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What is this “Real World” Thing?


It is now August 2013, and I have officially hit a new point in my life: for the first time *ever* (Note the asterisks, demarcating the importance of the word “ever.” I’d do caps, but I’m not going to subject you, dear reader, to any Kanye-ing on the very first post. You’re welcome.) I’m not getting ready for the next school year. Finally, at the age of 23, I have stopped going to school and am now entering the “Real World” that I’ve been hearing so much about.

I’ve been actively avoiding the real world for as long as I could feasibly get away with without losing my sanity in the classroom. Back in spring 2010, with college graduation looming frighteningly close at a mere year away, I decided that I would buy myself some more time in the classroom by applying to get a Master’s in Creative Writing. I did this for a multitude of reasons, the primary ones being:

  • I wanted to become a better writer, and practice (with forced deadlines) makes perfect.
  • I wanted to try to wait out the recession, because maybe if the country weren’t in the grips of economic strife when I graduated I’d have companies hounding me left and right to work for them (because that’s what happens when you get a BA in English and a Master’s in writing. Yup. Totally what happens.) Image
  • I’m comfortable and happy in classrooms.

This last one was the big unspoken reason as to why I decided to spend an extra two years in school. I know classrooms. I’ve been in classrooms since I was 5, and I’ve been incredibly successful in classrooms since I was 5. Lectures, discussion sections, workshops, these have all been my kingdoms for the last 18 years, and I can maneuver my way through them half asleep because I learned the unspoken academic world’s “systems” and the various underlying formulas years ago.

The real world, however, is alien to me, and alien things plague me with self-doubt and insecurities. I don’t always like leaving my comfort zone, and leaving the school environment to go into the working world was definitely me leaving my comfort zone. I didn’t know the working world’s systems the way I know the school world’s systems. In all honesty, I still don’t really know them. I will learn them—I don’t have much of a choice in that regard, in all honesty— but the prospect of going into the unknown makes me a bit uncomfortable, and, at twenty, the idea was downright terrifying. What if I’m not as good in the working world as I was in school? What if my training wasn’t as good as I think it is? What if I’m only a good student, not a good worker?

That’s how undergrad-me thought, anyway, and those insecurities and self-doubts led me to pack my bags a mere 2 months after I graduated from UC Davis with my B.A. and move down to L.A. to start my Master’s program at USC. This decision ended up benefiting me in more ways than I could have imagined. My writing (predictably) improved, as did my discipline in adhering to deadlines and my ability to read and critique my peers’ work. I learned to write in disciplines I’d never tried before, and I even started writing a novel.

But in addition to this, and this was something I never expected to happen, I started learning about the real world. Living on my own hundreds of miles away from my family and core friend group for the first time in my life forced me to grow up, to find myself, find what inspired me outside of the classroom while still having the classroom present to offer me a supporting net to fall back on should I ever need it. I worked to keep myself from getting lonely in my studio apartment; I worked as a student “assistant” (read: minimal wage peon who did all the work the important people didn’t want to do), as a tutor and grammar instructor for primarily ESL students at USC, and I interned at a literary management agency and a development agency. And you know what? Not only did I figure out the systems in each and every one of these jobs, but I was successful at them too. I *was* as good in the working world as I was in school. My training *was* as good as I thought it was. I *am* a good worker, not just a good student.Image

Now, at 23 and knocking on the gates of the real world, I’m no longer cowering in the corner crippled with anxiety the way I was at 20 over the prospect of not returning to the classroom at the end of this month. Sure, I have a little anxiety; who doesn’t have at least a little anxiety when starting something completely new, especially when it comes to finding a job in this economy? (If you say you don’t, you’re a liar and you should feel bad about it.) But this anxiety is microscopic compared to the excitement I feel about starting this latest journey in my life. The time has come, my little friends, to discover this new Real World thing and figure out where my place in it is going to be.



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