When we hear the term “The Real World” we may associate it with the absurd excuse of a “reality” television show where seven strangers are placed together in a mansion with an abundance of booze, boobs, and brawls.
I’m 22-years-old and a recent college graduate. The term “real life” holds a much different meaning to me.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a bar and eavesdropped on a group of recent college grads, spilling their worries to their bartender. What I heard included:
- “I just graduated. Time for the real world.”
- “Just got a job. Guess I’m a real person now.”
- “Yeah, time for real life.”
The number of times I hear comments like these is disturbing. And not just from anxiety-prone 20-somethings. I hear it from older people as well, especially when a younger person mentions new responsibilities and roles that they did not previously have: “Welcome to the real world”. Granted, these comments are often said in jest, and I’m guilty of saying them too.
But I’m starting to realize that the expression “real world” harbors a much more insidious meaning: one that suggests that your life doesn’t truly begin until it’s already one-fourth over.
Alfred D’Souza once said, “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, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”
By equating the commencement of “real life” to graduation, our first “real” job, our first paycheck, paying taxes, new responsibilities, or whatever else it may be – we feed two myths.
The first is that your whole life up until then hasn’t really been real. Guess what, every second of it has! Even for the youngest of us millennials, there were mistakes and memories made, lessons learned, obstacles overcome, failures, hardships, good times and bad.
The second myth is that what is considered “real life” is largely a negative experience. “Taxes and marriage and stressful jobs and babies and mortgages and cubicles! Gone are the days of no responsibility! It’s all downhill from here!”
Maybe it is for some people. But, maybe it’s not. Or maybe I’m naïve. I choose to believe, in the words of the alternative rock band, The Verve, that no matter what your age, “it’s a bitter-sweet symphony, this life”.
So a few words of unsolicited advice to my freshly minted, graduated peers:
Change your way of thinking. Your life has always been real, and it always will be. Stay ambitious, set goals, and work towards whatever your definition of success may be.
But stop waiting to reach a certain milestone until you’re finally “alive”, until your life has “finally” begun, or until it has been validated by the rest of society. In the words of Tyler Durden from Fight Club, “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time”.
If we keep waiting for “real life” to begin, it will be gone before we know it.