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9 Lessons I Learned After Working 9 Internships

It's a process.

Workin' Girl

Through the grace of God and 8 pt font on my resume, this summer, I have completed my 9th internship, *officially* bringing my intern career to a close.


Beginning my junior year of high school, I have clerked for a civil judge, interned at Shell Oil Company, Vinson & Elkins, the White House National Economic Council (under the Obama Administration), Goldman Sachs (3x), and campus internships through Cornell University and Jopwell.

What began as my childhood obsession with Michelle Obama and desire to gain early exposure to the legal field has led me down an incredibly insightful path and onto additional passions for business, public service, and now diverse forms of journalism.


Author at the 2017 Forbes Under 30 Summit.

Holding me up the whole way have been an unwavering coalition of mentors, sponsors, and family members, reaffirming the notion that "it takes a village." My first "real internship" was at age 16, clerking at the 164th Civil District Court under Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan – a black woman – and was secured through my uncle's outreach to his coworker's doctor's friend who then advocated for my pronounced interest in law, despite my age. Judge Smoots-Hogan took me under her wing and drilled into me the mantra that "there is a place for black women in politics and our voices matter." To this day, this internship represents so many foundational life lessons: sponsors and advocates matter, closed mouths don't get fed, always mentor and be mentored, and there is no substitute for hardwork.

9 internships later, these last few years have certainly been a journey – but it's just the beginning. As I promised Judge Smoots-Hogan, my success isn't defined by numbers but by impact. There is nothing I want more than to see hundreds and thousands of women of color break through glass ceilings and simultaneously reach back to pull more ladies up with them.

In a world where there are numerous obstacles and institutional inequities preventing women of color from access to life-changing resources and opportunities, we truly need to support each other and continually work to be the plug for opportunities.

"The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity." – Viola Davis

While I do not think that it's necessary for every student to complete 9 internships – even 3 internships are a lot – all students looking to begin their careers should be open to pursuing their interests and considering new opportunities that continuously arise. My internships have been an advanced trial period, allowing me to explore a number of potential paths before permanently committing to one thing. This insight has helped me form a well-rounded perspective regarding where my passions truly lie, and several years later, I'm still discovering new things.

Here are 9 lessons that I learned after working 9 internships that you can apply to your professional journey.

1. You won't love every job, but you will learn a lot about yourself.

Learning what you don't like is just as insightful as learning what you do. During my internship at the court, I quickly learned that Law & Order was not an accurate depiction of the legal system. Criminal law scared the daylights out of me. Rather than call off law altogether, I began to gravitate more towards corporate crime and public policy. This revelation not only saved me time and *emotional trauma*, but led me down a path that would be integral in my future roles at the law firm and financial services.

2. There will be moments of self-doubt.

We're not invincible. You can have all the training, education, and support systems under the sun and still have an off day every once in a while. There were days when I was working at the White House where I would literally run to the bathroom, call my mom, and cry after receiving negative feedback on a project. The work was grueling and seemingly never-ending (and we were unpaid). In those off moments, the true lesson was found in how I pulled myself back together and reattempted a project rather than wallowing in the failure itself. As the old saying goes, "Many times what we perceive as an error is actually a gift."

3. Do your research.

So simple, and yet so important. You wouldn't a take a test without studying, so you shouldn't go into an interview or coffee chat without basic understanding of an opportunity you're interested in. The internet is a beautiful thing. It can be overwhelming, so take your time, but it is incredible how many programs, scholarships, and opportunities I have found from simple Google searches and even Twitter and Facebook posts. Always ensure that you are taking advantage of the information that you do have within your grasp.

4. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes.

From my first mentor, Judge Smoots-Hogan, to classmates and division managers, I have learned that mentors are everywhere. They won't always be women of color, or even women at all. In fact, some of my most influential mentors have been white men. The point is, most of us need someone in our corner guiding and supporting us, be it professionally or psychologically, and there is no make or model for what that assistance will look like. I have had ladies that I once mentored as freshmen go on to advocate and connect me with important opportunities. You never know when you are going to need a helping hand and what people say about you when you are not there can make a tremendous difference.

5. Your brand and reputation matter.

That being said, your reputation matters. As Oprah said in her British Vogue interview, no one is expecting you to have a brand all figured out as a young adult. However, being highly regarded as someone who is eager to learn, always ready to lend a helping hand, and/or consistently provides good quality work can "brand you" as a good investment, encouraging others to take a chance on you.

Related: 5 Effortless Ways to Boost Your Reputation at Work

Author, Lydia Anglin. Photo by Kelechi Mpamaugo.

6. Closed mouths don't get fed.

My philosophy for most of my career has been "the worst they can say is no." Aim high, and if you fall short, you will still be in a comfortable place. Particularly as students and young professionals, we have the ability to ask for help and seek out guidance from very established people, because in an ideal world, many would "like to help the younger generation." For an example, during one of my internships, I invited the global head of my department out to coffee, and to my surprise, he quickly responded and was very enthusiastic about meeting an intern. This privilege does lessen as we get older, and should be undertaken carefully, but definitely take advantage of it while you can.

7. Start small, but keep the big picture in mind.

For many of us, our first jobs are not glamorous. Before I interned at the court, I worked a retail job… and it was so difficult! However, I learned important customer service skills, patience, and the value of always presenting yourself as being willing to learn. Those same skills have applied to every internship and role I pursued since. Even Michelle Obama was once a 20-something.

Aim high and build upon integral professional values like persistence and hard work.

8. You have to put in the work – period.

While it's no secret that some have it easier than others, frustratingly so, there truly is no substitute for hard work. This does not mean work yourself to wits end – mental health and coalition building are very important – but the race will not run itself. Mentors, sponsors, and professional development programs serve as fuel along the way, but alone, they rarely are enough. It's your brand, your career, your future. Put in the work.

9. Reach forward and reach back.

As said by Maya Angelou, "I come as one but stand as ten thousand." Our successes extend so much further than ourselves. From Ruby Bridges to Katherine Johnson, someone once walked so you can run. As you open doors, remember to reach back and give the key to those who follow you.

Queen Latifah is saying no to unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles especially when it comes to her career. Since the beginning, the rapper/actress has always been a body-positive role model thanks to the range of characters she has played over the years that shows that size doesn’t matter. In an interview with PEOPLE, The Equalizer star opened up about taking on roles that don't compromise her health.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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