Why I took an unpaid internship as a college graduate

I have always been a person with a plan. When I was eight years old, I had my entire life mapped out. I would have a perfect GPA all throughout grade school, be valedictorian and varsity soccer captain in high school, study history at Yale, finish top of my class at Harvard Law, and then easily become president by the time I was 40. Surprisingly enough, that did not happen. 

A few months ago, I graduated from Brigham Young University. At 21 years old, I felt like I should have everything figured out. But for the first time in my life, I didn't have a plan, and that was terrifying. About two months before graduation, I realized — or, perhaps, finally accepted — what I thought I wanted to do isn't actually what I want to do, at least not right now. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, and no path seemed right. 

"I should be applying to grad school," I reprimanded myself every night. "I should be applying for jobs and preparing for my future. I should be doing more."

I watched my friend get the fellowship I would have died for. I congratulated other friends as they were accepted into med school, law school and graduate school. I liked pictures on Facebook as others moved across the country for their dream jobs. I laid in bed and stared at the wall for six hours straight one night. 

"I should be more."

 I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think straight. I felt claustrophobic in my own mind. 

Still, I remembered my passions and goals. I am passionate about politics, writing, history, languages and making a difference. I want to go to grad school for international security, travel the world and make a difference. 

I was reminded of an internship in Brussels that I had almost applied to several years ago before accepting a position at a local newspaper. Every day for a month I stared at the internship description; the NGO accepts one intern a season who helps conduct research on freedom of religion and human rights. I gave up looking at the website, but a few days later I checked it again, hoping for some sort of inspiration. There it was. Added onto the page was a call for a communications intern. The organization wanted someone to develop a communications strategy to help raise awareness about their work. They wanted someone like me. It was perfect. 

I was simultaneously confident and nervous as I submitted my application. After a few weeks of waiting, they requested an interview. During the interview I was able to tell them that I could do everything they needed, and that felt incredible. I answered a few post-interview questions and gave them ideas of what I would do when running their social media. I realized that I could do this, and they did too. I accepted the unpaid intern position, and next week I am leaving for Brussels for three months. 

The concept is still a little nerve-racking. I'm moving to a city where I don't know anyone. I'm spending a significant amount of my savings to do this internship. I'm missing out on time when I could be saving money for grad school, spending time with my family or doing something else. 

What I am really doing, though, is investing in myself. 

I am taking a chance to learn new skills and improve old ones. I am taking a chance to be out on my own. I am taking a chance to become a better candidate for the competitive graduate programs and jobs I am interested in. I am taking a chance on me, and even though that's scary and not exactly a plan, it also feels really good.