Sometimes the unconventional way is the best way to go

Ask my friends and family about me, and it’s likely you would hear a slew of responses that are not far from the truth. My two older brothers would probably tell you that I’m a total control freak. My childhood best friend, Emily, would tell you that I am a little wild, crazy and quirky. To my parents, I’m a go-getter, hard-headed and a dreamer. Collectively, the people in my life would agree on one thing: I am anything but conventional.

You see, this fall I am working as an editorial intern at InStyle magazine in New York City and taking a semester off from school. It’s my dream job, located in my favorite city in the world. What could be better? But, almost immediately, I was bombarded with endless questions about how I will finish school on time. To be honest, I am confident that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. Regardless of whether I graduate on time or a semester late, having the opportunity to do what I love, gain experience and meet professional contacts in the magazine industry is worth the tradeoff.  

As you can see, I’m a firm believer that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

My willingness to take risks and live spontaneously is what makes me unconventional – so much so, that I’ve nearly driven my parents crazy. To begin, I spent my junior year of high school abroad in Sweden, studying music, art and photography. At the time, this seemed like a totally normal thing to do. But, looking back, I was a 16-year-old who said “Hej då” (Swedish for “goodbye”) to high school and went to live in Europe for a year. Is that really normal? Then, to top it off, this past summer I lived in New York City, working as an editorial intern for People StyleWatch magazine. There, I made a connection that allowed me to land my InStyle job for the fall. Once again, I threw my family and friends for a loop.

Now that I’m at InStyle, I could not be happier. Each day in the office is another day that I get to live out my dream of working at a magazine in New York City; I’m doing what I love and all of my crazy, last-minute decisions have paid off, thankfully.

In addition to doing what I love every day, I’m also gaining vital and practical on-the-job experience — the kind you can’t learn in a classroom. Now I know what to expect in a work environment, whether it’s dealing with difficult co-workers, knowing the basic rules of office conduct or getting thrown into projects with ridiculous deadlines (That’s right — worse-than-college deadlines, the kind that don’t allow spontaneous, regretful visits to KAM’s). Upon graduating, I will have a strong resume, a better idea about the kind of work I’d like to do and a realistic view of the magazine industry.

After being in the “real world” for several months, it may seem as though returning to school would be torturous. But I find it to be the exact opposite. Since starting at People StyleWatch in June and then at InStyle in September, I have a renewed sense of excitement and motivation for the future; I can’t wait to hit the books in the spring and learn all that I can about my major. These past few months in NYC have served as the perfect test run for my future life. My hope is to revisit whatever I was unsure of as an intern when I attend classes, now that I know what needs improvement.

So, what’s my advice for “go-getters” wanting to follow a similar path? I’ve found that developing professional contacts has been the single most important part of the internship experience. It’s important to make a good first impression and to bond with co-workers because you don’t want to end up being “that one intern from two years ago” that nobody remembers. After my internship at People StyleWatch, I still have a positive relationship with a team of talented media professionals, many of whom I plan to keep in touch with and hopefully work with one day. While it’s smart to network on campus, it’s not likely that I would have gotten this InStyle job without having bonded with one of my editors at People StyleWatch. The professional contacts that I have made and am still making will be my most important resource upon graduating.

To get where you want in life, you have to be willing to take risks and be a little unconventional. For me, taking a semester off is a choice that I would make a thousand times over. While it may not be the most convenient choice in regard to my original “four-year plan,” I’m learning more from firsthand experience than I ever could from a textbook.

In the end, we are all in college to pursue our professional goals, gain experience and meet people who will teach, influence and help us along the way. Be passionate about whatever you pursue. Dedicate 100 percent of yourself, your energy and your time to it, and great things will happen for you in unexpected ways.

Anna is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]