I read an article in the New York Times this weekend about how unpaid internships are harder to come by these days and kids are having to change their plans. There is a lot of fodder for dinner table arguments in this article, including the role the government has played in regulating internships. Despite all this controversy, you know what my first thought was upon hearing the news that kids might have to get regular jobs? Good.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, if I had asked for more work-life balance when I was 24 my boss would have laughed in my face, right after she swallowed her cocktail of anti-anxiety meds with a swig of Diet Coke.
I am not saying people shouldn’t strive for balance in their lives. I don’t believe that ultimately you should give over your whole life to your job. Of course, people who work hard deserve raises and promotions and they should be allowed to ask for them. Where I differ is that I don’t think you get the right to fight for those things when your drunken college memories are still fresh in your mind. It is the long hours and the years of under-appreciated labor that earn you the right to fight for your time back.
I would argue that the unpaid internship makes this concept harder to understand. Instead of twirling the life-guard whistle next to a pool all summer or chasing around five year olds at summer camp, kids now are donning suits and heels during school break and it allows them to feel as if they are already putting in their time. Young men and women are spending time punching a clock and while there is an argument that they are gaining valuable experience that gives them a leg up in the job world, I wonder if the leadership skills and confidence they would gain from running a day camp, or an ice-cream shop or a community pool for three months wouldn’t serve them just as well. I know in the beginning of my professional life, I drew from the experiences of all the jobs I had leading up to it. I learned the art of negotiation and soothing an angry beast when I spent time in retail and restaurants. I learned money management (I am very good with other peoples’ money. Ironic?) running a store. I learned how to be a boss to those older and younger when I worked in daycare centers and summer camps. I worked to make money to pay for my life as a kid. The experience from those jobs shaped me more than any internship-paid or unpaid.
I think it’s time we help kids take back their childhood. Not only do they deserve a few more summers outside of the corporate rat-race, but just maybe they need that time and less career driven jobs to develop the skills for and appreciation of a job well done.
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