Being a Helper and Other Lessons from Summer 2020

Given the general craziness that is the world situation right now, and the multiple plan changes that had to take place this summer before I was able to obtain an internship, the summer turned out to be an incredible experience. I think that, as is often the case, we end up learning the most in the times that put us through the most adversity. The stress that comes from not only having to scramble to find an internship when others fall through, but also from juggling the personal stressors that come from a world in a pandemic, forced me to be the best version of myself this summer. Looking back I am proud of the way I was able to meet the challenges at hand and make the most of this summer.

For starters, the act of having to fall back on my network to drum up an internship was not something that I have had to do yet in my life but going forward I know that it will be something I will most likely have to do again to find future positions, so that experience will certainly not be lost on me. Once I was able to land my internship with the URA I learned so much from both the work itself and from the situations that we were working under. Some of my key takeaways were that no matter how bad things may be, there are always good people battling to help. Working with the awesome people at the URA who were putting together relief grants and lobbying to keep people from getting evicted during what has been a very tough year for many people, I couldn’t help but think of the Mr.Rogers quote, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I think a big takeaway for me is that I want to make it my life’s work to be one of the helpers. I have always wanted to worked in public service and have sought out positions where I felt I was making a difference thus far in my life, but during the summer when so many people were struggling, I knew that I had to be part of the solution in any capacity I could be and was able to do that at the URA.

I think that this realization helped enforce another major takeaway for me, that being that I will never miss an opportunity to learn from the world around me, regardless of the situation. I had always been taught growing up to keep an open mind and to learn from whatever life throws at me but this summer really allowed me to put this wisdom into practice. By persevering through the rough start, I have been able to learn so much in a short period of time about not only government work but also about myself in the process. I think that this notion of perseverance and learning from adversity is applicable to everything I will do in the future but certainly in my academic pursuits as I finish my last semester virtually and will graduate into a world still plagued by COVID-19.

Another major thing that I was able to take away from this summer is that I am certain that I want to continue on my current career trajectory. Working in public service, specifically in government and public economics, during one of the worst economic downturns in a very long time has cemented the fact that I am in the right place. I was able to use the tools and theories that I learned in class to actually help people that are struggling, which is exactly what I had always hoped to do with my economics background. Through this I have been able to see the economics from my textbooks in practice, helping people, which has given me confidence in my choice to pursue work in the public sector of economics.

Along with that I definitely felt like I grew in a lot of areas that will help me if I am able to continue to work in the field of government economics, namely on the technical side of things. This summer forced me to use my technical skills as I significantly grew my skills analyzing data using data software and was able to make it a main area of my work. Data analytics is fast-growing field in economics and has applications in basically every field known to man so being able to grow my knowledge of how to apply it will be a huge help going forward. Another growth area for me was definitely learning how to organize my time and energy in the most productive way in the post-COVID world. At the beginning of online classes I felt much less motivated and felt like I was working twice as hard to complete half of the work because I had not fully adjusted to working in a virtual environment, but by about halfway through my internship I felt that I was finally maximizing my time wisely. This area of growth will be super important in the semester to come, as a majority of my classes will be online and I will have to employ the same strategies to make the most of my time.

One of the last and most important things I gained from this summer was the ability to be an advocate for myself. Coupled with that drive to find a position and prove that I had the necessary experience to be an asset, I found that I had to do more self-advocacy this summer than I have ever done in the past in order to create an internship when it seemed like there were none left. Something I have struggled with in my career pursuits has been my reluctance to talk too much about myself and my accomplishments out of fear that I will sound like I am boasting, but as I was scrambling to find a position this summer I was forced to call on my past accomplishments to legitimize myself as a candidate. I’m sure that this summer forced a lot of people to become stronger advocates for themselves too, as the world has given us all much more time alone and forced us all to be our own biggest allies when we are in our own virtual bubbles.

Generally I feel that I have grown a lot over the past few months on every level. Through the experiences over this past year I think that I have learned a lot of life lessons that will be provide invaluable wisdom as I face new obstacles in my life going forward. Learning to trust that things will work out and to remain calm in the face of challenges personally, professionally, and academically is something that I have had to keep working at over the course of the months dealing with a pandemic that has shaken every aspect of life, but ultimately my positive experiences this summer in light of very negative circumstances prove that this diligent optimism is worth it. Even more important than anything, I learned what my limits are and began to understand how much I can give to a cause, whether it is school or work or relationships, and have worked to find that work/life balance in a virtual world where the boundaries are hazy. It is easy to draw the line when you clock out of work or when your class time runs out, but when your home becomes your office and classroom too, finding this balance has become critical and this summer has taught me how to find my healthiest balance. These personal lessons will certainly serve me very well as the world continues to function in a hybrid manner with much of day to day business being conducted online.

In the end, this summer internship experience has taught me so much about not only the field of government that I worked in but also, due the scenario that it took place under, taught me a lot about myself and reinforced my passion to serve others regardless of what that service looks like. I cannot thank David Frederick, the Honors College, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority enough for giving me this experience and cannot wait to see where the lessons I learned this summer will take me in the next steps of my life.

I will close up my last of these blog posts with one of my favorite quotes, that seems fitting during this tumultuous year. The quote is from Bobby Kennedy who said, “There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.” In 2020 it has seemed like the world has turned upside down and has caused everything to change at a rapid pace, but we cannot let the fear of an uncertain future send us running back towards the status-quo, instead we need to learn from all that 2020 has to teach us and embrace the future that we can build with these lessons.

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