As the scents of summer grow stale, I’d like to briefly reflect on a familiar question before it fades out of our seasonal dialogue. The Question: What were you up to this summer? The Answer: Hopefully, something worthy of your expectations for an acceptable summer activity.
I never know if I pass this test. For me, it is always a scramble to figure out what, exactly, I want to do and how, exactly, someone might pay me to do it. While I have participated in the Summer Job Game – a captivating challenge of skill and wit during which liberal arts students must obtain a nominal income for completing tasks that they are unqualified to perform - I’m not particularly fond of it.
My relationship with the Summer Job Game was not always this way. Freshman year Casey was pretty high strung. Freshman Casey was going to get an “internship.” To clinch said internship, I engaged in the necessary protocol, including going to the career center to get my resume an oil change and learn which adjectives are best to create one’s cover letter persona. I wrote and rewrote, and tweaked and re-tweaked until I was fed up enough to send my professional alter ego off to the almighty cover letter reading gods. You can imagine how thrilled I was to finally receive an email from the summer job czars. I had done it, I existed in their world! I’d like to share with you the contents of that email, with the names of the organizations removed:
“Good afternoon Casey,
I was updating a few of the applications in our ‘Potential Intern’ file this morning, when I came across your application again. I didn’t notice it initially, but your cover letter is addressed to another organization, detailing their projects.
I have pulled your application from the file, before our hiring managers could see it, to give you a chance to resubmit an appropriate cover letter. In the future, it would be wise to double check all documents before sending them in.
Thank you Casey and I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.”
As tears threatened to slip down my mortified cheeks, I told myself that this would be a comic anecdote someday, just not that day. I did end up with the coveted title of “intern” that summer; the above email, of course, did not make it into conversations about my summer feats, but the internship did.
There are plenty of other employment experiences that I carefully exclude in casual conversation. For example, my struggle with negotiating administrative work. I was under the impression that completing “menial” tasks means that the tasks are, in fact, menial. However, I have been highly unsuccessful at printing names on adhesive labels, or entering information in an obstinate database, or responding to the very angry mother on the other side of the telephone. The subtext of these confessions is not to flaunt my cerebral elite liberal arts educated self; I share them to express how my outside-of-academia experiences have often made me feel genuinely inept, in spite of the versatile critical thinking skills our prestigious education boasts.
The message behind this week’s episode is nothing new: what we say when we chat casually about summer jobs, for example, does not fully represent our experiences. Then what is it, exactly, that we’re saying when we tell the small story of our summer vacation, or our weekend escapades? Or rather, knowing the limited version of the story that is to come, what are we really asking when we pose these kinds of questions?