The Real World


Source: Vincent Alexander Cartoons

Source: Vincent Alexander Cartoons

AP Lang Student
These words float around campus, often delivered with an air of derisiveness and condescension: “You think your life is tough? Just wait until you get to the real world.” When delivered by your parents or teachers, they act as a healthy dose of perspective. Mostly, they are repeated by your peers. “I can’t wait to graduate high school, then my real life will start.” It’s a hopeful notion that things can be unpleasant now as long as they improve eventually. That adolescence is all about preparing for a life to come later. That this school, this supposed “fake world,” is not supposed to be a happy place but rather a limbo between childhood and independence.
This mentality may have been born in truth, and it’s not hard to see why. Especially in a bubble like Orange County, dirty things are kept hidden. You don’t need to worry about where the food comes from or who keeps the water running, only about grade points and extracurricular activities. Used in this context, the term isn’t exactly harmful. This time in our lives is relatively simple compared to adulthood, so what’s the harm in acknowledging the fact?
Except that’s not how we use it. The idea of a real world isn’t introspective. We don’t use it to look around us, but to look ahead of us. What was once “enjoy the lack of responsibility while you’re young” has devolved into “trade your happiness now for success later.” It is for this reason that the desire for a real world is so damaging.
The idea is persistent, and does not vanish once you walk off campus for the last time. Your goals progress as you do, and the idea that you can have an unhappy four years to make your “real life” in college more bearable follows you. The next rationalization sneaks up on you, and soon you will believe that you can be a lonely, overworked college student as long as you get a good job after graduation. Surely once you get your diploma you can start your real life. You can have friends, spend money, travel the world. You can enjoy all those pleasures from which you previously abstained as soon as you finish this sprint to the finish line. Once you possess that $50,000 sheet of creamy cardstock paper you can finally be happy.
No such luck. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but your workplace isn’t going to be any different. Once you find a job in your field, you will push onwards towards success at the cost of your personal life, because that’s what you’re used to. It’s just what you’ve always done. “Once I get this promotion, I can finally start to live my real life.” The real world is always going to be an arms-reach away, just out of your grasp. Friends, fortune and fulfillment are always going to be one obstacle away, because the real world doesn’t exist. It’s an enigma, a mirage ever hiding beyond the horizon.
There is only the world, and it’s where you happen to be right now. If there’s one thing you take from this, it’s that you can’t live a life for tomorrow. I know that “stop and smell the roses” is trite, and you’ve heard it a million times, but it’s worth acknowledging. Tomorrow you’re going to be 50 and wondering where the years went. Wondering why your retirement, why the “end goal,” wasn’t the one thing separating you from the real world. Wondering why your real life never got started. I’ll tell you right now: this is your real life.
Welcome to the real world.