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In the eight months I’ve lived since graduating college, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve enrolled in a 401(k) —(I still kind of need someone to explain to me why it’s not just an even 400?), I’ve joined a gym, and I even began using a Crock Pot. I’m streamlining into adulthood, William-Sonoma potholders in hand (they were a graduation gift), and I can’t help but wonder—is this the “real world” yet?
I’m not talking about MTV’s outdated reality TV show. I’m talking about what college students discuss in the months leading up to graduation: how different will the first steps into the “real world” be? I thought that after my commencement ceremony, adult-like tendencies would immediately kick in and I’d be interested in documentaries I’d never taken the time to watch and only buy bottles of wine more expensive than $13.99. But the real world isn’t something you step into, it’s something we’re all living in—and every day is as real as any other.
College, being such a distinct bubble of academic and social experiences that hundreds of kids experience all at once, creates an obvious separation from what society categorizes as the “real world”. By these standards, anything after higher education is known as “real world”—I’m just having trouble figuring out why.
As people get their first jobs out of school, I’ve seen countless Facebook posts along the lines of “Time to take my first step into the real world!”. A new job is exciting, of course, and I always give my friends a supportive “like” on these types of statuses, but I don’t think this makes any of their previous jobs at the school library, unpaid internship, or even the neighborhood Subway any less real.
Yes, there is a difference between a job that’s best perk offers you a share of the tip bucket at the end of the night and one that can help save for retirement, but what about those who’s “real world” is working at a bakery and nannying on the weekends so they can act? It’s a conscious choice—why should those jobs be considered any less authentic of an experience?
When I went home for the holidays, lots of family friends and neighbors were excited to hear about my life in Chicago and my job. I would always be honest: “I’m having a great time and learning a lot, but I don’t necessarily love it, ya know?” I expected them to encourage and understand that while I don’t hate my job, it’s not a place I want to be forever, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next. Instead, the typical response was a scoff and the know-it-all refrain of “Well no one really loves their job, that’s the way it goes” or even a laugh: “Ha! Welcome to the real world!”. Even from people I felt had always encouraged my little kid dreams, I was met with condescending bitterness towards this “real world” I’m just supposed to accept.
Something tells me if I were to quit my steady job to train to be a sommelier, there would be considerable eye-rolling during my next Thanksgiving home. But something much more important tells me that it doesn’t matter. To me, a career is a series of steps you take, passions you pursue, and boundaries you explore. Whether I do something for four weeks or four years, it’s in the individual experiences I gain that it is created.
I’m a notorious people-pleaser and have trouble saying “no” but I’m sorry, dear friends of parents and neighbors, I’m saying “no” right now. I don’t accept this “real world” of an older generation. I refuse to believe that being marginally satisfied with your job is “just the way it is”. Millennials are often referred to as “yuppies” or “ the entitled generation”. We grew up with the Internet and live in a digital age. We want what we want when we want it—and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.
There’s a reason I have more than one friend teaching abroad, others starting their own businesses, and many still continuing their studies for what they’re passionate about. They’re going after their goals. This energy of getting what you want should not be considered naïve—it’s liberating.
It’s time to retire the “real world” and just keep living. My jump into the deep-end of adulthood wasn’t quite as dramatic as I’d anticipated (I still have the occasional urge to teepee someone’s house). But it’s shown me just how many opportunities are out there. Who’s to say I might not pack up and move to Ireland to be a barista? (Woah, secret dream job confession time). There is no set path, no one way to live a life; there is no such thing as the “real world”.
Remember John Mayer’s “No Such Thing”? Of course you do. But in case it’s not already stuck in your head, it goes: “I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world. Just a lie you’ve got to rise above”. Sorry John, I know I’m more than ten years late than you on this—but I just found out the same thing and I’m feeling pretty damn euphoric about it.