How can I avoid self-sabotage and turn this internship into a career?
May 17, 2012 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I just landed a dream internship (part time, unpaid) that will probably last about 6-8 months. Please help me avoid self sabotage so I can turn it into a job/career.

How can I not sabotage myself so that this incredible opportunity becomes a career prospect? This is the first position I've held in a field I am truly interested in and want to pursue. Frankly, having spent my 20's doing stuff I was only marginally interested in and feeling like I should've spent that time interning and climbing the ladder in a field I really wanted to be in, I am desperate to now make it work--better late than never, especially since I now realize what I want to be doing. This is a dream opportunity to learn and gain experience in an area in which I have absolutely no experience or background.

However, any time I'm faced with a challenge, particularly one that could result in success and recognition, I tend to collapse under the anxiety of screwing it up. This results in constant preoccupation with how I and my work are being received as well as visibly lacking confidence in my abilities, which affects people's perception of my capabilities as well as my actual work performance.

If you've been in a situation that feels too-good-to-be-true and are constantly afraid of blowing it, to the point that you kind of do blow it, you know where I am coming from. If you've been in this situation and have figured out how to work hard, excel, and prove to colleagues, superiors and yourself that you are competent, bright, and talented, please tell me how you do/did it. Tips or suggestions of all kinds are welcome.

Also, if you have more concrete insight into how to be a go-getter, create opportunities for yourself, and put yourself on path to achieve/earn what you want, please share that with me, too.

I am on a break from therapy and hope to go back eventually, but it's not realistically going to happen in the near future.

I'm a well educated person living in a big city. I am in my early 30's.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a mentor, or someone else you trust to check in with you for 15 minutes a week? That kind of regular one-on-one appointment helps you set your goals for what's really important (not just urgent, but important) for you to focus on and get done.

Have a private accountability blog that you only share with that mentor or a few trusted friends, and every day, take 10 minutes to post:

* what you did the previous day
* what you need to do today
* what obstacles you foresee

This has a bunch of benefits. Every day you remind yourself of what you've already gotten done. You have a visible and written record that's easy to go back to in case you need to quickly compile something to send your supervisor to explain what you've been up to. And it isn't visible to the people in your organization who are possibly judging you, so you can feel more open and truthful about the problems you run into (including them!), but you have an audience that motivates you to keep going, every day.
posted by brainwane at 8:34 AM on May 17, 2012

"Fake it 'til you make it" is a hackneyed phrase, but it does apply in many situations. If your self-sabotage manifests itself through appearing to be unsure of your own abilities, and not an expert in your field, you may find some help in just deciding, for this internship, to act like someone who does know things. This doesn't mean faking information or falsifying credentials, merely taking on the personality attributes you think you'd have if you knew everything you needed to know, and had the self-confidence you want.
posted by xingcat at 8:36 AM on May 17, 2012

Well, first of all, this isn't a job, it's an internship. Unpaid internship. The idea is that you will be gaining skills, and feedback, and they get someone who will work for free.

So one way the pressure is off of you is that, you're there for free. They should be thrilled with whatever you do.

Now, that being said, treat it like a job. Dress appropriately, show up on time every day, and do the best job you can.

I love brainwane's idea of keeping a blog/log. I'd also schedule time with the manager/person you'll most frequently interact with for some 1:1 time weekly. It can be a touch-base kind of thing. 15 minutes is all you'll need to get an understanding of what went well and what needs improvement.

Understand, no one expects you to be perfect. It's a learning experience. So learn. You have an enormous advantage in that you are mature. You won't be the source of drama to any of your new co-workers. You won't aggrivate them with silly emails, slovenly work habits or any other childish thing they may be used to encountering with younger interns.

Whenever you learn something new. Write it down. When you work on a specific project, write it down. When you get a new responsibility, write it down. You'l use this to expand this experience on your resume and the ability to point to specific items is huge. With all the new stuff coming at you, you many forget some really great things you did. Also, this should bolster your confidence, look at all this cool stuff you're adding to your skill-set.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:41 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing I would say -- especially not knowing what field the internship is in or what your day to day responsibilities will entail -- is INITIATIVE.

Don't be the person lolling around waiting to be assigned a task. Ask what you can do.

If you see something that is within the scope of your internship, take it on (or volunteer to take it on) BEFORE your supervisor comes to you and tells you it needs doing.

Also, look at it as a learning experience. This is not some j-o-b thing where the point is to show up and slog away and look busy until quitting time. You should be constantly striving to pick up new skills, spread your wings, and improve.

That's the biggest problem I have with interns and entry-level workers in my field. If you want to go sling lattes or transcribe TPS reports, great! Those are places where your half-assery will be appreciated. If you want to work here, you should at least try to act like you are interested in what we do. I don't know what field your internship is in, but in my field people would generally KILL to land an internship or an entry level gig, and it drives me nuts me to see people get handed that opportunity and then blow it because they have too much of a day job/temp agency mentality.
posted by Sara C. at 9:51 AM on May 17, 2012

Never had an internship or really even worked with interns, so I will pretend this is a new job, which is what you want out of this.Sometimes also a bit anxious/low confidence, so I understand that part of the question.I've been able to get projects that I wanted when I worked at fulltime jobs in the past.

Here are some things that I would do (modify it per your place of employment, whatever it is you do):

• If someone gives you a project, ask to a see a sample/samples of what they like. Use it as a model.

• Find out who is really good at certain skills. Ask your supervisor or colleagues (who is the best at TPS reports? the printing expert? etc.) If you finish a TPS report, politely ask the TPS expert to briefly look at over and provide suggestions/recommendations before you give it to your supervisor (don't get carried away...minimize the time that you have them at it...but get their input because they may instantly see things that you can fix).

• Ask colleagues if there are templates/directions on the server (sometimes there are, sometimes there are not......but sometimes people forget to tell the new employee or person new to the project that there were directions as to how to do something, sitting on the server).

• Find out the deadline for your projects. Turn them in on time, proofread it, etc. If you can knock it out of the ball park not once but a few times, this is where you can be a go getter and ask for projects in the future...but show them that you can do it first.

• If you are really anxious, take notes when someone gives you directions (where to find it on a server, how to do X, ......)

• Is there a skill or additional skill that you want to learn? Find out who does it. IF necessary, go to lunch with that person and they learned the skills and do they have recommendations for you.

• Do go to lunch if possible with a wide variety of people....because you may not be hired there, but somewhere else, because you made an impression on a person. It may even be a few jobs later.

• This last one is odd but it sounds like you are passionate about your field (yeah). Show it. If you love subtopic 2 in category X, mention it or point out an article that colleagues may be interested in. Find out who likes the same topics. It can open a door...if someone happens to have a project to create a banner for subtopic 2 or attend a meeting for subtopic 2, you will spring to mind.
posted by Wolfster at 10:35 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best advice I've gotten for being an intern is to remember that you are LEARNING about the field. Ask questions, even if they're dumb or make you stressed out. I'll tell you, now that I supervise interns (instead of being one myself!!), I love it when they ask honest questions. It gives me a chance to think about the unstated skill sets associated with being a professional in my field, and provides me an opportunity to mold these future colleagues into the best they can be. It feels like their increased professionalism is my legacy/contribution to the field.
posted by spunweb at 12:42 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask questions, and if you don't understand something, say so. Don't try to fake it.

If you do something wrong, admit it, apologize, and then stop talking and LISTEN (this goes for any job, really).

Be professional--arrive on time, dress appropriately, call if you will ever be late or absent from work.

Be positive--difficulties are opportunities, mistakes are teachable moments. That's the attitude ou want to have during an internship.

That said, my other advice would be: don't put too much stock on this turning into a career.

Seriously, this is an unpaid internship, and you don't mention that you will earn any college credit for undertaking it--is that the case, or did you just leave it out of your question?

Because if you are in your 30s, not getting paid AND not getting college credit from this internship, the odds of this leading to a paying job offer are pretty low.

Ask yourself why, if people are willing to work there for 6 months with nothing to show for their efforts, the company would opt to start paying them once the 6 months are up, rather than continuing to bring in unpaid interns on a regular basis?

And, if you feel it is because you will be trained after 6 months and that makes you worth more to them--if they do decide to hire you, what kind of salary do you think a company like this would pay even if they did extend an offer?
posted by misha at 3:42 PM on May 17, 2012

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