So… where do you see yourself in five years?
If you asked me that question just six months ago, I would’ve confidently said medical school, and detailed my reasons why, how my studies related to my destined career, and how I had tirelessly spent the past six years of schooling preparing for it. How I had spent years volunteering at a local hospital, working with patients, getting into research, reading PDFs of medical textbooks online, and studying for hours on end. How I knew this was destined to work out perfectly, just as I planned, with no hesitation or mishaps at all along the way.
Naturally, I was wrong. Like so many others in college, particularly those on a pre-health track, as I got further into my studies I began to doubt what I was doing with my life.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Suddenly, when I thought about this question I was no longer sure of my answer. Instead, it cascaded into me questioning my “purpose” and wondering what I even enjoyed enough to still be practicing in five years’ time. In my dogged pursuit of becoming the paradigm of med school applicants, I lost my other passions—the very interests that made me a more interesting, personable, and capable potential doctor.
I no longer had an interest in anything it seemed. From sustainability and business operations, to architecture and writing, it felt like old hobbies were miles away from me, and any other potential careers that had once piqued my interest were no longer exciting. Without medicine, I was back to square one.
Fortunately for me, I have a strong support system that encouraged me to explore my other options, despite my doubts. Knowing that I loved writing, was interested in ESG/sustainability, and operations, I went to LinkedIn looking for an internship that might fulfill one of these interests.
Sifting through countless opportunities for weeks, I stumbled upon one that made me laugh out loud. There in front of me was a posting cluttered with endless emojis for a Financial PR Intern at Water & Wall under Jesse Chen, the firm’s Head of ESG + Sustainability. Bingo! Writing and ESG wrapped up nicely in one 10-week internship. Not believing my luck, I got a gut feeling, if you believe in those like I do, that I needed to apply to this small yet mighty firm, which appeared full of quick wit, creative design, and one very adorable office dog named Gunner. With slim to no previous experience, I could only hope that I would be interviewed and hired for the summer. To my surprise, a few weeks later I was accepting a role for the summer and arranging with Jesse to pick up my laptop.
The summer flew by. I can attest that all appearances of wit, creativity, and a lovable dog—turns out lovable dogs is more apt—are more than mere appearances. From welcome messages before I even started and patience for my millions of questions to infinite generosity when I made countless mistakes and helpfully consolidated feedback on my work, the entire team at Water & Wall backed me every step of the way. I learned social strategy, pitching, client calls, media pulling, and all else under the scope of PR: there wasn’t a stone left unturned. Starting at square one, I can confidently say, after 10 weeks, that I am at least at square two. Maybe even square 3!
Beyond just the technical PR skills, I also absorbed career and personal advice from the team. Openly and candidly, the team imparted an experience to me that I won’t forget for a long time to come, if ever.
Andrew Healy is unwavering. Over coffee, I asked questions about developing a career, what it was like starting a firm, and change. With bountiful wisdom, he answered each question thoughtfully. I learned about curating a culture, identifying trends to skip and follow, becoming a better leader, and how there is always room for growth.
Jen Corletta came in each day enthusiastically. Teaching with kindness, Jen helped me explore my PR interests, broke down PR career growth, and showed me how PR lets one boundlessly explore interests. Offering up guidance on choosing a career that fulfills my personal and professional interests and on setting boundaries, Jen reassured me that I will figure it out in time and nurtured my communication, analytical eye, and confidence to be ready when the time comes—no matter what path I choose to pursue.
Sonia Wong never failed to provide support for my never-ending questions, answering with patience even on my last day. She also never failed to offer up understanding when I messed up, was struggling to figure out what I was doing, or asked her countless questions about breaking into PR as a recent graduate. With compassion, she talked about balancing work and personal life, knowing when to take a step back, and dealing with doubt; all of which is advice I think back on when I need to practice balance.
Rebecca Schmidt sends some of the most positive emails I’ve ever read. Always responding with an exclamative “thank you!” and support for my work, Becks is a rock. Becks counseled me whenever I had questions on if I was doing something right, if it was beneficial for the team, and how to follow up if a task is unmet. From learning how to be in the corporate environment to exploring an area you’re not familiar with at all, her advice provided relief and affirmation that we can always try something new and are capable of adapting.
Katie Colleary pushes the boundaries of creativity. Energetic and bright in person, it comes as no surprise that her work replicates that. Anytime I spoke with Katie, her energy and imagination felt infectious, seeming to pass on to me and my ideas too. She pushed my creative limits and helped me grasp how to channel an idea into a final presentation—for an exciting example, look at our giveaway, open now through September 23rd.
Kevin Santo probably received over 100 Slack messages from me on a day-to-day basis. This was amplified when we met in the office and I bombarded him with never-ending questions on why he asked a client to elaborate on a specific talking point, why he changed a pitch a certain way, why a news flag was relevant or a pass (the nicer way to say bad), and how to navigate multiple passions with your professional life. From PR to changing priorities in and out of work, Kevin taught me how to be more flexible, see the positives in every outcome, and shift gears.
Alaina Hay provided a comprehensive list of what I was doing and what I was expected to do when I came into the firm. Her modest leadership and communication prowess helped me find my feet and acclimate to a new environment at a rapid pace. Encouraging proactivity and meeting me with unparalleled support, she refined my rough PR edges and showed me how to take charge and, more importantly, show up for my team.
Matt Kirdahy managed to ask me questions that I sat with for ages—and honestly, still reflect back on. Deciphering priorities, understanding why you’re nervous in an unfamiliar environment, and choosing between being trapped in a room with a bat or rat for twenty-four hours, I was pushed to think about my goals and overcome my anxieties. He taught me the power of taking a chance, asking questions, and, most resoundingly, finding the right people.
Jesse Chen, my mentor, I owe a considerable amount of thanks. She took a chance on me, a slightly wayward student with minor PR and finance experience, and brought me onboard. With no hesitation or reserve in anything she does, she welcomed me in, showed me the ropes, and provided thoughtful and extensive feedback, giving me the space and direction to flourish. Undoubtedly, she imparted to me endless professional wisdom. What sticks with me the most, however, is the inspiration I feel from her perseverance, her ability to expertly blend person and profession, and her resolute beliefs.
So… where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I can confidently say I don’t know for certain, and that’s okay. What I can say is that I’ve grown exponentially over the course of my internship, both personally and professionally, and will take these skills with me for the next five years and beyond. And although I may not know what my future holds yet, Water & Wall has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to explore some of my many interests, while supporting my growth in myriad ways. Not bad for a summer internship!