After My First Year In “The Real World”

image - Flickr / Lumen Bigott
image – Unsplash / Lumen Bigott

I just finished Marina Keegan’s Opposite of Loneliness — the Yale student whose works were published when she died right after graduation — and they remind me so much of my own writing in college. Lightyears more refined, articulate, and coherent, obviously — I didn’t have a job lined up at The New Yorker — but the sentiment was the same. Glittering, all-encompassing optimism, opinions with just a little too much conviction for how much life experience we’d actually had, a blinding hopefulness. Excitement.

It’s funny, because as I read through each story — and looked back at some of my old stuff — I felt overcome with nostalgia, and sadness, almost. I miss it. It’s been barely a year since graduation, barely a year since I wrote that last article, and already that intense excitement, that young hopefulness feels a little… less. Already I feel a little more serious, more grounded in reality. That unbridled view more structured, limited to a narrower box. It’s like believing in Santa, and then being shown a chart that lays out the hard logistics of one man trying to reach every house in the world in one night.

I like my job, and still have goals for the future. It’s been barely a year — I’m not completely lost to the corporate hustle. But there’s a precious sense of naiveté that’s unique to being a student, which I’m just realizing now. Even in college — you’re studying accounting, taking on internships, and you think you’re so grown up. That you’ve left your flighty days behind you in high school, but you haven’t. You’re like a baby in a suit — you know how to act like an adult, and with the right vocabulary you might pull it off pretty well, but you’re still just a baby. You’ve never had to wear that suit to work.

I guess that happens at every phase of life — you think you’ve got it, finally. You’re so sure this is it, the moment where you’ve officially accumulated all the life knowledge you’re going to need, and everything afterward will be ancillary. Childhood, new discoveries are over, for the most part.

And then there’s a whole new world at the next turn. Thoughts and situations you never even fathomed before, suddenly a major part of your new reality. A reality you’re just supposed to slip on like a windbreaker, as if it were always draped around your shoulders like a second skin.

And that’s what I feel now. I started my job six months ago, and slipped on that windbreaker without thinking. Tread forward into my new life because that’s what people do. Didn’t look back. Didn’t really want to look back. But Marina’s book reminded me. I recall that distinctly youthful sense of freedom I felt, that she was obviously feeling — not having made an even a step forward yet. The world literally unfolding before me for miles and miles — something I’ll never experience again in the same way.

It’s not like it’s so different now. The difference is just that I have taken that first step. I’ve taken the dive and come up for air a little more tempered, more real in my thoughts of the future. And in some way, that’s important.

But I’d love to preserve a small part of that naiveté, that sense of freedom, always, if I can, because that’s what drives people forward, I think. I don’t want to become so engulfed by my “real” life, the “real” world, that I lose that idealism completely. Because what is the “real” world anyway? There’s still so much ahead of me, of all of us — new worlds that we can’t even fathom now, waiting to unfold for miles and miles once we make the right turn. I just hope I don’t forget that. TC mark

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