Some of my friends have known what they are doing this summer since October. Meanwhile, I was just offered an internship fewer than two weeks ago — in the middle of May, with summer approaching with daunting speed. I didn’t want spring quarter to end — partly because I have been having a wonderful time, but also because I had no idea what I was going to do afterwards.
Now, don’t take this to mean that I was slacking throughout the application process. I submitted my first application all the way back in December. I frequently updated a color-coded Word document that detailed every internship that I wanted to apply for, their respective deadlines and the application requirements. Writing cover letters eventually became second nature to me. I was praying for responses. I was crying over my lack of responses. And I was drowning both in my tears and in the Stanford culture that made me feel like I needed to have an internship secured by March at the absolute latest, or else I was embarrassingly far behind my apparently superior peers.
I can’t even say that I necessarily kept my spirits raised the entire time. I still put all of the effort that I could muster into each application, but I was incredibly discouraged. Eventually, even the friends who had been in the same boat as me for a while were starting to secure summer jobs. And, of course, I was always happy for them, but every shout of celebration that I gave on their behalf reinforced the internalized disappointment and sadness that I was grappling with. I felt overwhelmingly mediocre.
I told myself that everything was going to work out, and I was trusting and believing that it would, but I felt so left out whenever people would begin excitedly detailing their plans for the summer. I would silently look down at my lap and wait for the conversation to change, hoping that no one noticed my silence and attempted to help by bringing me into the conversation, because that would have made it worse.
“What are you doing this summer?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
Then a sad look and a sympathetic head nod that I truly just did not need or want.
Thankfully, my friends from home provided a sort of safe haven — a means of escape from the building pressure that I felt here. Many of them are working in restaurants or retail this summer, or just doing whatever they enjoy. They would tell me that it’s only the summer after my sophomore year, and that I can always just come home, because it really doesn’t matter that much. And that’s the thing. I know that the mindset at this school is not the norm. But it has become my norm, and it’s incredibly difficult to snap myself out of it.
I wish I could say that I look back now and know that I was just being dramatic. That it was never that big of a deal and not worth all of the tears I shed. And, yes, that is technically true. Outside of this Stanford bubble, that is very true. Having an internship aligned with my interests this summer was not going to make or break the trajectory of my entire life. I would have moved past this, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed my summer regardless. However, within this Stanford bubble, that is not how it feels at all. It feels necessary.
Even if we take the peer pressure out of the picture, I definitely still wanted this internship experience for myself, and I am so incredibly excited to be working at a literary agency in New York this summer. I know that I’m going to be doing work that I genuinely enjoy, and it will be a great social experience, as well. But the main reason that I was so stressed about it was because I felt that I needed to be; it was like an obligation.
Although it was the question that I despised more than anything just a few weeks ago, I’ve been finding myself wanting to pose the question to everyone else now that I actually have an answer to it. So, I suppose I can’t really blame anyone who asked me the question themselves. Maybe once the burden is no longer on your own shoulders, it’s difficult to remember what it feels like on the other side. To anyone who had a difficult or stressful time securing their summer plans, please do not be discouraged by the outcome, whatever it may be. And for those of you who have been lucky enough to know what you are doing this summer since the fall, remember that not everyone can say the same. And maybe not everyone wants to talk about what they’re doing this summer. And that’s okay.