Career / Essays & Confessions

Confessions Of A Well-Paid Professional Who Decided To Become An Intern Again

By Friday, February 26, 2021

In my mid-20s, just after graduation and with a couple of internships already on my CV, I found myself living what some might call “the dream.”I had a job with a permanent contract, a reasonably good salary, 30 days of holidays (vacation) a year, and I was based in my hometown of Barcelona, close to family and friends. I’m not going to lie; I felt extremely lucky. For the first time in my life, I was economically independent. By that time, I didn´t really know what personal finances meant and I didn´t care. I spent most of my salary on expensive bags, shoes, going out for dinner almost every day, and traveling. Saving? What was that? 

But fast forward a couple of years, and I’d started to feel empty. I don’t know what triggered it, but suddenly the routine, however idyllic it might sound, became unbearable. I realized my job was unfulfilling. The perks were great, but I wasn’t learning anything anymore, and the company´s mission and values didn’t align with mine. My personal life had become monotonous: the same people, same bars, same plans. It was just… 

Boring.

Soon after I came to this realization, I started looking for another job, but nothing really interested me. I knew I needed something else. I had to get out of my comfort zone – and I mean way out. I needed everything around me to be new, down to the country I was living in. 

But guess what? Finding a job in a whole new country didn’t actually turn out to be as simple as it sounded (well, maybe it didn’t sound that simple to begin with). I spent six months applying to jobs anywhere (literally, anywhere), and after hundreds of rejection emails (or worse, confirmation emails and nothing else), an opportunity appeared. But it wasn’t what I’d hoped for – in fact, it wasn’t even a job at all. It was an internship in London, at a Spanish company, with a salary of £1300 ($1816 USD) a month (in an area were the average cost of a decent room was £600 or $838 USD), with no holidays or vacation (yes, zero) and no chance to stay after the internship contract ended. No, the company didn’t trick me; these were the conditions, and I happily accepted them. Was I crazy? Well, my parents definitely thought so, as did most of my friends. But for me it was perfect. It just felt…

Right. 

So, on the big day,I found myself in the airport, with two suitcases, no more than 1000 euros in savings, fully confident that this was the best decision. OK, maybe I wasn’t 100% confident. Actually, I was scared to death, but the curiosity was bigger than the fear. I’d wanted to get out of my comfort zone, and I definitely achieved it. Here are 5 things I learned from the experience:

1. A job title is just that; a title.

I’m not going to say it was great being an intern again, because I’d be lying. I went back to work on maintaining databases, tidying up folders and updating PowerPoints. I was right back at square one, again. But that didn´t discourage me – instead, I decided to make the most of the experience. After all, I was in London, a city where there is an opportunity for everyone. After a year and a half as an intern, learning as much as I could and gaining more responsibility than I had back in Spain, I finally moved to a British company as a marketing executive. Again, it wasn’t the best job in the world, but it was the step I needed to keep growing. And a year later I found my current job at a communications company, working on projects I love, surrounded by brilliant minds that challenge me every day, and with a salary and conditions that I would hardly find in Spain.

2. Break the comfort zone, even if you don’t have one.

Socially speaking, the move was kind of easy. I was a Spaniard working for a Spanish company in London, surrounded by mostly Spanish people. After a few weeks hanging out with my new colleagues, I wondered what the point of coming to London was if I was barely speaking English. I hadn’t come all this way to improve my Spanish! Of course, I didn´t stop hanging out with Spanish people, but I knew I wanted to live with British people or at least non-Spanish speakers, meet international people and dive into the British culture. I decided to be a real Londoner, beyond just eating porridge and drinking Pimm´s. And although I don´t speak (yet) with the British accent I wish, I’m proud to have friends of different nationalities, UK included, and understand the culture, the lifestyle and even some of the jokes.

3. Personal finance is something we all need to know.

After 9 months in London, I experienced something nobody should experience: my debit card was rejected when paying for a pint. I was broke, not even one pound in my account. How could this be possible? I was living beyond my means, and my ‘carpe diem’ mindset blinded me.  My lovely friends helped me with my expenses until payday, but this opened my eyes. I couldn´t live like this, so I started listing every pound I spent, controlling each expense, and forced myself to save £100 each month. It was hard, and I had to sacrifice lots of after-work drinks, but sometimes what you need is not what you want. There was still a lot more to learn for me about personal finances, but this was the beginning of a whole new understanding of money. 

4. Alone time is the most effective self-growth tool.

London is a wonderful and vibrant city, and before covid-19 my diary was full of plans. Housewarmings, pub crawls, street markets, concerts… Always surrounded by friends. However, amongst all this noise there were some moments when I felt very lonely. If you have a bad day (or month), in a strange city, with family and close friends far away, the sadness gets heavier. With time, though, I now remember those moments in a different way, and I am almost thankful for them. I learned to deal with loneliness – but even more, I learned to enjoy it. Filling my schedule with plans stopped being a way to feel less sad or anxious, but instead became an option I had to actively choose. Now, I enjoy having time for myself, knowing that when I do hang out with friends, it’s 100% quality time with the people I love.

5. Happiness is definitely not measured by your salary.

OK, it might sound obvious, but it’s not so obvious in a city where the average glass of wine will set you back £10. As I mentioned, during my first years in my new life I struggled with money, and this was even harder with friends earning twice what I did. But still, one of the best things to happen to me in London was meeting all kinds of people, all amazing but with totally different backgrounds, interests, and professions, from babysitters and shop assistants to investment banking analysts and aeronautical engineers. And believe me, those with six-figure salaries were often more anxious or insecure than the ones struggling to make ends meet. 

***

After 4 years in London, 3 jobs, 4 apartments and one pandemic, I couldn’t be happier for all the good and bad things that this decision has brought me. When I decided to become an intern again I didn´t expect much beyond an international experience that would look good on my CV, and the chance to meet new people. In fact, it changed everything. 

From a professional point of view, it boosted my career and allowed me to get my dream job. Sometimes it’s work taking a step backward now to take two steps forward further down the line. And on a personal level, it changed me entirely. My priorities in life, my goals, the way I treat people and my whole understanding of happiness have all changed beyond recognition.

I’m not going to pretend to be a coach and say ‘Hey, get out of your comfort zone, leave your job and pursue your dreams, if I could you can!’, because I think in all these big decisions there is always a big chunk of luck, and you have to be 100% sure of what you want. But for those feeling empty or lost, knowing deep down what you need, I will tell you it is better to try and fail than keep living with what-ifs.

Naomi is a Communications Consultant based in London. When she is not working you can find her jogging, checking the Time Out or hanging out in the park with friends. Her dream is to visit the 7 wonders of the world – still 4 to cross off the list!

Image via Unsplash

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