We Are Always in the “Real World”

#DailyWings: The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” -Audrey Hepburn

A couple years ago, when I went home for holiday break, I came across a paperback literary magazine while rummaging through my sister’s old things one night. (I know what you must be thinking: “Oooh, you were snooping around!” I totally wasn’t! Well, sort of. I was browsing her closet for clothes to wear. ;))

The literary magazine was from our middle school, Edward Devotion in Boston. Both my sister, who’s five years older, and I have always loved to write, so it didn’t shock me when I saw her name in the table of contents juxtaposed with the name of a poem, Bubbles. I opened the magazine and flipped to the page that contained her poem. It was a cute rhyme about helping a toddler with dumpling-soft skin take a bath, popping bubbles and exchanging dimple smiles.

I almost fell off the bed when I realized the poem was about me.

An instant wave of nostalgia washed over me like it always does whenever I go through faded yearbooks and picture albums and other tokens of our childhood (I like to do this often, just to remind myself about the other two decades of my life that have already passed me by). Although I couldn’t recall that particular memory of taking a bath, it was easy to remember my little Brandeis blue bath tub meant for small children and the checkered tile bathroom floor. The way my sister shampooed my hair until it stood on the ends.

Flash forward to the present. My sister and I are no longer in school. She’s a lawyer in Ohio, and I’m a marketing coordinator for an executive recruitment firm in North Carolina. Whenever I tell my friends who are still in school that I work at a recruiting firm, this is how our conversation goes:

“I’m sorry, did you say recording?”

“Recruiting.”

“Oh, that sounds neat!…what do y’all do?”

I give the most basic, brief explanation about how we help other companies fill their positions, trying hard not to use “RPO” and “industry expertise” and other phrases that would put me into “marketing” mode.

“That sounds professional. You’re, like, in the real world now.”

This is the phrase that always gets to me, and I’m not sure how to respond except with a measly, “Yeah…”

I never really understood why people call post-graduate life “the real world.” What’s more real about an 8-to-5 work schedule, a cubicle sandwiched in between two other cubicles and a paycheck? They’re not any more real than, say, a textbook. Now, there is something to be said about being able to make a living for yourself. It feels good because you’re independent and you’re learning how to be on your own without the help of your parents. You’re making your own choices.

But it’s just a new experience like any other. There is no such thing as “the real world” and the worlds we were living in before “the real world.” This is real. Right now.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? On one hand, we grumble our way through more than a decade of school, yearning to be free and “on our own.” Yet, once we actually start a career, we miss having blocks of free time and being able to have home-cooked meals in the brick house with the blue shutters we grew up in.

I’m thinking about bubbles again. I imagine myself sitting in that Brandeis blue bath tub, except I’m grown up and alone. I’m popping bubbles one at a time. I see reflected in one bubble my parents and nurses taking care of me after school. I pop it. In another bubble, I see myself as a happy, bouncy child, not yet aware of life’s injustices. Pop. In the final bubble, I see the people and places that make up the university I went to, UNC-Chapel Hill. I pop it, too.

Perhaps this is what people mean by “the real world” – a place with no safety bubbles or rose-colored glasses. I wish I could go back to those days with my sister, when she would blast the shower head over my hair and then soak it suds. But I am not six years old anymore, and we got rid of the Brandeis blue bath tub years and years ago. There were scratches all over the sides, and the slip-proof bath mat was starting to unstick from the bottom.

Some of my friends in school, when they realize I’m in the “real” workforce, tell me they’re afraid of the future. Others say they cannot wait for it. Instead of waiting for the world or for our circumstances to change, for better or for worse, why not just start now? It’s never too early – or too late -to learn from your mistakes and make your life the way you want it to be.

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3 responses to “We Are Always in the “Real World””

  1. Once upon a time, while I was in college, my sister basically implied by way of conversation that my opinions on politics and government were not valid, because I did not live IN THE REAL WORLD. I had never been so angry with her in my life. We ARE always in the real world!! And having a job doesn’t make us any more IN THE REAL WORLD than we were before we got a job — and I am not less in the real world because I’m a full time writer, working from home in my pajamas, than someone working a 9-5 job in an office.

    all of this to say — I totally 100% agree with this message!

  2. Mia Hayson says:

    Wendy, this is the most beautiful post I have read in a long time. Living in a place without safety bubbles is daunting, often unexpected, and a little confusing, but it’s also amazing. Life is what you make of it, I guess. The “real world” is so transient I like to enjoy the things I can when I find them.

    Also omg you’re all grown up and so is your fabulous website omg.

    <3 <3 <3

  3. Wendy Lu says:

    Amalia – Exactly! We all have our own realities, and whatever our lifestyles may be (whether they may be 9-to-5, quirky or just uncommon), our experiences are just as real and validated as anyone else’s.

    Mia – Thank you so, so much for your sweet words. It really means a lot. I think I am still learning how to overcome my fears and plunge out of the few “safety bubbles” I’m still floating in these days. Thank you for your continued support over the years; love youuu

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