After 10 weeks spent in a dorm room in the middle of midtown Manhattan, I arrived home in the spacious realm of Milwaukee, WI. This summer started off as an exhausting reality check and became an empowering and independent time of self-discovery. This was my first time living in New York and working a full-time internship. Here's what I learned:
1. It’s okay to not like what you’re doing.
This summer I worked in accessory design even though I had been studying apparel design in school. I was offered the job on the spot at the interview because my boss and I instantly clicked. While I knew nothing about accessories, I was open to learning about it and excited to try something new. For the first five weeks of my internship I was uncomfortable and confused, but as I started to learn how to do my job better, and after asking (A LOT) of questions I grew more fond of it. Through all of this I realized that my heart really does lie in apparel design. Clothing is what excites and energizes me AND THAT'S OKAY. At first I thought I had fall in love with everything I tried, but it felt good to admit I didn't necessarily want to design handbags. Knowing what you don't want is just as important as knowing what you want.
2. find your places and establish rituals.
The third week of the job I asked my co-worker, "How do you adjust to a change in your environment?" He answered, "Establish rituals that make you happy."
In New York there truly is a place for everybody and the city is your living room. Every weekend I would take my computer and sketchbook to a totally new place. Some places I hated and never went back, and others I went back to almost every week. I hated midtown and anywhere near it, but I loved strolling around East and West Village, or hanging out at Union Square. I took Monday night to rest each week, explored museums on Fridays, grabbed swatches once a week after work, went for runs on the Hudson, and grabbed coffee or drinks with new people. Even when I wanted to sit in my room and watch Netflix I wouldn't because I knew it wouldn't make me happy in the long run. At first I was discouraged by the search for rituals and perfect places, but with a little perseverance I found the things that made me feel most at home. I can now say I could comfortably and fearlessly move back to Manhattan to start my career.
3. Expect to do bitch work and be happy while doing it.
We're interns, we're there to help, we're above nothing! Prove to your bosses that you can put your skills to the test. My co-worker wanted me to number the back of all the Pantone chips before I left so if any were left out we'd know exactly where to put them. I did this for two days straight (and didn't finish,-sorry Ismael!) to help him get organized. If you're cutting something out, cut in straight lines, demonstrate your eye for cleanliness. Have a positive attitude about everything and try to be the person you would hire. All these little tasks matter a lot because it shows you want to be the best you can be in any situation.
4. Your career moves so much slower than school.
Truly successful people improve 1% everyday- that's what I learned in a podcast and remembered it every time I felt useless. When you're working on a new team and learning new skills, you have to realize that it might take two or three years to be an expert at the job, and it might take six months or more to even like it. At school we are improving our own skills at a rapid pace, whereas in a company setting we are working together to drive sales AND be great designers. I went into this internship expecting to make waves right away and I look back and laugh at myself because that just isn't how it works. So don't expect instant gratification like I did. By the end of my 10 weeks I did something I was really proud of that made a difference in the company- but it took time!
5. Your work brings true satisfaction.
Because it's actually being produced to make money, duh! Your concept projects are no longer just for you, it's for your customer and your company. If your idea gets used that means your boss actually sees it as profitable and you might see it in the store or on the runway!
6. 9am-6pm jobs are tiring.
At school I don't sleep as much as I should, but I love having the freedom to turn my mind off in the middle of the day if I want to. When you're working your mind is on all day long and you're on the same schedule five days a week. It sounded great to me, because I was guaranteed 8 hours of sleep, but trust me it's nearly just as tiring. And if you're somebody like me, sitting in an office all day is really, really hard. After week seven it got easier to wake up and get through the day without any coffee- but like everything else it took time. Also, when you actually start working in the industry it's very common to stay at the office really late because you have deadlines to hit and you're learning new things all at once just like school. And not only are you working, but you're probably pursuing your dreams on the side- after work and on weekends. So we'll always be tired (sorry but it's true), and now I'm not taking my flexible schedule for granted.
8. Do You.
One of the things that I struggled with most was feeling like an outsider- like I didn't fit in with this New Yorker lifestyle. I don't wear makeup everyday, dress up for every occasion, buy lots of designer clothes (even though I wish I could), and go for drinks after work every night. I was constantly questioning my style, my aesthetic, and my interests. I asked myself, "Am I boring, or am I just trying too hard to fit in?"
One day I had enough of that unnecessary anxiety and decided that I just didn't care what anybody else was doing, or eating, or wearing. I started to do things that made me happy. I went to a jazz club, I went to The Bean (my favorite coffee shop) every Sunday morning for breakfast, wondered around Chelsea with my headphones in blasting classical music to drown out the city noises. I photographed all the bright colors I found in the city, got sangria with my friends, toured the World Trade Center, cried at the Irving Penn exhibit, and wore unicorn t-shirts because I wanted to. New York is the perfect place to be yourself.
9. Be patient and give it time.
Reiterating again that it takes time to settle into a new place, learn how your team works, and find your favorite places in the city. It took me nine weeks of disliking New York to finally love it. When I realized I had a community of friends, mentors, and places to go, I was beyond content. I felt a sense of establishment and comfort in a massive city. Don't expect to be happy or comfortable right away even if it's your dream place to be.
10. Communication is key.
It takes time to figure out how to properly communicate in the workplace. You realize that you spend about half your life in this place with a team that you need to get to know. One person might be heavily detail oriented, another might be a more conceptual thinker, another might want to see 10 options without asking for 10 options, whereas another might give you exact directions. Each of those thinkers require different levels of communication. I found it challenging to communicate in a corporate setting because I am personally accustomed to a more casual yet harsh workplace setting. It's also so important to tell your bosses how your feeling, what your goals are, what you feel is great or missing from your experience, and ultimately what you want. Speak up and ask lots of questions and offer an opinion when it's necessary. They are real people and will help you achieve your goals if you approach it properly.