How We Develop Our True Potential During An Internship

By Brett Steenbarger

In a recent blog post, we took a look at positive career development and how we cultivate career competencies by drawing upon our distinctive strengths.  A key takeaway is that the right career and job is a kind of gym, exercising what we do best and find most meaningful.  The idea of positive career development reflects that intersection—and the importance of understanding who we are at our best.

In my work with professionals in finance, I’ve found that a major determinant of success on the job is mindset.  I’ve also observed that, during periods of adversity, we can find a “second wind of consciousness” that enables us to endure, persist, and overcome our challenges.  (Think of first responders in the recent pandemic).  How do we access this second wind that energizes our willpower?  Interestingly, it appears that adversity is a gateway to what might be called our latent strengths:  capacities we have, but do not fully identify with and employ.  If you have taken the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, for example, these latent assets are not necessarily “signature strengths” but rather “middle strengths”.

One way of viewing this is that life’s challenges don’t shape our character, but reveal it.  Faced with challenges that we find worthy, we draw upon fresh strengths and thereby gain renewed energy.  In a very real sense, our challenges catalyze and shape who we become: we grow in the direction of our latent strengths.

So what does this mean for positive career development?  Great jobs and careers are ones that draw upon our greatest strengths but also challenge you to cultivate new ones.  Similarly, great internships take you out of your comfort zone and push you to develop strengths you didn’t know you had.  That is why every Connect internship is a cultural learning experience, placing you in work settings—and internship workshops—where you need to succeed in unfamiliar social environments.  No one has ever grown by remaining in their comfort zones.  The greatest argument for cross-cultural learning is that it is a certain path to adversity, mastery, and a renewed sense of who you are and who you can become.

A good learning experience allows you to use your strengths.  A great learning experience helps you discover new ones.


Brett Steenbarger

Connect-123's Director of Student Development, Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY and a performance psychologist for professionals in the world of finance. He is the author of numerous books on psychology and financial markets and loves connecting with students during their internships and beyond!

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