Indy interns: Why your next job should be fast food

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A corner of the Indy office is emptier today. Our two interns, Maggie Smith and Jason Y. Lee, have left, their apprenticeship finished. There was something comforting about seeing them encamped nearby, laptops open, phones couched in the crook of their neck. We miss them already.

Indy interns are subjected to the same rigors and expectations as regular staffers—not fluffy routines of opening mail and making coffee. In return, they get a world of real-life experience, an impressive cache of clips and, if they're old enough, a bottle from the beer cart that occasionally makes the rounds late on a Friday afternoon.

I don't give interns unsolicited career advice, but if they ask, this is what I tell them:

1) Don't get too caught up in what your friends are doing. Set your own goals and expectations—and certainly don't sell yourself short—but don't allow peer pressure to dictate how you live.

2) Before becoming a journalist, take a series of shitty, low-wage jobs that will pay you just enough to cover your bills. Not only will this prepare you for a journalist's salary, but you will learn empathy and humility. The experience will make you a better journalist. Plus, you will never think any job is beneath you. I paid my dues as a school crossing guard, maid (got fired after one day), cake decorator, assistant manager at Subway, McDonald's cashier, musical instrument salesperson, newspaper delivery driver, donut delivery driver (not at the same time, but that would've been handy), record store clerk, video store clerk, nightclub booking agent, band manager, shelver in a college textbook warehouse and a telemarketer at a greeting card company—all between the ages of 21 and 29.

3) In addition to your low-wage job, live as The New York Times' David Carr calls it, a "fully textured life." That doesn't mean you should become a crackhead. But you should take at least one cross-country trip by car and visit a nation where indoor plumbing is not a given.

4) Read a lot of books.

5) Talk to people you don't know.

6) Fail at something, especially if you've come from a hard-charging, high-octane family that put a premium on achievement. You'll find that despite your shortcomings, you're still a decent, valuable person.

So, Jason and Maggie, good night and good luck.

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