Liz Schondelmayer: Making It

December 11, 2018 - Liz Schondelmayer

If you were to tell 17-year-old me that I was going to complete a semester-long internship in Washington, D.C. working for a national progressive political organization while I was still in college, I wouldn’t have believed you. It would be like telling a theatre kid that before they were 22, they’d have a leading role in a Broadway musical, or an aspiring actor they’d be making it in Hollywood before finishing their training. To me, that would have meant that I made it. But it’s true. I did. And both me and my teenage self are pretty proud of that.

The time I spent in D.C. was simultaneously the most exciting yet the most stressful semester of my life. There was a lot that came up that I had to deal with, like learning and adjusting to a totally new city; getting lost and getting stranded on the D.C. Metro; back-to-back stints with the flu and strep throat; the pressures of a balancing a demanding academic program, a full-time, professional internship, and two side internships; and the nonstop self-doubt and existential confusion that ran through my head as a I tried to plan out my last two college semesters and beyond. To say the least, it was a little bit overwhelming. (But just a little bit.)

Luckily, there were two things that, through everything, kept me going. The first thing was the obstinacy inherent in my personality. Even if just through plain stubbornness, I don’t possess the ability to back out of anything once I’ve started. I see things through, even if they kill me. The second thing is that I loved my internship. It gave the ability to learn, grow, show off a little bit, but have a real, significant impact on a cause I cared a lot about.

Right before I left to go to D.C. and initially when I first got there, I experienced a brief period of crippling self-doubt. I questioned my skills, I questioned my experience, I questioned my level of professionalism… I repeatedly asked myself, Am I ready for this? (The answer was yes the whole time, but it took me awhile to realize that.) I was about to start working for the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, which is a brilliant, progressive organization founded after the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting. I never expected to get an interview when I applied. And I never expected to get the internship once I interviewed. But, yet, there I was, about to embark on the internship journey of a lifetime with my dream organization. I knew I was supposed to be excited, but instead I just felt nervous and intimidated.

After the first few minutes of the first day, however, my anxiety lessened dramatically. I felt at home right away. With the mission of the organization (“…to be a unifying voice for America’s LGBTQ community advocating on gun policy reform to ensure safety for all…”) posted in front of me and engaging assignments stacked up for me, I got to work. And for the next three months, I stayed working. As hard as I could. I was churning out press releases, fundraising emails, social media content, and oh – don’t let me forget – five separate ad campaigns for four different candidates, plus three generic videos for the organization. Sound like a lot? It was. But it was worth every single ounce of effort and second of my time.

Despite my early concerns, and despite what life threw my way during the semester, I made it.

To me, “making it” means two different things. On a larger scale, to “make it” means to finally accomplish the goal that’s kept you going. On a smaller scale, it means to survive the day-to-day. While making it in the second sense was what was on my mind as I’d gotten lost in the city, been forced to learn the Metro system, conquered huge work tasks with quickly-imposing deadlines, finished an ad campaign from home while battling strep throat, read hundreds of pages and written thousand-word essays for the homework assignments, et cetera… I’d repeatedly had to pep-talk myself, saying, “You’re doing it, just make it until tomorrow.”

But I made it by the first definition as well. I lived in the city I’ve always wanted to live in, doing the kind of work I’ve always wanted to do. I made a difference in the organization. I made a difference in the country. I made a name for myself. And I made do with what was given to me and made it through what was thrown at me and came out stronger in the end.

I made it. And I’ll tell you this – making it feels really good.