Student Post: Finding New Priorities

Updated: September 2, 2020

By Estelle Timar-Wilcox
Macalaster College, Class of 2022

Back in January, I started lining up my perfect summer plan. I wanted an internship that would stand out on a resumé, but I also needed to be paid. And I wanted it to be fun, too—my schedule is packed during the school year, so I wanted some room to breathe this summer. To compromise, I only applied to paid internships that I knew I would really enjoy. If all of those fell through, I could work at my childhood summer camp. By February, I had a number of interviews lined up and an offer from the summer camp job. I had back-up plans and back-up back-up plans.

I did not have enough back-up plans for a pandemic.

One by one, emails came in from the summer camp, the Minnesota Democratic party, the Minnesota Historical Society, radio stations, newspapers—everywhere I had applied to work this summer. All of them said the same thing: “Due to the pandemic, we’re suspending our summer program.” In the span of a couple of weeks, I went from having too many plans to having no plans at all.

I immediately started scrambling for something to do, with much different priorities than I had when I first planned out my summer. This past winter, I had a lot of wiggle room in my summer plans; the options felt endless. Looking back, the thought of applying only to internships that sounded fun and impressive seems ridiculous.

For one, financial security isn’t a given now like it was in the winter. The thought of not being paid over the summer hadn’t even crossed my mind, but the cancellations have thrown the last couple of months under a constant shadow of stress. My notes are full of hypothetical budgets for half a dozen situations. Can I afford to pay rent all semester without a summer job? What about a low-paying, part-time job? What if my campus work study job doesn’t start up again in September? And every possible combination of scenarios. My life has become a math problem.

I know I’m lucky; no matter how it works out, I can cover my expenses for the semester, and I know I can trust my family to help me out if I absolutely need it. But I would rather not be living on a shoestring budget and spending all my savings, so the job hunt continues.

While my financial needs feel far more acute now, so do the things I value. I didn’t fully realize how much I loved my friends, my independence, and my college life until I was suddenly sent back home in March. Once I find a job near campus, I can settle back into a routine and see friends again (albeit from six feet away); that’s enough motivation for me to appreciate any job opportunities that come my way.

I’ve gotten a lot less picky about my options. I’ve applied not only to internships, but also to several jobs that I wouldn’t have considered a few months ago—groundskeeping, gardening, tutoring, whatever is available. I’ve expanded my hunt beyond my school’s job search engine, reaching out to people in the neighborhood Facebook group to see who might need a babysitter or if anyone has any leads on places that are hiring. While these aren’t exactly glowing resumé-builders, they would give me some financial security and get me back to campus for the summer.

In the meantime, I’ve found ways to keep busy besides anxiously checking on my job applications every 10 minutes. Despite the stress of the last few months, I’ve also had more free time than I can remember.

With too much time and not enough income, I decided to go out on a limb and try freelancing for blogs, newspapers, and magazines. I’ve been writing for school publications for years now, but I always assumed I would be underqualified to write for “real” publications.

I’ve surprised myself. Freelancing has turned out to be pretty doable. I’ve been looking for writing jobs on online platforms like Upwork, and I’ve found work writing for local newspapers and magazines. My experience working on student publications and the writing clips I’ve built up over the years have been more helpful than I would have expected; showcasing that work has led to these new opportunities.

Freelancing has given me a chance to keep busy, build up my writing portfolio, and even make some money. Plus, it’s given me a much-needed confidence boost in a time when I feel like I’m constantly grasping at straws in every other part of my life.

More than anything, I’ve been teaching myself to be okay with having a summer that isn’t impressive or productive. This just isn’t the time for padding a resumé or coming back to school with something to brag about. For this summer, I’m only worrying about the basics: stay mentally and physically healthy, save some money, and most of all, spend time with the people I love.