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View of bridges from Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland
View of bridges from Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland

Nervous? No… (Yes)

I didn’t think I would be nervous for my first day of work. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t, that the jitters I felt were merely the effects of “anticipatory excitement,” but as I tossed and turned at 3 a.m., four hours before my alarm was set to chime, I knew that I was dreading the unknown of Day 1.

I should have expected the nerves – I’d just performed the same mental bait-and-switch two days prior. In the month between the end of school and the start of Duke Engage, I had conveniently shoved all the stress and planning of my impending trip aside. “Are you nervous?” my friends had asked me. I shrugged it off, cavalier. “Nope, just excited.” I was predictably hit with a truckload of stomach-churning stress as I finally began packing for Portland. (The fact that I started packing the night before my flight may or may not have contributed to this onslaught.)

As my parents drove me to the airport, our conversation was punctuated with my deep, anxiety-releasing sighs from the backseat. Mom and Dad, fluent in the language of my strong exhalations, flip-flopped between attempts to reassure and to distract me.

A “Portland welcome”

As I’ve learned over and over by now, the dreading is always worse than the reality. There were no pop quizzes awaiting me when I landed, no hazing rituals once our group finally got together. My taxi driver did get gratuitously flipped off on the cab ride from the airport, but I viewed it as a quirky “Portland welcome” rather than some sort of bad omen.

It was the right interpretation: our first days in Portland were delightful. I sampled vine-ripened produce at the PSU farmer’s market, scarfed down chicken tacos at a food truck along the waterfront, scored two comfy shirts on a group thrifting excursion, and saw multitudes of dogs. (Insider tip for the avid dog-watchers out there: much like the people, Portland dogs are decidedly unique – Labs and Goldens are scarce, but I’ve seen innumerable fun and funky breeds. I might need to start keeping a list.)

The first two days were so jam-packed, I almost forgot the real reason we were in Portland. Sunday night, though, I sure remembered.


Dogspotting: found this shaggy dog asleep on public transit
Dogspotting: found this shaggy dog asleep on public transit

Starting my internship

Intern. Job. Nine-to-five. Responsibilities. I had been so excited when learned I was placed at Crag Law Center for my Duke Engage work, but the fear of the unknown reared its ugly head the evening before my first day. The prospect of real life experience with environmental law, the field I planned on pursuing, had been thrilling just last week. As I watched the clock creep up on 4 a.m., though, I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake.

Lesson learned for the umpteenth time: my only mistake was dread. Suzanne, who supervised Crag’s Duke Engage students each summer, was friendly and warm. She showed Grace Sipp, the other DE intern, and me around the office (which was beautiful) and introduced us to the staff (who were all welcoming). Suzanne and some other staff members even took us out to lunch – apparently a Crag tradition for newcomers.

Since we were just getting started, most of our tasks were administrative: we had to sign up for all of the various platforms Crag used and get the lay of the land. Our only real assignment was familiar first-day fodder: filling out some quick questions about ourselves so they could post our bios to the website. The template was simple enough: it asked for my name, where I was from, what fields of environmental law I was interested in, my favorite place to recreate outdoors, my favorite book. The last question gave me pause, though – it asked for my favorite quote.

It was time to choose a favorite quote. I googled “famous quotes” and found a stockpile of clichés. I pulled up an anthology of sentences I’d had to compile for a creative writing class last semester, but they were all either witty and random or profound and despairing. Finally, after scouring goodreads for wisdom from my favorite authors, I found advice from Anne Lamott that struck me as particularly apt for my first day on the job:

“It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.”