Dear Baby: It's All Real
Welcome to the real world.
Get ready for the real world.
You’re living in the real world now.
I heard these words after my high school graduation. And when I transferred from community college to a university. And when I graduated from said university. And when I moved from Tennessee to New York. And when I transitioned from working several part-time jobs to one salaried position. I’m sure I’ll hear them again if I get married and/or choose to have a child. This is my pledge here and now to never use that phrase when talking about growing up to that theoretical child.
I don’t know when we decided that places of education are just holding pens, or that anything you’ve done prior to reaching one or more of the milestones that caused the “well wishers” around you to feel that they were finally crossing over into adulthood, was just pretend. I imagine this mentality stems from our dismissal of the experiences of children and youth as lesser than those of battle-hardened adults who know better, and as the period of adolescence has extended over time, so have the opportunities for everyone older than someone else to throw back a cocktail of disdain and nostalgia and vomit it back up disguised as appropriate greeting card messages.
We joke about it too; we post Tumblr memes about needing an “adultier adult”; we write tweets that go viral about an official of some kind requesting that an adult be present and the ensuing awkwardness that we feel when we realize that we are the adult present. Boomers lament that “kids these days” don’t know how to think, or write, or breathe without an app that instructs us through the process—and, even if we’d say we’re joking, we post things all over the Internet that essentially say “we concur.”
I would like to propose that, unless we’re literally contrasting fictional worlds with the one in which we reside, we be the generation to retire the phrase “the real world.” Not because it’s a trigger phrase, or because I think we snowflakes need a safe space to protect us from our own mediocrity. But because this mindset of perpetual stuntedness makes it easier to simultaneously discount the skills we do have, while rationalizing an apathy toward acquiring additional capabilities to function as a better human because it’s all too much.
Not to mention, propagating this idea that anything prior to the intersection of a mid-life crisis isn’t real makes it easier to justify treating responsibilities and commitments like they don’t matter. Blowing off a paper? It’s not the midterm; you’ll make it up later. Cancelling plans with friends at the last-minute every week? It was just dinner; you’ll buy an extra round when you all go out for someone’s birthday. Ghosting someone after a few dates? It’s not like either of you thought you were going to get married, right?
Life isn’t a never ending loop of continuous do-overs. Everything builds upon itself. Which feels like a truth that might not have seemed so daunting when the life path of pretty much everyone around you was “Take over dad’s farm, pop out as many kids as possible to work said farm.” We can yammer on all we want about how much harder life was back then, but from a mental standpoint, I honestly believe the amount of choice that we have now would have probably felt just as overwhelming to our ancestors (there’s a reason the “Nobody in our family has ever not been a doctor/lawyer/coal miner/shopkeeper!!” narrative continues to ring true across various storytelling mediums), but rather than allow ourselves to buckle under the collective ennui that overstays its welcome at the hands of being told that we don’t know anything about anything that matters, we have to rise up on what we do know. Good teachers have been using this method in underperforming classrooms for years, giving students a “+2” instead of a “-98” on a quiz, and teaching children to meditate as a tool to regulate behavior rather than placing them in detention. You can dismiss it as coddling, or you can acknowledge that it works, and if you acknowledge that it works, then you can employ the system for your own devices.
That group project you successfully (or unsuccessfully!) navigated junior year, is a great resource when you’re faced with tackling communication between disparate personalities at your first job. The times you made yourself show up for Thursday dinner with your friend group, even when you wanted to stay home and watch Netflix, created a precedent for maintaining relationships once the cocoon of college was no longer there to put everyone together almost by automation. Treating someone with decency when you haven’t made lifelong commitments to one another gives you a glimpse into the weight of pledging daily compassion to someone for potential decades. Even if you’ve stopped using these lessons you already taught yourself, all you have to do is remember that you know, and then tap back into their magic.
Wherever you are, right now, is real life.
It’s all real.
And you’re prepared for it.
[Photo by Julie Bloom.]
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