Perhaps the biggest takeaway I have from my time at the Massachusetts Sierra Club is that being able to spend your time working for a cause that you believe in is a privilege in itself. My supervisor has drilled into our heads time and time again that not everyone is in a position to accept a job that brings them fulfillment. Oftentimes, a major component of social justice work entails supporting underserved communities. Furthermore, many (though not all) of the people who work for organizations in social justice causes do not share the same backgrounds as those they are committing their work to.
In my opinion, this shows that one of the most important character traits to carry in social justice work is to remain sensitive to the fact that your opinions should be subject to change based upon feedback from members of the community you are serving. This all being said, I should note that there are of course cases in which social justice work can be done within the community it is trying to benefit, but even then, there is an aspect of giving oneself up for the greater cause.
When it comes to the general world of work, this internship with the Sierra Club has shown me that different offices can have wildly varied expectations of the amount of time and effort you put into your work. At the Sierra Club, I found that my supervisor was not too fussy about the specific hours I worked, nor the number of hours. She cared far more about how much we were putting in and getting out of the internship in terms of our level of commitment to our projects. She trusted us to get our work done, and when we didn’t, that was on us.
This is extremely different from how my past jobs and internships have been. In every other job I have held, we had to clock in and clock out at a certain time despite whether or not we were attentive to our work that entire timespan. I had far fewer collaborative projects, and less general freedom overall. While that method may work for some, I really appreciated our supervisor’s methods in this respect. I believe that her expectations for us fostered a lot of self-motivation and personal commitment, which are essential components when it comes to incorporating passion into your work life.
If I could give my pre-summer at Sierra Club self or someone else embarking on their internship a piece of advice, I would say understand that people are, at the end of the day, only human. Though your boss or supervisor may be far more established than you are, there is something innovative and valuable that you can bring to the table as a young person in the workforce. Though I do think there is a line of professionalism that should not be crossed, the world of social justice needs to move forward and if everyone with new ideas remains silent, we will remain complacent.