Advice for interns and everyone else…
By Cindi Lash
In recent days, these hashtags have given rise to long-hidden revelations and important discussions about the staggering scope of bad behavior that prompted them. It should cause each one of us to look back, look underneath, and come to grips with a key facet of these conversations: self-worth. And perhaps spur another hashtag to remember as you look ahead to shape your professional life: #KnowYourValue.
For months now, public attention has been focused on numerous hideous allegations of harassment and assault, affecting multiple industries and derailing the careers of dozens of famous people. The attention is warranted and long-overdue, and many of the more inflammatory details of these cases tend to overshadow a sad regression that I fear is affecting far too many professions: the recognition that work has value, and the people who perform it are deserving of respect.
Consider these real-life examples, all involving people I know and with whom I’ve worked:
An artist who built a reputation and following online at long last opened a gallery last year. Come the December holidays, a couple of customers demanded a discount for no good reason, then threw a public temper tantrum mocking the work and gallery after the artist refused.
An award-winning professional consultant, over the first cup of coffee at a breakfast meeting, was told by a representative of a national agency that they couldn’t afford the consultant’s experiences, services or, without knowing them, rates. But would the consultant consider taking on the project as a volunteer for the “privilege and prestige” of working with the agency?
Numerous gifted photographers in and outside Pittsburgh need to fire off cease-and-desist letters after discovering singular work which they’ve composed had been lifted and used by other websites without permission — or compensation.
To know yourself is at the core of having values and understanding your own value. It is a long and sometimes winding road to reach that juncture, and sometimes circumstances in life will throw a curve in the way. It will take time to get there. It will take a concerted effort on your part, a thoughtful approach. It will take the support of like-minded others — and a backbone that won’t bend for bullies who push you to undervalue your work or standards.
As you forge your career path, know that no matter what the field, you will be expected to start at the bottom. You’ll work hard to complete tasks that may not be all that exciting. You’ll work your way up from internships to entry-level roles that often will require the early-morning or late-night shifts avoided by more senior or experienced colleagues. You’ll be expected to dress in the appropriate uniform of your workplace, and to not complain about assignments. And you likely won’t earn the salary of your dreams.
And yet … Know that you — your gifts, your time, your work — have value, no matter what industry or field you opt to pursue. As a high school and college student, you must find value in learning, in plotting a course that prepares you to set professional goals. Don’t be shy about reaching out for help or advice from the instructors and advisors who are charged with helping you to grow as a student.
You will need to do at least one, if not more, internships in professional settings. And yes, because you are relatively unskilled and unproven in your field, many of those positions are likely to be for academic credit and/or without salary. Yet you have the right to ensure you are taking away value in exchange for your time and presence. A great internship is not about fetching coffee for the top brass at a firm with a fancy logo. It’s about acquiring the knowledge and tools to succeed in your career. It’s about observing, learning from and building relationships with professional mentors who will help you to burnish your strengths and attack your weaknesses.
Ditto for your first job, and your next few jobs. Those situations may not be glamorous, and the work and hours may be taxing. Your work will be subject to assessment from your supervisors and colleagues, and it will be critiqued and adapted — and yes, it will be rejected entirely, with instructions to take a different tack. It will be up to you to respond with maturity and grace.
But you also have the right to work in a place of dignity and civility, a place in which people encourage rather than demean each other, a place in which work and the products or goods or art it produces are respected. In turn, you bear the obligation to demonstrate those values as well. Learn who you are. Learn what, where and how you can contribute.
Cindi Lash served at Editor-in-Chief of Pittsburgh Magazine from 2013-2017 and previously worked as an editor for Aol/Huffington Post Media and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.