Winning the Internship Balancing Act

Since starting the UW-Whitewater Internships Blog in 2008, I haven’t gone a week without posting (with the exception of that first summer and winter/spring breaks). So to have missed three weeks in a row during a non-break period has felt weird…and wrong.

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As I wrote for the Student Branding Blogthis past fall, maintaining good work/life balance is something that I have always prided myself on. Yet here I am, struggling with that balance for the first time. And I’m trying to figure out how to regain it. Looking back at my college career helps…

My college roommate was the quintessential over-booked college student. Lisa would get up around 5:00am for her daily run. Then, it was off to classes. Because she was super involved on campus, her classes were inevitably followed by an evening’s worth of meetings. Finally, she would return home around 9:00pm or 10:00pm, and then start her studying for the night. But that was Lisa. She thrived on being active, and it worked for her.

I always felt like a slacker around Lisa, even though I had what would be considered a pretty impressive college student resume. I just took on one thing at a time (for the most part) and was more focused with my involvement. While I was never running around from meeting to meeting, I still kept busy. But my busy was an easier-paced busy. That was my style: Be involved in one major thing at a time, building on what came before, and maintain plenty of personal downtime to recharge.

And I was involved for me, not to impress anyone else.

I think that there is a lot of pressure being placed on you as a college student today. Complete as many internships as you can. Get as involved as you can. Take on as many leadership roles as you can. Oh, and while you’re at it, work a paying job (or two), study, and get good grades.

The fact that articles need to address the question, “How many internships are enough?,” says it all. I have witnessed several students take on multiple internships at one time, I’m assuming under the “need” to have more. On the flip side, I have watched one particular student complete an impressive number of high-level internships…but one at a time. My guess is that the second model has resulted in much richer experiences with a focus on quality over quantity. And ultimately, it is quality that will take you farther in your career.

I’m here to tell you to take it easy on yourself. I fear that too many students are striving to do too much, all to their own detriment. I would hate to see anyone burn out before even hitting the “real world.” I’m not saying that you can go through college doing nothing. However, balance is something we all need. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way this year as I’ve taken on more and more in order to be “more.” It hasn’t made me better. In fact, I have been worse off for it.

Before taking on that one more thing – like that one more internship on top of the internship you already have, your student organizations, and a job – think about why you would be doing it. Is it to impress someone, like that future employer who doesn’t even exist to you yet? Is it to compete with a classmate who you desperately want to best? Is it because you thrive on being busy and your balance threshold is simply higher than others’?

Take on those extra commitments for the “right” reasons – because it truly is right for you, not because it is “right” for someone else.

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