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Columns

The Summer I Got Laid (Off)

Lessons learned from a summer of shortened employment

By Elizabeth C. Bloom

I hate being asked what I did this past summer. It’s stale chatter which I, too, am guilty of employing as an early-semester conversation starter, but I much prefer the superior replacements that emerge in late-September: “What courses are you taking?”, “Do you have Fridays off?”, “When do your midterms start?”, and, my personal favorite, “Remind me what you’re concentrating in.”

This fall, however, I have repelled discussing the subject of summer even more than usual. I quickly inform my fellow conversationalist that I interned at a television news station, to which he inevitably follows up: “What was that like?”

It was a great experience. I developed a deeper appreciation for the media industry. I developed several new skills.  I worked with talented, kind, and intelligent people.

(Oh, and by the way, the show I was working on was canceled.)

A barrage of questions follows. “So basically, as soon as you got there, the show was canceled?” “Well, I don’t think it was exactly causal.” “Were you really the world’s first laid-off summer intern?” “Well, when you put it that way…”

During our meeting the day we were canceled, our executive producer informed us that we would be having guests join us that morning. I took this to mean that, much like in elementary school when the principal came to observe class, the guests wanted to see how we conducted ourselves during the workday.

I was wrong. The “guests” were, in fact, from the human resources department at the station. They informed us that as part of programming changes occurring across the company, our show would no longer be produced after August.

I was disappointed that the show was canceled. It was an excellent program, and I wondered why the news industry didn’t reward smart television. But being laid off as an intern added new meaning to the phrase, “learning experience.” I learned that stability is rare in an industry I was thinking of entering after college. I acquired different skills and took on additional production responsibilities as some of my colleagues peeled off and found new work. Internships offer students exposure to an industry and the opportunity to develop skills. For me, being laid off only added to that end.

But that was only because of college. The unreliability of the television business didn’t yet matter to me. I knew, come August, where I would be: My biggest challenges would be moving in during a hurricane-cum-tropical storm and putting those pesky bed risers under my Harvard-issued bedframe. Because of school, being laid off became another “learning moment.” Yes, some of my friends would come home from their “junior summers” with an offer in hand, and I would return with only a pink slip. But at least I would have a whole year to figure it out.

So I didn’t feel bad for myself. I was lucky. Going into the summer, I knew my internship was temporary anyway; learning extra production skills was just an unexpected bonus. For my colleagues, however, the show’s cancelation was a permanent reality. They would have to search for work and still feed their kids. And they would have to do so during a jobs crisis they had reported on all summer.

And they handled it with grace. They were a group of people who, despite the insecurity of their own employment, still came to work with high morale and the desire to create a good product. My coworkers were willing teachers to me and supportive friends to each other. In that lay the most important lesson of all. They were committed to the show—and to their colleagues—despite the incentives not to be, and became my role models as a result. It was merely another benefit of my surprising summer, beyond learning how to code video and edit clips.

I will hopefully take it with me whenever I have a tough exam or a grilling interview or a bad day at work. As I learned during that morning meeting early this summer, there are certainly more difficult conversations than those boring ones that take place at the beginning of a new semester.

Elizabeth C. Bloom ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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