Becoming An Intern At 39


By Heather Angiletta

I am a 39 year old intern.

It’s not a label I would have used. But this Christmas over a heartfelt walk with my father he named it, I was doing a year of internship.

As we walked around my sister’s farm catching up on my visit home, I sheepishly tried to excuse my lack of perceived career direction and explain how I filled my days that produced no pay check. I felt shame and guilt as I tried to articulate following my passions. My father simply looked at me and said, “you’re doing a year of internship”.

I have had a successful run in two careers. The first as an academic NIH funded neuroscience researcher. I sweated to obtain a PhD and dedicated myself to the starts of an academic career. It was fun for a few years but ultimately the reality of academia and the limited job prospects led me to reconsider the ivory tower and led to a transition into business. I learned how to apply my scientific knowledge to the profit making world and transformed myself into an executive. I wore suits, met with clients, and thought about profit margins.

My first career switch from academia to the private sector required significant learning and adaptation, in addition to the new wardrobe. But it was accompanied by a great pay check and fancy titles so felt like I was “succeeding” and moving my career ahead. It may not have fed my soul, but it fed my ego and bills. And it broke me in all the ways that mattered.

Working without a purpose that resonated with me, and at times against my own values drained my spirit and psyche. I had a great “situation” where I worked from home, made a lot of money, and traveled in style on someone else’s dime. I got to live in a small coastal town and hike every afternoon. It should have been heaven but my golden handcuffs turned into a personal hell. I found no meaning in the work I was doing and dragged myself to my computer every morning.

It took me two years of internal struggle and a lot of crying. But I finally quit. I had fantasies of being a park ranger, going back to academia, or opening a coffee bar. I wanted to feel purposeful, to feel authentic, to feel whole and struggled for the label that would allow this. Ultimately I was out of ideas and certainly had no practical solution, but I was too tired to keep going, so I just quit. No plan.

But I had a back up. After supporting my husband for two years while he transitioned his career it was his turn to support me. Except that our marriage crumbled under the pressures of me working at a job I hated to support his dream that I felt didn’t come quickly enough. As I quit my job I also quit my marriage. I wanted to stay and have my turn at dream building with a partnered safety net, but my heart knew that was not a reason to stay in a done marriage.

I was jobless and partnerless. It was a clean slate. Despite the terror and anxiety, a small voice in me knew this was an incredible opportunity to do absolutely anything I wanted. Few times in our lives are we given a reset button. I had one.

I didn’t rest into the zen of this possibility without a fight. I applied to probably 20 jobs based on my skills of neuroscience and business and obsessed over LinkedIn. I had many interviews and promises, but nothing came through. I found that while I threw myself into the initial application processes, when I got to the final steps my lack of passion and interest came screaming through and whatever powers that be intervened to keep me from the jobs that made sense. I felt like a failure in one sense, while also being immensely relieved to not have to put the suits and masks back on.

I thought about my passions, consulted astrologers, took long walks, and listened to friends and family. The one thing I was (am) passionate about was mindfulness meditation. When I had the courage to say this outloud, ready for laughter and cries of rejection, I heard incredible support and validation that this was a path consistent with the expertise I had worked hard to obtain and my values as a person. While I knew in my heart of hearts this was the path I wanted to pursue, I did need other external voices and cheerleaders to push me along. They were not down with the park ranger idea though, interestingly enough.

I enrolled in a yearlong mindfulness teacher training. It was the best decision I ever made. It cost money and would take time, two commodities I felt short on, but it was a way in to pursue something I was truly passionate about. Halfway through I am learning from amazing teachers and peers and have started to teach my own weekly meditation classes. Last month I got a paycheck for $80 from teaching meditation. The most valuable paycheck I have ever received.

My internship time has allowed me to open up to what truly makes me happy. In addition to mindfulness meditation I have realized I love writing so have started another training to pursue that, more money out and none in. In the meantime, I am writing anywhere and everywhere that I can and loving doing it.

I am burning through my savings, working hard with purpose every day, and finding a life realigning itself to a wholeness of my personal and professional me. I am working towards a professional goal and training for it. At 23 this is something expected. At 39 I felt like I needed to apologize and explain.

The reality is I am immensely lucky for this chance. This chance to learn, to breath, to begin again in a way that is consistent with the person I am growing into. I thank my father for naming it. And I thank myself for jumping off a cliff and doing it. And I recommend to anyone to reclaim the idea of an ‘internship’. It is never the wrong time in life to rebuild and to learn.

Heather is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

{featured image via unsplash}

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