When I was in college, I remember hearing the same thing over and over again.

“Just wait until you’re in the real world…”

“You’ll miss college when you’re in the real world…”

“The real world will make this seem like a cake walk…”

Real world this. Real world that. Like somehow the life I was living in college was pretend. Like millions of college students across the United States - nay, around the world - do not really exist until they get that cap and gown and that magical piece of paper that assures them a job.

During your college days, you have two choices:

  1. You can be the typical college kid, partying and hooking up and going to class hungover.
  2. You can study your ass off, skipping anything that even remotely smells like fun to avoid pissing on your future.

At least, those are the two choices that “they” present us with, “they” being professors, parents, and older and “wiser” people who are looking out for your well being. In one breath, “they” say that you need to enjoy the time you have because things are drastically different in the real world and it won’t be fun and games anymore. In the next breath they tell you that if you fuck up now, your future is doomed - that when you get to the real world, you’ll find yourself wishing you could go back and get an A in history.

There’s a third choice that no one seems to recognize, but it’s the choice I personally believe that everyone should take:

3. Treat every day as if you’re already in the real world. Because you are.

The fact of the matter is that in the real world that everyone’s so paranoid about, there are a ton of bills. You can choose to be responsible and pay them or you can choose to spend that money on beer. Sounds like college, right?

In the real world you can do work or you can hang out with friends, waste time online, watch television, etc. Sounds like college, right?

In the real world you have people nagging you to get stuff done (bosses and spouses usually), and you can listen to them or face the consequences. Sounds like college, right?

I see it every spring - and I went through it myself. Every college student freaks out about suddenly not having their shit together. Who will I be? What will I do? Where will I live? WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME NEXT?

If you start working on those questions today, if you start treating today like the real world, graduation will just be another thing you can check off your list. It doesn’t have to be a big, scary life event. Sure, it’s a change, and with every change comes different responsibilities. But it’s only when you live in the college bubble and make your life about some kind of sheltered world that you find yourself unable to deal with this transition.

And here’s another secret: All those questions that I listed? They don’t suddenly get answered when you graduate. The real world - the REAL real world, that is, is about figuring it out. There’s no manual. There’s no step-by-step direction sheet that I or anyone else out there can give you. You can’t buy a magical book or DVD or whatever to give you the answers any more than your diploma really is a magical piece of paper to get you any job you want. We’re all on this earth just trying to figure it out. And that’s okay. Maybe that’s even what life is about - living in the real world every day, doing your best no matter what, learning what you can, and passing it on.

So you want to live in the real world now?

  • Get a job - an internship or part-time job - in your desired field, or at least in a professional field if you don’t know yet what you want to do for sure. In other words, try to work somewhere that requires business attire before turning to the mall or fast food for employment.
  • If you do end up in a throw-away type of job (i.e., something for money rather than something in your desired field), make the most of it by advancing to a leadership position if possible and doing you best so your boss is willing to give you a recommendation in the future.
  • Find moderation between work and fun. It’s okay to skip class sometimes. It’s okay to skip parties sometimes. There will always be more time for work and more time for play.
  • Start paying your own bills. If your parents insist on helping you, have them give you a lump sum every month and still go through the process of paying everything. You’ll learn what things cost, how to balance a checkbook, and other money management skills. Having bills in your name is also good for your credit.
  • Slowly begin collecting furnishing for your first apartment. If you don’t want to live with mom and dad, you’ll need not just rent money, but also enough cash to pay for a bed, couches, kitchen utensils, etc. That stuff adds up. All throughout college, I collected stuff at yard sales, at the Salvation Army, from people who were moving, and so forth, so my costs right after graduation were much lower.
  • Get on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook and start connecting with people in your desired field. When you’re job hunting someday, they’ll already know you and be willing to help you.
  • Learn. All you can. Just learn.

College students - what scares you most about the “real world” ? And for those of you who have already graduated - what tips would you add to this list?

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