The Real World

I can’t wait. I hear it’s awful.

“In first grade you start to learn real subjects, not just coloring”
“You better prepare for your Bar-mitzvah, then you’ll be a man.”
“High-school is when grades really matter.”
“College is when the real parties begin”
“Wait until you see what it’s like in the real world

Older people or even your peers seem to pervade the idea that the next stage of life is somehow more difficult, more serious and more important, with higher expectations put on you. And although this idea is based in reality, the language about entering the “real-world” can be demeaning and mentally damaging. This type of comment may seem lighthearted (because it is) but language is powerful and shapes the way we think. The underlying message conveys that the world you are in now is somehow by contrast not real. It’s like people are gatekeeping life!

I totally fell for it. The thought trap of being too focused on the future as to devalue the present in anticipation for the future. We remind children about the differences to come in adulthood, as if it is some place to get to. Life is not a place to get to. You’re already here. You are already in it as much as you will ever be. Every person is just as much participating in life as anyone else. It’s important to remember that although people’s perspectives differ across life stages, even a child’s experiences are equally valid and real.

Important Note: Not everyone is living as fulfilling a life and people may be at different stages of life that are markedly different experiences. Life can be exhausting, confusing, depressing, or just boring at times but even those parts are legitimate experiences of life that happen to everyone at some point.

It’s good to encourage people to prepare for the next part of life that indeed has new and greater challenges. Too often the sentiment is one that instills fear and hurry. Instead, the message could instill confidence and reassurance that although life does present additional challenges, we will rise to meet those challenges because we ourselves grow in our own time.

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

Alfred D. Souza

On the flip side

You might have heard the advice to “Do it while you can. While you’re still young… Don’t waste the opportunities you have!” This is good advice but I think there is an important corollary often left out: “You will and that’s ok.” The bombarding reminders that time and youth “will go by before you know it” that are meant to encourage people to live life to the fullest sometimes has the opposite effect.

Think about a kid who is given permission to grab all he can carry from a candy store in 5 minutes. Although it would be a tremendous opportunity and the kids dream, what would his experience be during those 5 minutes? A cool and contented selection of the best candy the store has to offer or would it be a mad dash akin to a smash and grab burglary?

Attending one of many fine universities in America and abroad can be like that. The overwhelming FOMO and dread of graduating before living out the plot of Blue Mountain State can ruin the mood of even the best of times. Obviously living life to the fullest is encouraged, but part of that is tempering your expectations and recognizing there will be missed opportunities:

cool classes you didn’t take,
teams you didn’t make,
school-clubs you couldn’t fit,
girls you messed up with,
spring-breaks you couldn’t afford,
and tests you could’ve studied more for.

Life is full of opportunities and it can be scary to think about the opportunity cost of every decision. I want to be an artist/chef/pro-basketball player/doctor/mechanical engineer/teacher/stay-at-home-dad. There are a lot of flavors in this world but while you are busy day dreaming about other flavors, your own ice-cream will melt all over your hand.

Where are you at this exact moment? Are there good things about where you are now?

You can! Just remember you are in the good old days!

Funny thing is, I bet there’s someone who reads this and thinks: “How naive, just wait until he’s older then he’ll understand.” Who knows, maybe that someone is me a few years or decades from now.

I remember once in high-school thinking how embarrassed I was of myself and the decisions I made the previous year. Then I thought “Damn! I thought that last year too!” and wondered when (if ever) I would reach a point where I wasn’t embarrassed of my previous self. At the time, I simply equated with doing less dumb stuff. Now I realize that it is more so a function of self-forgiveness than simply making fewer mistakes.