Sinking the Intern-Ship and Taking Flight
"With a lack of prospects and nothing to lose, I followed my instincts."
This is the supporting essay to Truth #6: No One Knows What They’re Doing.
In my second year at Laurier, I passed a woman on the highway in an old beater of a car. It was loud and rusted out—a model from when cars looked like Kleenex boxes.
Adorned on the rectangle’s bumper was a sticker that read: “Proud Laurier Alumni”.
Everyone knows that a bumper sticker is the automotive lower-back tattoo: trashy and regrettable, but indicative that the owner is probably a good time.
Note: Middle-of-the-road universities, repeat after me: “Thou shalt not sell Alumni bumper stickers; for they will appear on the lower-backs of vehicles that are one engine light away from a demolition derby. Amen!”
But the vision of this Laurier grad—a future me—driving in an equally shitty car, heading in the same direction, struck a chord.
In my naiveté, I assumed that graduation meant unlocking CEO greatness. Not riding on a highway of sameness.
The mobile Kleenex box was a glimpse into what life could look like after doing the “right” things. It was an indication that once I’d carried out all that was prescribed by moms and teachers that things could look, well, unimproved.
As it turns out, a Laurier grad!—a woman of degree and commerce—could rely on the same beige Toyota I was conceived in to get from investor meeting to investor meeting.
As I putted past, I looked in my rearview mirror with the sense that my arts degree (with a minor in philosophy) might not cut it. For the first time, it occurred to me that if I was going to “make it”, I was going to have to take action. I couldn’t solely rely on the advice of frizzy-haired guidance counselors or my Grandma’s “nurse” or “teacher” professional linearity.
To create my own success, I was going to have to take gambles and exploit opportunities.
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My first “real” job out of University represented none of the above ^.
I was working in recruiting from my doorless bedroom in Toronto. I started as an intern (which was all the rage in the 2010’s) making $250 a week. Soon after, I got hired for a permanent position at $30,000 a year—which at the time, even with inflation, was still only $30,000 a year.
Early into my salaried tenure, the company’s three employees and I went to a two-day cottage off-site (AKA an overnight hostage situation). On the first night, one colleague sat on my boss’ lap. The Head of HR (the boss’ wife) got pissed and both women stormed off crying.
Despite having 8/10 arachnophobia, I opted to sleep in the basement bedroom—the room to guarantee an oversized creepy crawler at any waterfront property.
My fear of two middle-aged women fighting over a man named Warren trumped every spider.
Note: The only thing that kept me going for those two days and two nights was finding a bar mitzvah card with $40. While my colleagues were getting gas, I *naturally* rifled through the rental car’s glovebox. Inside was a generic “mazel tov” card and two crisp bill$$$. I pocketed the cash and spoke to no one of my treasure. The rush of my secret fuelled me.
Once I got home and hosed off the ickiness of seeing co-workers in pyjamas (as a society, we HAVE to stop doing this), I applied for dozens, possibly hundreds, of jobs.
At one interview, I was reprimanded by the hiring manager for using the term “been around the block a few times”. He said it was a crass reference to prostitution. I hadn’t heard of the origin, but sensed Duncan was just overreaching to insert imagery of “blow jobs for money” into our 10 minute interview.
I got the job, but it was a pass.
With a lack of prospects and nothing to lose, I followed my instincts.
Instead of applying to bottomless job portals, I started emailing hiring managers and company owners directly. In the email, I attached a sample of my personal writing. It was a reflection of my true self which frankly, is polarizing.
The writing sample was representative of the moment. It was a short essay about the rise of shitty unpaid internships and the struggles of finding a decent job. The piece was called, “The Sinking of the Intern-Ship”. And it was entirely written in (you guessed it) nautical metaphor.
At the heart of the piece was one, clear message: baby boomers are stealing from millennials and they ought to croak (or at least retire).
The essay included work-safe lines like ““the inherently cooler waters of the youth” and “4 long years engaging with seamen”. It was a true heart song.
For your pleasures…
The Sinking of the Intern-Ship, August 2013
We twenty-something’s are living in a land of uncharted territory, and in a time plagued with uncertainty. This uncertainty is called the unsinkable ship of the baby-boomer. These boomers are warriors of the day--willing to endure facelifts, hosiery, and Meatless Monday’s to buy themselves an extra 10 years in the executive suite.
These Warriors of the Day are unwilling to grant fresh blood entry onto their haughty vessel of a fair salary, paid vacation, and unlimited printer/scanner privileges.
We recent graduates are left to meticulously groom the streets for opportunity and the occasional shiny coin. However, every so often, we are told to stop this quest, and quickly head down to the pier, “for a ship is coming!” As the ship rolls in, we realize that it is the infamous and very sinkable intern-ship. We are coerced onto the intern-ship with the promise of a better life. So, clutching our hanky of crumbs and our sepia-toned Golden Retriever photograph we anxiously hop aboard.
With our youthful naiveté, we don’t recognize that this intern-ship in fact one of those new carefully contrived, and amazingly bullshit “Nowhere Cruises”.
We are unknowingly embarking on an open-water tour of nothingness. Sure we get to live the highlife situated on deck with a fake smile substituting for a visor, and a QWERTY keyboard instead of a fresh lime mojito; and sure we get to learn the ropes and mechanics of the ship from a few distracted office wenches while shamelessly testing the endurance of the communal Keurig machine.
But, nonetheless, the promised land never comes and the threat of scurvy fails to retire the overpaid captain and longstanding crew. Eventually, (some quicker than others) we all come to realize that we have been duped. We were perspiring, wearing polyester, openly greeting carpel tunnel, and gaining the unwelcomed 3 pounds worth of demobilization all for nothing.
These baby boomer warriors had no intention of going anywhere. They were never willing to cast a small net of their earnings into the fresh, sexy, and inherently cooler waters of the youth.
We now understand that we were lured onboard as a baited distraction. Despite our fulfillment of the required academic scavenger hunt (and those 4 long years engaging with seamen), we have been withheld from attaining our allocated prize.
Instead, we were being tricked into accepting the shitty keychain door prize with the hopes of entering to win the grand sweepstake. The only problem is, we don’t want another keychain. In fact, we don’t have enough room for another keychain on our lanyard of student loans and the lavish scams of our adolescence. We already earned enough keychain’s when we graduated from the weekend Babysitter’s course, drank our juice box after enduring EQAO testing, and fainted in the school’s flu shot line.
What we want now is for the tides to change, and for tangible access onto a real ship of possibility. But, until this new air rolls in and the James Cameron Titanic knock-offs are still dominating the pool, we will wade patiently in our liberating waters amongst friends.
Needless to say, attaching the boomer hate speech meant that most of my job applications went unanswered. The only (positive) reply came from a Content Marketing job at a start-up in Montreal. I didn’t know what a “start-up” was nor “content marketing”. I also didn’t live in Montreal. But I was a “yes” to all three.
A few days later, I took the six hour train from Toronto to Montreal for an interview. I hadn’t been to Montreal since the coming-of-age pilgrimage to drink legally and pose in front of the Super Sexe sign.
This time around, I arrived in Montreal with an honest purpose. I had a job to bag.
I got to the start-up’s office on St. Laurent. It was a cool loft with the Montreal trifecta: a rooftop terrace, exposed brick walls, and chainsmokers out front. It was perfect.
Inside the loft, I met with the company’s founder, Lauren. She looked as Australian as she turned out to be. We sat cross-legged in an unfurnished conference room and chatted. She explained what a start-up was, and more importantly that she laughed out loud at my boomer bigotry.
She also told me they’d already hired someone for the position.
She thanked me for coming in and I affirmed that it was no problem because I very much lived around the corner. I for sure didn’t travel for half a day nor take a bird bath in a public bathroom before coming in! I was a “poor man’s Europe” native that was simply going to bike home and tend to my microgreens (and microbangs).
After the interview, I stress-ate a poutine.
To salvage the day, my boyfriend Kevin and I plunked ourselves at an open-air bar on St. Denis.
One $4 Boreal in, I got a call from a Montreal number.
Despite already hiring someone for the role, they’d like me to join on too.
In addition, they paid everyone at the company—regardless of role—the same salary: $60,000. At the time, even with inflation, $60,000 was a goddamn windfall. It felt like I’d just doubled my lifetime’s earnings. And I had.
I felt like a royal prince, an oil baron, an heiress. I felt like Paris Hilton after shoving a magnum bottle of my own jewel-encrusted perfume up my robot twin’s vajazzled puss.
I had just scored bigger than I knew possible.
Once the shock and excitement wore off, reality hit. I was starting a new job—in five days—in a city that I very much did not live in.
That weekend, with a few jumbo suitcases, I headed back to Montreal. And this time, it was to live as a legitimate cool girl local. Kevin moved with me and just like that, a new chapter was being written.
For the first two weeks, we stayed in a furniture-less apartment in a dark high-rise building. The elevator smelt like fish sticks. The leaseholders had moved out and taken every pot, pan, and square of toilet paper with them. All that remained was a stained futon and sticker wall art of cherry blossoms and inspirational quotes.
The apartment didn’t even have wifi—which we can all agree is a basic human right.
For several weeks, I was filled with imposter syndrome. I didn’t feel good enough to work alongside such smart and generous people. They were worldly and ambitious. They’d just gone through Silicon Valley’s most famous startup accelerator, Y Combinator (which in nerd speak, was a big deal—especially at that time).
The founder’s exposed me to the start-up world and taught me about ‘content marketing’ before blogging also became a basic human right. They managed the company with radical transparency and inclusivity. And like most Australians, they loved to laugh, said ‘reckon’ a lot, and had premature sunspots—a sign of a life well lived.
A year and a half later, with a pivot in business model, the Montreal HQ was dismantled and the jig was up.
While short lived, it was a major level-up and a trajectory-setter. I had taken a risk that was rewarded. It was a lucky bounce that came from following an instinct and shamelessly revealing more of my true self than recommended.
In doing so, I found my place and my people. Plus, that Kleenex box was further in my rearview than it’d ever been.
While fakin’ it till’ you’re makin’ it can make your BO smell like a Harvey’s restaurant, the push is good. Levelling up means putting yourself out there and angling towards things that you don’t feel totally qualified for.
The cross-roads of a level-up is often when we tend to dismiss ourselves and feel like we’re not good enough.
So, remember: no one knows what they’re doing, opportunity is yours for the taking, and when you trust your instincts and do something ballsy, the objects in your mirror are, well, behind you.