Student Corner

Tips to Staying Motivated During Unpaid Internships

By Rebeca Blyde on July 8, 2024

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Starting an internship can be both thrilling and demanding. I’ve been doing internships for the past six months, each offering a unique learning experience and the opportunity to work with incredible people. These experiences have contributed to my personal and professional growth. However, like many interns, I’ve reached a point where I just wait for the end and the freedom that comes with completing an unpaid internship so I can earn my school diploma. 

It’s a common misconception that one shouldn’t work hard because internships are unpaid. People often say, “Well, you don’t get paid, so you don’t have to work so hard.” But this mindset simply doesn’t align with my work ethic. I believe in being productive and delivering quality work, regardless of compensation. Yet, the reality is that unpaid internships can lead to exhaustion, stress, and demotivation. It’s challenging to stay motivated when there’s no financial incentive. However, there are ways to maintain your motivation and make the most out of your internship experience. Here are some tips:

Do it for yourself, not just for your employer.

One of the most effective ways to stay motivated is to view each project as an opportunity to expand your portfolio and enhance your skills. Instead of solely focusing on meeting your employer’s expectations, consider how each task can benefit your future career. This shift in perspective can make even the most mundane tasks feel more meaningful.

Stay focused on the long-term benefits.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and lose sight of the bigger picture. Remind yourself that the experience you’re gaining now will be invaluable when securing a paid position in the future. Each skill you develop, each connection you make, and each project you complete is a little step toward your career goals. 

Network and build relationships.

One of the most significant advantages of internships is the opportunity to network with professionals in your industry. Attend networking events, join professional organizations, and seek out mentors who can offer guidance and support. 

Celebrate the small wins.

It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Did you complete a challenging project? Did you receive positive feedback from your supervisor? Did you learn something new? Take a moment to recognize these achievements and credit yourself for your hard work. 

Take care of yourself.

Whether your internships are demanding or not, it’s easy to neglect self-care in the process. However, maintaining your physical and mental well-being is crucial for staying motivated. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat delicious food, and engage in regular physical activity. (I know, that sounds cliché, but trust me, and I’m trying to say: don’t make work your entire life). Also, take breaks when needed. Taking care of yourself ensures you have the energy and resilience to stay motivated and perform at your best.

Keep the end in sight.

Finally, remind yourself that the internship is temporary and an end is in sight. While it may feel like it will never end, the reality is that it’s only a matter of weeks or months before you complete it. Keep a countdown if it helps, and use it as a reminder that your hard work and dedication will pay off. 

Staying motivated during an internship, especially an unpaid one, can be challenging but not impossible. You can navigate your internship with a sense of purpose and determination. Remember, every experience, no matter how small, contributes to your growth and prepares you for a successful career.

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