Wednesday, August 02, 2017

My Summer Employment Experience, in Three Acts

Photo credit: GW Hatchet
This is part of a special series focused on summer employment experiences of adults in our network. Kicking us of is DCAYA's own Communications and Development Manager, JR Russ.

My first summer job was right before my freshman year at the George Washington University. I applied for and was hired part-time working in GWU's bookstore in 1999. Honestly, 18 years later, my time there is a bit of a blur. But I remember learning a bunch of soft skills for the first time, as it related both to inventory management as well as customer service, which often competed with each other.

See as we received shipments of books for the fall semester, while we'd be stocking and organizing the shelves, we would have to be able to also field questions and address issues which students brought to us mid-task. In meant learning how to juggle different priorities, while maintaining a professional demeanor in front of whomever we were helping at the time. And although I didn't quite know what I wanted to do when I finished college, I could also check working in a bookstore off of my list. This isn't to say I thought my time was wasted there. I simply learned what I could in the time that I was there.

Photo Credit: GWU Facebook's page.
The following summer, I would find myself employed as part of GWU's Freshman and Transfer student orientation crew AKA the Colonial Cabinet. The application was an UBER-competitive process, with just about 30 rising sophomores through seniors being selected from an applicant pool of hundreds. I mean, with summer housing being just one of the perks, you can imagine the demand to be a Cabinet member was high. Oh yes, that's me being held up in the back row.

And there was so much I loved about this, both in what I brought to the table and what I learned. Having been co-president of the drama club in high school, working on skits to dramatize what college life can be like was a blast. But there were a lot of team building and collaborative exercises which also taught me how to work with others outside of a theatrical endeavor. I didn't realize it at the point, but one of the things I think I truly valued about the role was being an ambassador of the community on campus, and doing our best to acculturate new students to the university. In a way, it was also the first time I got to be a mentor, in this case to the incoming freshmen assigned to me.

Photo Credit: HRC
I have to tell you, though. I would actually end up leaving GWU after the fall of my sophomore year, for various personal reasons, and take a year off. The Spring of 2001, I had secured a spring internship at the Human Rights Campaign. I worked in the membership department, primarily assisting with preparing materials for and managing the intake of new and prospective donors.

I know this started out as a blog focused on summer employment experiences. But this HRC internship was the next professional environment I found myself in, as a young person turning 20 at this point. I should add a caveat that I can honestly say I knew this internship was not going to be directly related to my eventual path. I would eventually return to the arts, but that's a story for another blog. So I simply continued to develop those skills, particularly in time management and learning & adapting to yet another workplace culture, which would leave my nimble and responsive in any work environment I found myself in.

Photo Credit: George Byron Griffiths 
Years later it has often been those soft skills, like communicating efficiently and effectively, which have landed me opportunities that my resume alone did not. All this is to say that sometimes the benefit of various summer or gap year employment isn't what shows up on paper, but what shows up in person. So as you and your young people explore various career paths, I can only strongly encourage everyone to learn what they can, find the joy in each moment, and trust yourself to be able to move on to what's next, when needed.

You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

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