Follow Your Own Path
3 Lessons I Learned From Creating a Summer Internship
Growing up in a small city of 51,923 in the Florida Panhandle, I had to pave my own way. I had never really been exposed to computer science, entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley, or startups—but I knew that I liked to build.
I built Lego towers as a kid, I built robots in high school, I built zoos on my computer in Zoo Tycoon, I built CAD designs of houses. I was in my element when I was figuring out how to construct something valuable given a certain set of constraints or resources.
The summer before my freshman year, I had an internship that introduced me to basic variable types in Java, but I hadn’t yet built a project of my own. So when I walked into my intro CS class at Princeton, I was overwhelmed. I was struggling with loops and print statements, while other kids had finished the entire semester’s assignments. But after our first real project, when my simulation of the rotation of the planets of the solar system worked and 2001: A Space Odyssey played, I realized my love of computer programming. With coding I realized I could help impact millions of people with the two resources I had: time and sweat.
Fast forward to my sophomore year. I had become a pretty good web and mobile app developer and had started looking at what I wanted to work on that summer. I saw a post on Facebook from a fashion-tech company that a couple of my friends were working on. I had fostered a growing interest in fashion after being exposed to new people and cultures at Princeton. I find it interesting that what we wear often expresses a lot about our personality, background, and persona—and in shaping my own story.
When I looked at their makeshift WordPress site, I was immediately interested. It was obvious they needed a technical hand, so I joined the team. During the school year, I struggled with balancing my extracurriculars and a full class load while developing the site. The summer of 2015, I decided to take the leap, make my own path, and work on this full time.
Three Key Lessons
Exploring uncharted territory forces you to learn quickly. I learned practical things such as how to build using a Ruby on Rails stack and how to cook for myself. But more importantly I learned 3 lessons that I carry with me in all aspects of my life.
1. Count on your friends and reach into your network.
None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone’s help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you. — Harvey McKay
None of this would’ve been possible without my friends’ help. My best friend from high school, Jalen, was on campus at Dartmouth for his required “sophomore summer.” He was invaluable in helping me find a super affordable place to stay and connecting me with his friends on campus that were our target audience. I made awesome new friends on campus that shared meals with me, lent me their cars, tested my site, and brought me into their communities. We went to concerts, on hikes, rafted, and most importantly played Dartmouth pong. In these experiences, I found breaks and inspiration for the site.
Also make sure you find a partner, mentor, or someone you can talk and soundboard with about your project. My co-founder Jen and I were able to pivot because I communicated with her the feedback I was getting. Through clear communication, we figured out how we could create even more value on our current site even though we were only able to talk through phone calls and Skype. Look into your network and you’d be surprised how far a friendly smile and willingness to work with others will help you get far in life.
2. Trust in yourself and don’t worry about what others are doing.
“Just keep moving forward and don’t give a shit about what anybody thinks. Do what you have to do, for you.” — Johnny Depp
One of the most difficult parts of creating your own internship or business are the inevitable questions that come after “So, what are you doing this summer?”
I knew I really enjoyed what I was working on, but when friends posted pictures of their awesome food at their elaborate offices at Google, Facebook, or Pinterest, I felt unsure of my path. When they talked to me about their salaries, I got worried because I had to work an on-campus job several weeks before the summer just to break even. Their hours are probably shorter and they’re probably in either buzzing New York or SF. And while the nature in Hanover, NH is one of the most beautiful environments I have been in in my life, you definitely won’t find Korean-Mexican fusion or cronuts there.
Finally, although I was lucky that my parents were supportive of what I was doing, I knew they still were worried that I was making a mistake of not padding my resume with a big name for future job offers. Why work on a website when you could have X on your resume, so you can get a good high paying job? Even when meeting new people at Dartmouth, many assumed I was just doing research because they couldn’t understand how or why I would “waste my time” working on my own. I have heard similar stories from other entrepreneurs, and I would love to hear your suggestions for combatting self-doubt in the comments.
As for me, I focused on my work. Building something people love is hard! Many times keeping my head down and focusing on the the problems with my project was difficult enough that I didn’t have time to worry about perceptions.
I also connected with other entrepreneurs in my same situation. Although there weren’t necessarily many near me, I kept in contact with communities of other builders facing the same struggle over phone, email, Slack, and other channels.
However, there were always times when my doubts would come back. During these moments, I would take a step back and write down why I had done this in the first place. I found myself happier and more purposeful, waking up every day working on something I loved and keeping a physical reminder of that with a note by my bed.
3. Explore with purpose.
“Chance favors the prepared mind.” — Louis Pasteur
Whatever you decide to do in life, do it with a purpose. You may think the entrepreneurial lifestyle is a good fit for you, but you won’t know until go out and try it! Especially now when we have little to lose as young adults, why not?
Our paths in life are not linear, we may end up at our goals in ways we didn’t envision, but my belief is we should take an active role in that process. Seize opportunities that allow you to explore your serious interests and reflect if they are right for you. I’m not of the belief that you should wait for the universe to plop it in your lap. That may eventually happen, but it will be because you opened the door and found it and not because the door was opened for you.
For example, after that summer I realized that while I enjoyed the freedom working on my own project, I would need others on my team full time get more done and provide me with accountability. This summer, I modified my experience, working with my peers in a summer accelerator program, the eLab at my university, in order to allow us to get more done together.
My site cartful.co has shaped me as much as I’ve shaped it and even though the product, the people, and the place have somewhat changed since I started working on it a year ago, I haven’t yet found a more challenging, satisfying, and more rewarding pursuit. Put aside your thoughts of risks, keep trying new things and follow what you feel is most rewarding for you. At the end of the day, the way fashion is never finished, we are never finished understanding ourselves.
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One idea. Six people. Countless cups of matcha.
In November of 2014, Cartful came into being as a better and easier way to discover alternatives to mainstream fashion brands. Our philosophy is that the way we dress should reflect our sense of self — that’s why we’ve curated 400+ small brands that are either less expensive, better quality, or have an interesting story to tell.