Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.
In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.
SINGAPORE – As a Singapore Polytechnic student, I knew it would only be a matter of time till I had to do an internship, since it was part of the criteria for finishing my course in creative writing. But the inevitability of it didn’t make the idea any less scary to me.
Prior to interning, the only jobs I ever worked were part-time jobs that lasted only for the duration of my holidays, a vastly different experience from a six-month-long internship in a newsroom.
Having to hold down a graded “grown up” job for six months absolutely terrified me. It felt like 22 weeks worth of opportunities to mess up.
And after two rough semesters academically, I was terrified of fumbling it all up.
So when I finally landed an internship in the TODAY newsroom, the pressure to not mess up was immense, especially because getting fired from the internship guaranteed an instant fail for an entire semester’s worth of credits.
Yet as I wrap up the final weeks of my internship, I’m walking away with a positive outlook on my time here, having learned so many things about myself and about the professional working world.
Weeks before my internship even started, I was already dreading the thought of it. I felt such immense anxiety about messing up at work that I wanted to avoid it all together.
But no matter what, the need to graduate trumped all my anxieties. Pushing my worries to the back of my mind, I pulled myself together and showed up for my first day.
On my first week of work, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end.
After being sent to a press conference (with another reporter to shadow) on my second day and having to contact owners of big businesses on my third day of work, I quickly learned that the actual job is very different from what I learned in school.
I relied heavily on guidance and advice from other reporters I shadowed, which was apparently the right thing to do, said Mr Ben So, founder and career coach of Emunah Coaching and Training.
He said that when starting a new job, it is important to know the company’s structure and culture.
“Be humble to ask your colleagues or supervisor how things are done in this company and do your best to follow,” Mr So said.
But as time passed, I feared the “window of time” where it’s acceptable to make mistakes was closing, and I was still messing up too often.
I had this expectation of how I should have been performing that created an extra layer of stress at work. But that shouldn’t have been the case.
Mr So said that although an internship is an opportunity for employers to see if a candidate is a good fit for a full-time position, it is also a chance for the intern to experience this new environment.
“The intern should observe the work culture and ask themselves if they truly enjoy the job scope and working with the team,” he said.
I was focusing too much on the wrong thing, which was my own expectations, rather than the actual experience I was having.
And I had to learn that messing up is an inevitability when you’re new to anything.
Mr Ng Jun Sen, one of the editors who supervise interns at TODAY, said that although it’s good to have interns who are able to handle their workload well, “the ones who leave a lasting impression are those who start out with uncertainties and make mistakes… but always kept their chin up, put in the hard work and improved over the course of their internship”.
“I expect interns to challenge themselves and strive to discover their potential. Excelling is optional, but seeing interns put in effort means everything,” he added.
This expectation of my work that I’d set for myself set me on the path of burning out, which hit me halfway through my stint.
Perhaps it was also because I was not used to working for such a long period or that I was simply running out of steam. I woke up feeling tired every day regardless of how much rest I got and I felt disillusioned with what I was doing.
When it comes to struggling at work, Mr So advised that interns speak to their supervisors, mentor or senior colleagues for assistance, or if they feel uncomfortable talking to someone at work about it, a career coach could also help.
The advice was echoed by Mr Ng who added that when facing issues, the first thing anyone should do is to understand where the issue lies, look at how others at work deal with the problem and strategise from there.
“The best part of being an intern is that you’re young, you’re given many chances by default, and trying and failing is part of your growth,” he said.
BALANCING ‘ADULT’ LIFE
While I slowly got a grip of what I was doing at work, I was faced with another issue that I was unprepared for, having to do the adult thing and having a “work-life balance”.
Mr So suggested that interns or people new to working life meet up with their peers to update one another of their work adventures, spend their weekends with family, and do sports to help maintain work-life balance.
I struggled to do any of these.
I was unable to see my friends as often as I did when we were in school. Since most of my friends were interning as well, it was hard to find time to see each other together, even if it was just for a quick meal.
Planning gatherings felt like solving an equation with so many factors to account for and different schedules to accommodate.
Not only that, I had to learn to make time for myself to just unwind and relax, be it after work or on weekends, because I found myself obsessively thinking about work even in my free time.
Time felt like it was flying by, with all my days mushing together into one. I had only a few hours to myself after work and I wasn’t used to having so little time to myself.
So in an attempt to not become one of those folks whose life revolved around their jobs, I began exploring more activities to do in my own time.
I began creating a “schedule” for my free time, allocating time every evening for playing my guitar, gaming or just chatting with my friends over Discord. I made sure to carve out time to relax and socialise with friends.
On weekends, I allocated one day to do activities and hang out with friends, and one day to shut off my brain and be lazy at home. I even picked up bouldering as a new hobby to do with friends every week or so.
Though interning has been a rollercoaster, it has taught me so much about the job that I’ve wanted to do since I was 15, given me a taste of adult working life and allowed me to learn more about how to handle my personal wellbeing.
And who knows, maybe someday after I finish my studies, I might want to join the industry full time.
ABOUT THE WRITER:Lou Si Yuan, 19, is an intern journalist at TODAY.