The Internship Survival Guide

By: Luis Enrique Arrazola

I hadn’t found myself feeling so insecure about much since my awkward days of pre-pubescence and adolescence. The bad hair, the meek persona and the delicate way I sauntered into the boys change room after gym class that might have been a bit too gay for the other teen boys were all valid reasons to feel insecure about myself. But I was 16 then and that was high school.

Now, at 22, I found myself in an equally stressful environment that was as harsh on my ego as the halls of high school. While I no longer worried about my bad hair and overly-feminine walk, I began double-guessing every aspect of myself I had worked so hard to build while in university, from my writing, to the impression that I had it all figured out.

My internship at the National Post was supposed to be my foot into the door of fashion and music journalism. But with each day it felt more like the wake-up call I’d been dreading each day leading up to graduation. It was the fact that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer and that my career was headed for the gutter.

I was completely unraveling, and, with four months of an intensive internship ahead of me, survival and keeping myself mentally sane quickly took precedence over the fact that I had just wasted four years of my life studying something I no longer cared for and there was the thousands of dollars wasted on tuition for a career in which I seemed bound to fail. I was on the fast track to mediocrity and no amount of caffeine or late-night writing and editing would fix it.

When I first imagined myself at the Post, it all went something like the movie The Devil Wears Prada. For those who are unfamiliar with the film, a young journalism graduate lands an underpaying job full of opportunity at a distinguished fashion magazine. While her countless attempts at success elude her at the beginning, she quickly gets her grip and wows everyone at the office. While my wardrobe was almost up to par with the film, I still was no Anne Hathaway. I am a man, after all.

Perhaps it was the sense of isolation at the office where editors kept their heads bowed, completely transfixed by their computer screens and completely unaware of my existence that had my confidence doing a complete 180. Or, perhaps, I was just intimidated by the editors and writers whose silence and disregard for my existence simply came off as snide passive-aggressive jabs at the intern who was gunning for their jobs.

I may have also tweeted something ridiculous about planning to sleep with one of the editors (he was cute, after all).

With my overactive imagination I began thinking it was all in my head, at least, until I was intentionally humiliated (as my theory goes) by one of the newspaper’s writers after an act of retribution. With an abundance of cake at the office for my editor’s birthday, we all huddled around his desk to celebrate. And as the writer in question passed out cake to everyone on staff, he me. Hadn’t he noticed that I wasn’t just some free-loader? Didn’t we make eye contact to establish that I was there? Didn’t he know I was just the intern?

As I looked around at everyone eating their lemon cake, including the other intern on staff, I wondered what I had done to get them to hate me. I had set my intentions set on becoming the Anne Hathaway of the National Post with writing that combined wit, precision, and creativity. I wanted to be the boy with the most cake but it was apparently like there was nothing for me on the platter and I had a very empty plate to prove it.

Perhaps all of their spite came from my risque #internlife tweets that began circulating around the office after the online editor had discovered my account, even though I was tweeting under an alias. She was good and it’s no wonder why she was the online editor. While tweeting about spitting in my editors’ coffee and performing satanic rituals on them may not have been the wisest move it felt like I was getting the short end of the stick for it.

I may have also tweeted something ridiculous about planning to sleep with one of the editors (he was cute, after all). With my continued sense as the lone wolf navigating the editorial highlands of the National Post offices, things began to turn up once I befriended the other intern who quickly became my confidante and right-hand woman.

Knowing that somebody had my back in the often cutthroat environment gave me a sense of reassurance and a breath of confidence. With her advice and years of journalistic experience, she became my editorial safety blanket.

I wasn’t going out without a fight. My writing may not have been as succinct as the other intern’s or completely up to par to the Post’s standards so I quickly worked at trying to make my writing less verbose and less “writerly”, as my editor described it. Now, as I find myself at the end of my internship, with a better grasp on my writing and my old sense of self restored, I can satisfyingly say that the endless hours I put into my internship have payed off.

From going to the Thompson hotel to talk to New York’s Style Blogger, to interviewing film director and self-described pothead Kevin Smith (aka Silent Bob), to sitting front row at Fashion Week, as well as staying up late to write a slew of stories and coming down with the flu, my internship improved.

As I leave my internship with a kick-ass reference letter and a sense of accomplishment, I’ve come to the realization that some of the editors weren’t so snide, after all. Along with the other intern, a few of the editors have become my confidantes and my go-to girls for advice, from the brilliant style editor who approved every one of my pitches and gave me sage advice to the altruistic online homes editor who kept me sane.

Now, with an amazing internship almost behind me and life post-graduation quickly approaching, I’m hoping my career still isn’t headed for the gutter (and at this point, it seems like that’s unlikely). But with undoubtedly a few more Mcjobs headed my way, perhaps it’s time I take to the stripping pole to support my starving writerly ways.


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