts were both untrue and unhelpful. This was my starting point. Organizations want to hire interns to challenge them and help them learn. I don’t need to be perfect, however, I do need to put my best foot forward, immerse myself in the work I am presented with, and develop and execute a plan for what I hope to get out of the internship. What I needed to realize was that it was okay for me to ask questions and be confused sometimes. Over the past few weeks I have gained a stronger idea of when to ask questions and when to take personal initiative, I feel more confident in my interactions around the office, and I know that I am capable of doing the work I am presented with.
It is easy to feel out of place in a city like Washington D.C. It is bustling with some of the most important figures in the country and full of high-achieving college students from all over the country. Even though I have a lot to learn, I know that I belong. Having come to terms with that, I now walk confidently to my metro stop every morning with my suit on, backpack slung over my shoulder, and earbuds in. It’s exciting to be here and it’s even more exciting to know how much room I have to grow this summer.