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MSLCE Student Paige Lester Reflects on an Inspiring Summer Internship

By Paige Lester

Perhaps the hardest part about this summer is trying to figure out how to summarize a time filled with learning, challenges, inspiration, and fun into a single blog post. Instead of trying to squeeze everything that I encountered and learned over the last 10 weeks into a few hundred words, I’m going to hit on some big picture lessons learned along the way.

Lesson #1: If you are lucky enough to have a passion, be smart enough to follow it.

I was excited to wake up and go to work every single day this summer. I was motivated, inspired, and eager to learn more. One of the Professional Development seminars that the MSLCE program provided for us this summer was about your “career drivers”- what are those underlying motivational factors that drive you to work your hardest? Having that tool available to me, I came to the realization that I loved my internship because there I was in a role that was the perfect combination of my career driver, personal passion, and technical skills. There is something so magical about being surrounded by hundreds of people every single day that are all working towards the same goal- a goal that you believe in wholeheartedly. Why wouldn’t you want to work in an environment like that?

Lesson #2: Life is all about who you know, so surround yourself with people who you believe in

You’ve heard it said a million times- life is all about who you know, getting jobs is (mostly) all about connections, etc. This concept has always terrified me. How am I supposed to meet the right person? How do I know if I am connected to enough people?

During the Summer Leadership Retreat that my team coordinated in late June, I found myself realizing that among the 200+ people in attendance, there existed many different intricate social and professional networks. Every morning of the retreat, there was a keynote speaker before the daily sessions began. One morning, the speaker was Adrian Walker (you can read more about his amazing work here). Working as a freelance photographer and Assistant Editor at VSCO, I wondered how he got connected with Turnaround Arts. It turns out that he was once a student of an individual who works on the National Team with Turnaround Arts, who was previously a classroom teacher and principal. I witnessed a teacher from Chicago have a conversation with an elementary school principal from D.C about how the principal needed a new art teacher, and the Chicago teacher immediately took out her phone, called a former colleague who had recently moved to D.C, and an interview was set up.

The moral of the story is: Yes- life (and the job market) are deeply influenced by who you know. This shouldn’t be scary, but rather it should encourage you to find those people who are doing work that you believe in and admire, and keep them close.

Lesson #3: Growth only begins to happen at the edge of your comfort zone

Promise yourself that you will try things that scare you. Odds are, the outcome will be something amazing, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself along the way. From things as (seemingly) simple as cold calling, to holding full responsibility over the success of a certain project for the first time, it is important to constantly challenge yourself. How else is progress made? Also- know that you have people on your side to help you recover from any missteps that may happen along the way (see lesson #2).

Lesson #4: You make your own success story (and there is not a “right” way to get there)
One of the most influential pieces of advice someone gave me this summer was that often times there is no right or wrong choice, you just have to make a choice. There is a tendency to get caught up in both minor and major decisions, but at the end of the day, there are an infinite number of options for the individual frames that create big picture of your professional journey. Be open to all opportunities, even those that did not fit into your initial plan. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I had over the course of this summer, and I cannot wait to take all of these lessons (and more) with me as I begin my professional career.