Read of the Day: “Confessions of a 40-Year-Old Intern”
6:00 pm, July 18th | by Grace Rasmus
Here at The Jane Dough we talk a lot about changing career paths; namely, how common it is to want out of your job and how great it can be to finally find your dream career. Alas, many women (and men) lack the courage to take the plunge. After all, starting a totally new career often means starting from the bottom. (And not knowing when you’ll get here.) Today’s read is Cheryl Wischhover’s Salon essay about her decision to drastically switch career paths from a nurse to a fashion writer, starting as a lowly unpaid intern at a fashion website (at age 40!) and working her way up. (And to any of you ladies looking for extra motivation to change career paths, keep in mind the wise metaphor from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: we’re not climbing a corporate ladder with only one way to the top, but rather a corporate jungle gym with many ways to get there.)
“Do you realize what interns do?” asked my husband. He works in finance. “They get coffee and food and take a lot of abuse.” They also don’t get paid. This was years before Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn would turn the idea of middle-aged guys competing alongside fresh-faced kids into a movie called “The Internship.” But you didn’t need a summer comedy to point out the punch line here.
Still, I shot off an email to the editors. I told them if I could handle the tantrums of two small children and a staff of doctors, then surely I could handle the fashion industry.
I was contacted for an interview by the editor, Lauren. At 27, she was the oldest person at the site. Later she told me she thought I was “ballsy” for reaching out, but I’m sure she was curious, too: Who is this old mom? I showed up wearing knock-off Balenciaga shoes (talk about ballsy) and after a short interview, I was hired along with another intern, not even old enough to drink yet.
For a while, I split my time between the clinic and the website. It was the weirdest of worlds colliding. My email consisted of pitches for “opportunities” to interview Snooki and notices from the lab saying they lost a stool sample…
So the job could be humbling. I used to be at the top of my profession, for god’s sake. I published scientific papers! I used to give orders to 23-year-old nurses! Most of my colleagues could have been my daughters, and yet they knew a hell of a lot more than I did. It kicked in new levels of self-doubt: Maybe I was stylish, but could I really talk about fashion in a relatable way to our young audience? Was it bad that I hated overalls, rompers and those shoes that look like smoking slippers even though everyone else in the office loved them? Few industries are more youth-obsessed than fashion. What was I doing here? Was I completely out of touch?
Usually I was the one self-conscious about my age, making cracks about my impending menopause. But on rare occasions, my co-workers (bless their hearts) managed to underscore it. One time I offered to take minutes at a staff meeting. An editor more than 15 years my junior said, “What are minutes?” to which the executive editor replied, “Oh, that’s an old-timey way of saying, ‘taking notes.’” I felt like a woman who showed up to the meeting with her Palm Pilot.
And the terrain of 20-somethings was a new frontier for me. For years, I’d been hanging out with moms (I was often the youngest one), but my job plunged me into the daily life of the millennial: They stressed about money, yet bought lunch out every single day. When I suggested that buying groceries might be cheaper in the long run, they would tell me things like, “I’m too busy to go grocery shopping!” or “I don’t even know what to buy!” When one of them told me she’d eaten frosting out of a can for breakfast, it was all I could do not to bring in a bag of fresh fruit and yogurt and granola the next day. But I had to check my mothering impulse. It’s a bad idea to baby your colleagues — especially ones who can fire you.
To read the rest of the essay, click here.