The “Real World” Does Not Exist.

When I was in high school, I was always told that I was being prepared for the “real world.” This world would be bigger, more complicated, and scary. I would have to learn how to navigate its treacherous twists and turns, or risk drowning in my newfound adulthood.

The “real world,” as I was made to understand, would sweep me up into a storm of decisions and financial instability as soon as I graduated. There would be no stopping it; it was seemingly sink or swim. Eat or be eaten. And, when I entered this new world, I would automatically be looked upon as someone that was capable of making their own decisions. Older adults would see me as a new warrior, and kids that still inhabited the presumably “fake world” would idolize me, for I had gone into the abyss that is the “real world,” and lived. I survived the war-like hallways of my learning institution, and emerged into a world of personal freedom.

Graduation eventually came, and I was -supposedly- stepping into this big, bad “real world” that I had heard so much about. I got a retail job, and I saved every penny to pay for a sliver of my post-secondary education. I was focused completely on learning new skills, bettering myself, and enduring the hellish realm of working retail. I was on track. I was empowered. I was maturing…

Until a thirty-something year old manager hinted that I wasn’t.

She didn’t mean it as a jab at my maturity; in fact, I was constantly told that I was quite “mature for my age” by my bosses and coworkers. Her comment was simply in passing. It was just a string of words that older people ALWAYS say to younger people,

“Well, sweetie, the real world is going to hit you hard.”

What did she mean? I was in the “real world!” I had a plan! I was on track! I was trying my damnedest, and impressing myself.

What prompted her to utter that sentence, was me mentioning that I was afraid to spend more money than I absolutely had to; it made me anxious to dip into my hard earned savings. I was telling her about how much I needed to save, and that I would need every cent that I could get my hands on. At this point, I had no bills to pay, so I was simply working to put cash in the bank.

See, what’s funny is that I thought, by saving so strictly, I was doing the “mature” thing (I still believe this to be true). There’s nothing childish about putting money away. There’s nothing childish about not wanting to spend money. But, apparently, because I didn’t want to spend an extra twenty dollars on something I didn’t need, I was still barred for this elusive “real world,” in her eyes.

Apparently, being a part of the “real world,” is kind of an exclusive club. To be a member, you basically have to just think that you know something that a younger person doesn’t. You have to believe with all your heart that, because you went through x,y, and z stressful situations, you automatically earned a gold star in being an adult. Now that you have your gold star in adulthood, you just need to find a younger person, so that you can tell them that they have no idea what the “real world” is like! Congratulations! Because you’re older, you’re qualified to completely invalidate another human being’s experiences and emotions, and you get to make them anxious about accepting more strenuous responsibilities! Yay!

Sarcasm aside, I never bought into this whole “real world” talk; I couldn’t wrap my head around how it made any sense. To me, telling teenagers that they need to brace themselves for the “real world” is kind of demeaning. It implies that what those teenagers are experiencing isn’t real. It says that all of the stress weighing down on them isn’t real. It also says that those stressors are just baby stuff; wait until you have to pay taxes!

The phrase, “the real world,” reveals the true disconnect between adults and teenagers. Of course, as you age, what bothered you years ago wouldn’t make you bat an eyelash nowadays. Despite this, be honest with yourself, when you were bullied freshman year, or when you found out you couldn’t afford your dream college, or when your prom date left with someone else, did all of that pain and stress suddenly become unreal when you started paying off your house loan?

“The real world” implies that the problems that adults face are, simply, more taxing and more important than a teenager could possibly imagine. It invalidates what young people are feeling about their own situations, which causes undue stress in itself.

Quite honestly, the “real world” is the biggest lie ever told. Ever. Everything we experience in life is the realest of real. It makes no difference what stage of life you’re in; at no point in the human experience, is any situation you’re in not real. You could be worried about a big assignment for your art history class, or worried about how you’re going to pay your gas bill this month. Both of those experiences are valid and in need of attention.

John Mayer says it best,

“…there’s no such thing as the real world// just a lie you’ve got to rise above”
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