As I sit in my apartment and Google careers that involve writing, it becomes increasingly apparent that I should have done more internships.
Since declaring an English major my freshman year, I have felt comfortable with the fact that I will not be going to med school or working at an investment banking firm. Ive always thought I would be a writer, or that I would work at a publishing house or magazine, and Ive never doubted this goal is attainable.
Then I became a senior and started actually looking for relevant jobs, and immediately started to panic. Every job listing Ive found in publishing/editing/writing boasts the phrase, MUST have AT LEAST five years experience, and these arent even the jobs that I want. These are the assistant-to-the-assistant-to-the-assistant jobs. I never knew I needed five years experience to do an entry-level job, but apparently thats the way it goes, and now I wonder if I should regret the summers I spent back home in Ohio happily ignorant of the holes in my resume.
Instead of doing an internship the summer after my first year at Duke, I took a minimum-wage job at a rural campground 45 minutes from my house. It wasnt a summer camp and I wasnt a counselor. It was a place where families parked their RVs next to a manmade mud hole/lake. I was hoping to work at the check-in desk or scan items at the camp store, whiling away the summer in a state of relative relaxation while making money for the school year. Instead, on my first day, I was asked to lifeguard at the swimming hole despite my complete lack of training, not to mention my inability to swim. It crossed my mind that this was probably frowned upon at other campgrounds, a lawsuit waiting to happen, but I went along. I told my boss I wasnt a strong swimmer and she reassured me I didnt need to swim I simply needed to sit at the top of the water slide and tell kids when they were allowed to go down.
As kid after kid went safely down the rickety old slide, I began to feel confident nothing could go wrong.
Then a woman went down the slide and surfaced from the muddy pit with a compound fracture, her bone protruding sharply out of her lower leg. Another lifeguard (a trained one) was nearby, and he went for help while other lifeguards kept an eye on the victim. Meanwhile, I frantically tried to clear the water as small children splashed through the womans blood.
I didnt quit the job, and it turned out there were plenty of things to do besides lifeguard. I worked at a concession stand, where I gained a new appreciation for people in the food service industry, and at the go-carts, where I decided never to have children. I dealt with angry customers, perfected the art of spreading sauce on a pizza and memorized the lyrics to Nicki Minajs Your Love. I discovered that rescuing adrift canoes is more enjoyable while singing Just Around the Riverbend at top volume. I read The Color Purple while sitting under a makeshift shelter at the empty putt-putt golf course during a 10-hour rainstorm, and I cleaned up countless concession-stand rat droppings even though, as other employees said, the health inspector never usually comes until July.
I will put none of this on my resume. No one cares about that summer job. Judging by the postings Ive found online, I should have been doing publishing internships all along. Now, graduation is fast approaching and I have only one relevant position to tell employers about, a six-month internship at a literary magazine.
Even so, I want to believe my campground job was actually beneficial, perhaps even more so than a publishing internship would have been. Not only did I have to learn serious people skills, it also gave me hands-on life experience. And if I want to be a writer, isnt life experience more important than internship experience? I learned more at the campground than I would have opening mail or making copies. While an internship might have passed in a haze of menial office tasks, my summer job remains vivid; each day brought a new, ridiculous story. Ultimately, isnt that what Im after, as a writer? A story, not an internship?
Next year, I might not get a job in publishing. I might not get a job doing anything useful with my English degree. Maybe Ill have to dance around in a lobster suit or water a neighbors ficuses or work as a Christmas elf at Macys. But, as my summer job reminds me, at least Ill have good stories to tell.
Holly Hilliard is a senior at Duke University. A version of this column first appeared in the campus newspaper The Chronicle.