Depressed — No internship?

Dear Alice,

I am a junior. Lately, I have been depressed because of my failure to find an internship for the summer. I feel that I will be at a disadvantage next year when I apply for jobs. I really want a good job when I graduate. I do not know if I am being paranoid over this internship thing that I keep hearing is so invaluable when you go look for jobs.

I feel that I must explain some of my life story to you so that you will better understand my situation. I come from a traditional Chinese family that values education very much. I am depressed because I fear that I will not find a good job when I graduate, and that everyone I know will ridicule me for spending so much money for my education and not being able to get a job. I am also depressed because my father will look down on me for spending all his money. My failure will bring shame to my father and delusion to myself. I am afraid I will not be able to face the humiliation that is forthcoming. Right now, I am spending a lot of time contemplating my future, and I see a bleak road. I have thought of ending everything right here and right now. I say to myself there has got to be a better life after this. So why go through more misery?

— Deeply depressed

Dear Deeply depressed,

It sounds like you're under enormous pressure, some of which seems to be coming from your family, and some of which may be internal. First, given the struggles you’re facing, it’s highly encouraged that you reach out to a mental health professional who can help you cope with the feelings associated with this and your feelings around ending your life. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is available around the clock to support people who are in crisis. While it seems somewhat hopeless right now, having a summer internship isn’t the only way to have a productive summer and final year in school. It’s possible to get relevant on-the-job experience through part-time, work-study, or volunteer positions, even if they aren't labeled internships. If you have some time before the summer starts, you may consider making an appointment with your school’s career center to see if there are any other opportunities available. If you’re looking to start sooner, perhaps you can look into some volunteer or training opportunities. That way, you’re still honing your skills and getting prepared for when that job offer does come your way.

Depending on your academic and professional interests, nearly any summer job could give you great experience that you can boast about to a potential employer. Wherever you're suiting up, be it for an internship at a law firm or a summer gig as a lifeguard, consider what you've learned from your position, the responsibilities you've held, and how you'll be able to apply those skills in your post-grad dream job. It’s not always possible for all college students to work over the summer, so it may be good to think creatively about other ways to gain some transferrable skills. Perhaps you can explore options for volunteering at a local organization or participating in a training. A career counselor at your school may be able to help you think through ways to build additional skills as well as how to appropriately market them on your resume.

Regarding your feelings of depression, the pressure you're under from your family and yourself to "be successful" seems like it’s a different issue than finding a job. High expectations can be motivating. However, when they’re consistently high and feel unreasonable, it can be overwhelming for anybody. This could be an opportunity for you to reflect on how to manage these expectations, or how to have a conversation with your family about the pressure you feel. If you haven't been to a mental health professional before, it may seem like an uncomfortable undertaking, but it can help you sort out some of the conflicts you're feeling between your family and cultural values. You may benefit from the experience and gain perspective on what it means to you to bring honor to you and yourself.

Last updated Aug 07, 2020
Originally published May 01, 1994

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