Work hard for more than the money


Michelle Reagle | Staff Illustrator

By Sierra Smith | Copy Chief

The last time I was jobless, I was 15 years old.

Well, except the two-month period right after I moved to Pittsburgh and frantically searched Oakland to find a food service or retail job to save money and pay off my student loans — I like to plan ahead.

From working long days at Subway, slinging footlongs to middle school-aged athletes, to working long nights as a hotel bartender, slinging shots of Goose to middle-aged men in suits, I’ve consistently kept my metaphorical nose to the metaphorical grindstone.

And while at times I experience a fear of missing out — FOMO — of the most painful variety, I’m proud that I’ve been able to finance my education and my life in Pittsburgh independently. The only thing is, I thought by working hard to pay off my loans now, my personal and professional life would flourish after college, because I would have one less bill to worry about. Turns out, that sentiment was wrong.

When it came time to apply for internships my junior year, a good friend of mine applied for the same program I did. Our resumés were identical, save for a few minor discrepancies, so I naively figured we’d either both get spots or not. Again, wrong.

She got a spot while I was rejected. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I was doing well in my classes and working rigorously at my restaurant job, saving every penny I could.

What I wasn’t doing was getting involved in the right areas and with activities that truly made me happy instead of just earning me money. And without something that could make me happy — something I could lose myself in — I felt inferior. I felt empty.

In my frantic I-need-an-internship-I’m-a-second-semester-junior state of mind, I found an unpaid internship doing fundraising writing for the University and I took it, no questions asked. While I had no idea how to create written communication for fundraising campaigns, I figured I needed more professional experience and contacts in order to succeed in the surprisingly varied landscape of the writing industry.

The first few weeks of my internship were different from what I expected. While I had to attend weekly meetings and lived in a tiny, windowless room – typical for an office setting – I discovered something about myself: I love helping people.

The work I did was mostly research-based, but I was also able to write short pieces, and on rare occasions, interview prominent donors to write feature profiles detailing their gift history. And I loved it. Talking with donors and listening to the passion they held for their Pitt experience was incredibly rewarding.

Writing pieces for thousands of Pitt alumni and updating them on current fundraising initiatives made me feel like a direct link between student groups and the successful alumni that really do want to help. To know my words were reaching the ears of others and making an impact — I’d never felt more fulfilled.

Now, I’m working as an editorial intern with a Pittsburgh-based lifestyle magazine, writing short blog posts about small businesses around the city to help them gain exposure and to promote their business, their passion. I still have this incredible feeling of fulfillment.

When we visit the businesses, usually to pick up some products or for a photo shoot, talking with the owners is my favorite part. They’re enthusiastic about their business, and they’re always so thankful to be featured – everyone is warm and friendly. The sense of community that exists between these owners is so pervasive, you can feel it radiating from the storefront – and it feels good to me, to know I can make a difference, no matter how small the scope.

For once, I can see my significance through my passion.

I feel like I have a sense of direction. While no one can know what is coming for them, it’s nice that a part of me has it somewhat figured out, because it makes the long years stinking of Old Bay and cigarettes after a long night of waitressing finally meaningful.

Many undergraduates enter college undecided or have no clue what they want to do when they graduate — according to the Mentor, an academic advising journal, 20 to 50 percent of undergraduates begin their college career as “undecided” — and after conferring with a few personal contacts, that seems about right. Maybe I was lucky to find that “secret” to happiness in my early adult years. Or maybe I’ll change my mind and find a new passion next year.

Regardless, my advice to you: keep working hard. And when you find your passion — when you’re “decided” — work harder. Because, trust me on this, you’ll want to work harder. Even if you know you’ll make more money skipping class to cover that lunch shift or giving up that unpaid internship in favor more hours stocking shelves at your local Rite Aid, money shouldn’t be your end goal. Make time for things you think are important — things that drive you, things you’re passionate about — rather than things that seem more lucrative.

It may suck right now. You may have to work long hours and spend your summers driving between jobs and internships, and your clothes might perpetually smell like Thai food, but when you find what it is that really makes you happy, it will feel all the more worth it.

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