…in which I talk about the “real world,” and what that means to me.
Every now and then I take a look at my life and try to decide if I’m “grown up.” I’m not talking about age or maturity, or even my place in society, but grown up in the child-like vision of “when I grow up.” I honestly can’t remember any of the concepts I had of myself grown up, from when I was a child, but I can’t imagine that this is what I saw. But then again, who idolizes themselves sitting in an office all day managing a computer lab and maintaining a college website?
Viewing my adult self with child-like eyes is a little shocking and at times disappointing. This is not some glamorous career or heroic visage of adulthood, but then again there aren’t that many places where you can achieve that kind of stature. Admittedly, I am educated to be a film maker, but I don’t think I have the teeth for it. You have to be vicious and schmoozy to get anywhere in the film industry, and even with all the right talent, drive, and personality, you still need a metric ton of luck. So yes, I spent years learning how to make film and then discarded it all by taking the lazy road. I never left college.
I had procured a part time, student position here at the College of Visual Arts & Design (at the time the School of Visual Arts) and upon graduating, simply picked up more and more hours. I had to take post graduate classes just to maintain my student standing or be forced to vacate the position for another student to replace me. Maybe I was just really good at my job, or maybe it was just easier to keep me on, but I was never encouraged to move out into the “real world.” I stayed on as a student worker until my position was effectively upgraded into a full time staff position, which has since been reclassified a couple times more.
Duties and tasks have been stacked on as well. This is not trumped up student position, this is as much a full time staff job as any other on campus and the responsibility I feel is genuine. I know that my efforts here are appreciated and that the work that I do is instrumental to the college. But some times I look around and think “how did I get stuck here?” Did I do myself some kind of a disservice by never leaving? Have I sheltered myself from the real world by settling into this closed community?
When I doubt the validity of my life, though, I look to my peers. I look at the other career staff-members on campus and realize that I feel no derision in being counted among them. There are some genuinely good people here who have relegated themselves to serving the University. So when I feel conflicted about my choices, I look at them for validation.
Though, in truth, I shouldn’t need any outside validation. I should be just as comfortable with my life from within. I mean, we own a home and have a child. We deal with “real world” problems with doctors, bills, and insurance. We have the same issues that our “real world” friends have, so why do I feel like I’m not living in the real world? Part of it is probably because I’ve been at this University through several stages of my life. I Started here as a student, I worked here as a student worker, and I’m still here today. I met my wife here and built my life here. It really is the closed community that has surrounded me through what I feel are my formidable years – the years where I stopped being stupid and started being an adult.
So where would I be if someone had encouraged me to venture forth earlier in life? I don’t know, and I’m not sure that it matters. But, ironically, in my time here, we have done just that for a number of our student workers. No less than three student workers in this office were encouraged to move on as they seemed to be getting sucked into the same trap that I had fallen into. Even now, I am saddened to see my student workers go, but I truly believe that there is a point that they have to fly free of this shelter. But pushing them out of the nest can be hard, and uncomfortable. I’ve watched these kids grow up to be young adults and as they stare into the face of the unknown, I feel their pride and fear. They are treading where I never have. They face an unknown future in the “real world,” outside the safety net of the University that cradled them as they grew up.
Some go boldly, fearlessly into the unknown with grit and determination. Some go reluctantly, but with blind optimism. Others dig in their heels and refuse to move on. How do you encourage someone to move forward, if they don’t believe that they’re ready? Harsh concern is a tricky wicket to manipulate. Like a wild animal, rescued and nursed back to health, sometimes they must be driven away with tears in your eyes. It feels heartless and callous to simply drive them away and turn your back on them, but in certain situations, its the only way.
The problem is, I don’t really have the stomach to be that cold. I care for these folks and I want to make sure that they are safe and secure. I want to know that when they leave, they have a place to go. I have been coddled by the University and I can’t imagine anyone living outside of it, so it’s hard for me to callously cast someone out into that world. And yet, it needs to be done.
So the best I can do is encourage them to learn from my uncertainty and regret. I do not regret my life or where it has led to, but I do regret some of the experiences that I’ve missed out on. I am happy with my destination, but I look back upon my path and see a timid trail, lacking in adventure. Of course, I wouldn’t be who or where I am now had I blazed a different trail, but regrets are rarely rational. At this point, I can only hope to inspire others to be more exploratory and throw caution to the wind. See the world and face it with a grin. It’s big. It’s scary. But it’s yours for the taking. Don’t fear the unknown, embrace it and boldly go.
But don’t forget to write, I’m living vicariously through you all.