3 Lessons Learned from a 31 Year Old Intern  

Standing at the Starbucks register, I start listing off an egregiously long order while the patrons behind me roll their eyes.  I never thought I’d hear, “do you mind taking a run over to Starbucks?” past the age of 20.  Yet here I am! 

At 31 years old, I am simultaneously an entrepreneur with ten years of finance experience and a wide-eyed, eager intern learning the ropes in the mental health field.  As one can imagine, my life has changed drastically since my internship days at a large bank ten years ago.  As a rising junior in college, my biggest concern apart from excelling at the internship was making Friday dinner reservations at the trendiest restaurant in New York City.  Years later, in addition to being an unpaid intern, I am fully consumed by my role as a business owner, a wife, and a mother.  Even though I sometimes feel like I am drowning in my big career transition, the journey to “finding myself” has been life changing. 

Here are three things I have learned from starting at the bottom again:

1. Being at the bottom again is not the same exact bottom as it was the first time around

Yes I am still getting coffee and yes I am still doing boring administrative work.  The difference is I have ten years of work experience under my belt.  The lessons I learned in finance are still lessons I carry with me in my new career.  These include deeply knowing how to create trust with my clients, my colleagues, and my boss.  I am also more efficient in my second career.  I no longer waste time on silly things I used to when I was 20.  This includes participating in office gossip, making sure I am forming the “right” alliances with co-workers, getting involved in office politics.  These activities never really helped me much the first time around, so I am determined to not make the same mistake twice.

2. I struggle with feeling insignificant

There certainly is a cost to starting over.  It comes in both financial and emotional form.  Earlier this week I was reminded of where I stand in my current field’s pecking order when I was asked by my staff psychiatrist what I did at my clinical site.  I slightly embarrassingly replied, “I am the new intern.”  He barely looked at me and went right back to writing case notes as if I was invisible.   I silently laughed to myself thinking ahhhh the familiar feeling of being completely unimpressive.  It’s been a little while for me, but was a feeling I felt acutely after graduating college and it quickly returned to me the moment I said “intern” again. 

3. Believing in myself is now more important than it ever was before

At 31 years old I feel the pressure of needing to know who I want to be when I grow up.  I beat myself up about this all the time.  I should have known the answer to this question years ago.  I already have a 2.5 year old daughter!  Even though I am quick to get annoyed with my delayed career choice, I realize I have no time for insecurity or self-blame.  The reason I started over in the first place was out of a desire to feel excitement, fulfillment, and joy in my work.  My decision to go back to school and switch careers has been very intentional.  I am doing this for me…because it’s fun…because I love what I am learning.    

My hope is all women never feel they are “too old” or “too deep” into their career if they want to totally switch gears and do something else.  It’s never too late… as long as you are ok with buying coffee for people a decade younger than you ;)