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What is "The Real World"?

When I graduated high school, there was a serious finality to it all. There was an overarching sense of “This is it- time to go onto the real world!” but I only felt dread. Maybe it is cynicism, maybe it’s anxiety, but either way I felt like I was being shoved forcefully into the “real world” (the meaning of which changes with the shifting of adults’ expectations- which is to say, I have no idea what the “real world” is,) without any time to breathe. And yet, and yet- when I finally arrived at college, when I began taking my classes and learning about the things that would be expected of me in coming years, I realized something.

This is not the "real world" either.

Without a moment to breathe or reflect on where I was now, I was thrust into lectures and lessons about preparing for the actual real world. Get a job, go to an internship. Talk to employers now, or they won’t want you later.

At college, I’ve met friends who have helped me grow as a person immensely. I’ve gotten a job, managed a budget book, grappled with medical bills, and worked on healing my mental state in ways that never would have been possible back in my hometown. In some ways, I finally feel alive. In other ways, the constant drone of classes and the aches I feel walking across campus make me feel more dead than ever.

Is this the “real world”? I have bills to pay- does that make it real? My roommates and I cook and do chores. Is that real? Is the meticulous planning of my paycheck, the desperate attempts to schedule doctors’ appointments- are those all part of the real world? Or is it “fake,” because of the utopian little microsociety we have here, where our meals are paid for and our necessities are within walking distance? Are the angry stares I get in the lunchroom, the loud shouts and whoops people target me with from their trucks, the constant disrespect to my personhood- is that real? Is that part of our utopian microsociety, or is it just an outlying variable, a piece of the “real world” that has seeped into our “fake” one?

Is the “real world” meant to be unabashedly seeped in misery, filled only with thoughts of bills and work and rent? College was meant to be freer than high school, with more hands-on experiences and more teachers who treat their students like actual adults with their own lives and worries.

But it’s just a new location with the same routine. Does that make it fake? Are the friends I’ve made, the roommates I’ve bonded with- are they just new sets of fellow students who will forget about me if we don’t talk every day? Does that make them “fake,” or is losing those you’ve come to love every year just another part of the “real world”?

Studying has never been one of my strong suits, I always coast by on raw memorization and good note-taking. Does that matter in the “real world”? If I’m not very good at things necessary for college life, does that make me unprepared in the long run? Can one ever be truly prepared for a lifetime filled of economic, natural, and terroristic disasters?

I wonder, then, if college is meant to just be an interim between the “fake” and “real” worlds. There’s not as much surveillance here, for one. That was one of the first things I noticed. When my mom asked why that could be, I joked that “there’s not really an epidemic of college shootings, is there?”

She didn’t find it very funny. I didn’t either, for what it’s worth. But how else is one supposed to go through and process the things they know and experience without a bit of humor? I also pointed out to my roommates that the constant backfiring of the students’ cars here would never be permitted on a high school campus- they sound like gunshots.

But, then, if the “fake” world is filled with surveillance and gunshots and terror- if the “fake” world has abusive authority figures, overbearing workloads, and a lack of respect for one’s personhood- what do we have to look forward to in the “real” world, if it is as cutthroat as all my teachers say?

What is "the real world"? Will we ever reach it?

♥ Jay (click to go back!)