Can I Bail On Americorps for My Dream Job?

For better or for worse, I am a planner. I like to know what my life is going to look like way in advance. My plans for this summer (working abroad) were nailed down last January, and I wanted to have guaranteed employment for when I got back to the states. After realizing that apparently most publishing jobs have an application process (application to position filled) time of four weeks, I applied to and accepted an Americorps position. This job (helping underprivileged children in low-income schools) is meant to start in two weeks. It would be hard for them to find a replacement to fill my spot. (Part of the difficulty in finding people to fill the position comes from the fact that Americorps members earn $800/mo.).

Today I had an interview for an internship at a publishing firm that I would love to work for full-time. The internship is three months long, 40 hrs/week, minimum wage ($1,160/mo pre-tax). I know two of their previous interns, and I know that they do have a history of either shifting interns around to different internships or trying to find full-time employment for interns they like. However, there are absolutely no guarantees. I do want to work in publishing — I’ve already had two different internships — and most of all, I really admire this firm and the work that this company does.

I find out tomorrow whether or not I have the publishing internship. Should I take it — bail on Americorps and children who need my help, take the risk that I might be unemployed again in three months — or stick with the job that I know I have? — L.

When I applied to journalism school seven or eight years ago, one of the things I was asked was how I envisioned what my career would look like five years after I completed my master’s program. I recall that I said something along the lines of: I would be writing and reporting stories I cared about and aspired to work with middle school or high school students in some kind of literacy program. Of course, this is the kind of thing young, bright-eyed “I want to make a difference” recent grads love to believe they’ll be doing, and I’m not ashamed to admit now that I was more than a little naive back then.

More than five years after finishing my master’s program, I am writing about things I care about, but I am not in public schools carrying the banner of literacy. But: I do sign up to mentor a young grad student every year, and every spring I sign up to be a pen pal with a third grader through a program called Learning Leaders. My point is: There will always be children/someone out there who needs help in one form or another and just because you decide not to do one thing doesn’t mean you can’t figure out other ways to do things that are important to you.

It seems apparent to me that the thing you want to do is to take the internship at the publishing firm if it is offered to you, and you feel guilty about choosing something that could jumpstart your career over a national service program (and helping children!). This is apparent to me because you interviewed for the internship despite already being accepted into the Americorps program, and because of how much you say you admire the firm.

Americorps should have contingency plans if you decide to leave — volunteers often quit early after discovering how difficult the work is and how hard it is to live on the small stipend they’re given. It is better to make this decision before you start rather than leave in the middle of volunteering.

If the thing you want the most is the internship, then take the internship, and don’t waste time feeling guilty about it. Instead, figure out how you’ll go about helping some other kid out there who needs your time, and work your butt off at the internship so that it leads you to a full-time job.

Photo: Billy Brown