Graduating from college, moving away from home, and starting a first post-graduation job are rites of passage into the adult world. At least, that’s what all my "Happy Graduation" cards told me. Getting to the point of actually feeling like an adult has been a more gradual process for me, and I’m certainly not all the way there yet. But I’ve been working as a communications program assistant at Friends Committee on National Legislation for just over six months now, and I do feel that the internship program here has helped me gain confidence and feel more equipped to transition out of school and into the workforce.
Starting a new job is always nerve-racking, but the first two weeks at FCNL were fairly easy—orientation sessions and some introductory calls and e-mails to people I’d be working with in the future. None of the calls were all that complicated, but I was new and a little nervous, so I probably sounded a little shaky on the phone. My voice must have given something away, because as I ended a call with one woman, she said, "Okay, honey, have a good day."
"Honey"? I cringed as I hung up the phone. How embarrassing! Apparently, I sound like a 12-year-old.
I won’t lie—being 23 has its perks. But I don’t necessarily want to seem so young that I elicit the motherly instincts of someone I don’t even know who is supposed to be my peer. Since starting work at FCNL the week before, I hadn’t encountered a single task that I felt unable or unready to handle, but this one phone conversation abruptly caused me to question my fitness for the job.
When many people my age leave school and start their first post-college jobs, they still have to ward off the perception that they are too young to be given real responsibilities—I have friends who have been stuck doing busywork for months after taking jobs they thought would give them great experience.
I’ve been lucky in that, since that early phone call, I’ve adjusted to my job and haven’t felt overwhelmed because I am too young or inexperienced. I’ve also noticed a more inclusive attitude toward young staff at FCNL than at most other workplaces. Our opinions are valued and we are trusted to do substantive work. I think this attitude is in large part due to the fact that FCNL is a Quaker organization, informed by the Quaker belief that truth is available to everybody, no matter what their station. FCNL has a relatively flat hierarchy, while maintaining a clear structure with staff who are responsible for particular tasks and accountable to supervisors and, ultimately, to the executive secretary.
This structure of FCNL and many Quaker bodies allows and encourages young people to play an active role in meetings and organizations and to take personal responsibility on social justice issues at an earlier age. For me, the more involved I feel in a project, the more invested I am in its outcome. If I feel challenged, I do better work. So I think FCNL and other Quaker groups are wise to make the efforts they do to include young adults in their work.
Another benefit of working at FCNL that I believe stems from the organization’s Quaker mission is the opportunity to work with other young staff. Our office is well populated with new interns, second-year interns, and former interns. This commitment to the internship program shows me that FCNL recognizes the benefits of allowing young people to work collaboratively. I’m aware that my internship is a learning experience, and I feel that I am learning more by sharing this experience with my fellow interns. We maintain a constant dialogue about the issues we work on and there is always someone available to talk with if I have a question or need feedback on a project. I think that Quaker young adult programs operate under a philosophy similar to FCNL’s internship program—they understand the importance of giving engaged young people the chance to work together and become part of a community of activists their age.
Our society often treats young people in a way—and it can be very subtle—that can make them feel powerless and think they are too young to do anything important. But there really is no age requirement to start doing meaningful work. Clearly, greater responsibility comes with more experience and knowledge, but I think a lot of employers underestimate how much a young staff person can learn in a short period of time. I think that the other FCNL interns and I are more invested in our work than we might have been had we worked for another organization because we feel that we each play an important role in FCNL’s work.