This past fall, I did something I never thought I’d do again, I applied for an internship. After earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and gaining over two years of "real world" experience, I didn’t see myself having a reason to wear that hat again.
But here’s the thing: There was a creative void in my life and I was aching to fill it. I wanted to write, and I wanted it to be a large part of my career one day. When it comes to exploring a new field, though, you can’t just waltz right in simply because you’re passionate about it. I needed to, for lack of a better phrase, start at the bottom and learn the field from the inside out.
One cover letter GIF and six months later, here we are: I’ve authored approximately 150 articles—short, long, listicles, personal essays, you name it. And not a cell in my body will argue the sentence I’m about to write: Accepting this opportunity was the best career decision I’ve ever made, not only because it’s reignited my creative spark, but also because it’s taught me these five invaluable career lessons.
Writing isn’t new to me—I distinctly remember putting together short story after short story in my notebooks long before I hit double digits. But as I got older and more involved with extracurricular activities, I stopped doing it as much.
And when I did do it, creative blocks plagued me. I was under the (very false) assumption that, in order to be a good writer, you only needed one draft—editing was only for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. My need for perfection prevented me from getting words onto paper, resulting in a severe lack of practice in the one skill I wanted to refine.
When I took on this extra position, though, I suddenly had several deadlines to meet. And I couldn’t allow my struggles to get in the way of my success (or the team’s). So I wrote. It was clunky and ugly, but I forced syllable after syllable out of my head just to get the juices flowing. I accepted that it wouldn’t be sparkling diamonds at first, but lumps of coal instead.
Having several assignments a week really got the ball rolling in a way "work on personal blog" never did. And now that the ball is rolling, it’s pretty hard to stop. I won’t say I never have trouble anymore—I do. But months later, the stories come with much less difficulty, and the sentences start to fit together a little more seamlessly. Bit by bit, my coal is turning into those gemstones I’ve desired.
According to Gretchen Rubin’s personality quiz, I’m a questioner. "Questioners," Rubin says, "question all expectations. They’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense." And this is spot on for me. I find it really hard to commit to doing something unless I know and can identify with its purpose.
This explains why making this passion of mine into a habit was so difficult before—I didn’t have a good "why." When creating my blog, I intended to make that my sole livelihood. After a few years of low traffic, however, I realized how challenging that would be, especially with a full-time job. And, unfortunately, I didn’t really see the point anymore (I know, sad).
The Muse’s offer gave me a very good reason to chase my writing goals. This experience could open so many doors, but only if I didn’t drop the ball. Had I understood before that I need a more defined and structured motive in order to follow through with something, perhaps I would’ve taken this chance earlier. But at least I know better for the future.
My main concern when I was hired?: How am I going to pull this off on top of my 40-hour-plus workweek? (Induce slight panic.) What had I gotten myself into?
So, I mapped it all out. I laid out what my entire week would look like—including weekends. I put in my normal work hours, followed by times and days I would dedicate to The Muse (cheers to flexible hours!). Lastly, I allotted time for my desired amount of sleep.
What I found was extremely encouraging: I still had over 30 hours of free time. Each week. So, I blocked off those periods, too (because they’re just as important, if not more).
Rather than following this plan to a tee, I use it as a rough guideline. After all, life happens. But whenever I get really overwhelmed, it’s a great resource to reference.
One of the benefits of being an intern for The Daily Muse is that I get to interact with the editorial team on a daily basis. This is a first for me, and it makes me really happy.
Each week, I’m able to participate in the pitch meeting, an hour in which a group of 10 or so imaginative individuals bounce around ideas with no judgment, only honest feedback and unlimited encouragement.
In addition, this gig also comes with a hands-on manager, which is so much cooler than I ever believed it could be. While I’ve generally looked at writing, and in a larger part, going after my lofty dream to do it full-time, as this big solitary adventure I had to accomplish myself for it to mean anything, I now know that’s not true. In fact, I’m moving toward my goal at an even faster pace because I’m supported by others.
For some people, pursuing a passion means dropping everything else and diving in head first. If you’re able to do this, I highly encourage it. Kat Boogaard, an author at The Muse, quit her job with no back-up plan, so she could try being a full-time freelancer. It was risky, but it paid off big time. "Fast forward to now," says Boogaard, "and I’ve accomplished things that I never even thought were a possibility for me."
But this isn’t a practical choice for everyone. Even if you can’t do what Kat did, though, that doesn’t mean you should give up. You can, in fact, do both at the same time. I have been, for almost six months now, and if I can do it, so can you. It’s been hard at times, sure. I’ve sacrificed some sleep and social events. But there’s a fire in my belly that hasn’t been there for years. And that’s worth it, isn’t it?
I’m not sure where this path will take me, but I don’t need to know exactly what the future holds. As long as, in the present moment, I’m moving in the right direction. This was one very big first step, and I’m excited to see where it will ultimately lead.
But for now, I’m proud that I’m doing what I set out to do unsuccessfully so many times before: Get paid to write. And if that writing position comes with an intern title, so be it. It’s well worth everything I’ve learned to take on this role again. So, if you’re debating this choice, don’t—find the time and make it happen. You’re not going to get any closer to your dreams by thinking you’re too old to begin again.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.