Editor’s note: This essay is part of an occasional series presenting the reflections of Chipsters as they complete their CQS internships.
During my summer newspaper internship, I learned invaluable lessons in how to shoot and edit photos and videos in a range of situations, and I will always cherish those experiences. But the biggest change I witnessed was within myself.
As I crammed my entire life into my compact Chevy Cruze, preparing to head from Tucson, Arizona, to The Mercury News in San Jose, California, I thought to myself, “Is this the right decision?” I had graduated only a week before and suddenly I was packing up and moving 14 hours away to crowded, pricey Silicon Valley.
I had never lived outside of my parents’ house. Its close proximity to the local university made living at home the cheapest and smartest option for me. I considered myself independent but actually was pretty sheltered, not knowing what it meant to pay bills or cook for myself seven days a week.
Moving to a new city for an internship was a big change. One I was both excited and nervous to make.
Leaving my comfort zone
I’d like to say I’m an adventurous person, but too often I get comfortable with my routine. I had a pretty relaxed life in Tucson, living at home, attending classes, working on my stories in bed. I knew my classmates and my sources. I knew how things worked at my paper and what was expected of me with every assignment.
My schedule as a Mercury News photographer was all over the place. Some days I would wait for an assignment, while other days found me driving to San Francisco or Sacramento for a story. Some days I would shoot a wildfire; other days I would cover a 49ers press conference.
One day as I was showering, an editor called to ask if I could come in early because a murder suspect had just shot himself at a retirement home. I rushed to the scene with hair still damp, greasy and a bit crazy looking.
Even though I sometimes wasn’t sure how I’d get through the workday, the experience ultimately made me a more engaging person, confident in myself and in my creative decisions. No longer was I that lost college student. I figured out the BART transit system; I drove alone through California’s hectic traffic to new cities. I knew I could try new things without worrying whether I’d mess up.
Patient with my progress
That concern was a constant early in my internship. I’m a people pleaser, and I don’t like to make mistakes. At times, after looking over my images for the day, I wished they were stronger or that my exposure had been better. I got frustrated with myself. I wanted to be as good as my colleagues.
After some time, and many affirmations and encouraging words from my supervisor and cubicle friends, I finally felt like it was OK not to be as good as everyone else. One coworker showed me examples of his work from long ago; they looked nothing like his later photos. He reminded me that everyone starts somewhere and that one’s work improves with practice. Every photo assignment and challenge took me a step closer to being a better photographer.
By the end of my internship, I accepted my skill level and knew that my contributions were valuable. I reminded myself that this was my first photo internship. I went to the internship to learn, not to be the best. Next time, I’ll come back even stronger.
Excited for the future
I felt like my dreams were within reach before my internship, but I didn’t know how to obtain them. As a first-generation college student, I had to figure out many aspects of college life by myself. Everyone knows that success and opportunities are all about who you know. Some of my peers already had a network of people in the industry because of their parents’ jobs, yet I didn’t even know where to begin.
The internship gave me a network of support through the Chips Quinn program. I now know journalists outside of the Tucson area. I have my fellow Chipsters as a support group, and I finally feel confident and excited for the future.
I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I know that I can build a better life for my family. I don’t feel stuck. It’s just the beginning.
Maritza Cruz (2018) most recently was a media and communications specialist for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. She is applying to graduate schools to study filmmaking.