The Real World: Life After College

by Michael T. Owens

After an extra year of messing around in college I had enough. I mean I could only hide from the "real" world for so long. I knew that soon I'd have to face the music, take it like a man, bite the bullet, and jump feet first into society. I didn't land a super job with excellent benefits and outrageous stock options; actually, I didn't land a job at all! I ended up doing what many other students and young professionals were doing-- moving back home till something came along!

I lined up interviews with dozens of potential employers. Some ended up being "bum" jobs, others pyramid networking schemes. No real prospects. Bills were pilling up, my folks were getting agitated, and I was ready to get out of town! Finally, I enlisted the help of a temp agency and in a couple of days was working at a great company doing the most important job in a corporation--working in the mailroom! Yep, I had just earned a double degree in Communication for Business and Sociology, and I was pushing a small metal cart through the company halls. Of course I was discouraged at first, but at least I got paid... a little. Besides, I wasn't there for a career; I was only there during my "transition" stage.

After the first month as a prestigious mailroom clerk, I was getting disgruntled and fed up. Is that a surprise? I wondered, was this what I spent five years in college for? Was I destined to be the fastest mail clerk in the company? Where was I headed? Then the second month rolled around...once again I sent out a blitz of resumes and cover letters... once again my efforts proved fruitless. So I stopped, temporarily gave up, and continued working graciously in the mailroom. I wrapped a mean package! Cutting, weighing, and stamping mail was my specialty...I guess.

For a split second I was content in that mailroom, and then I came to my senses. I sent out one more resume to a company advertising in the newspaper. It wasn't even the type of job I wanted, but hey, I was in a mailroom, I couldn't be too picky! The next day, surprisingly, I received a phone call. A representative of the company called to ask a few questions. We must have talked a good forty minutes about everything; and I was invited to visit the next day. Of course I did! A day later, while at my mailroom post, I got a call and an offer! I didn't hesitate at all. I accepted and gave my resignation to the Mailroom Supervisor that same day!

Finally, I had a job. I rejoiced, my parents rejoiced.. and then I rejoiced even more! I was out of college and into the workforce. Me against the real world. This is how things were supposed to be. At least that's what society said.

From the days of grade school to college, we are conditioned to accept certain societal ways. Uh oh, I feel the Sociology side of me rising. Anyway, we're told that the way to a good, rewarding life was to go to school, do good in school, listen to the teacher, and follow the rules. As youths we're promised that if we do those things, we'd be happy. "Do good in high school so you can get into a good college, so you can get into a good company."

College wasn't for everyone, and conversely, corporate America wasn't either. The "perfect" life model wasn't so easily accomplished. My first realization of the reality of the real world (say that real fast three times), came while I was a sophomore in high school. I began my infinite trek into the real world at the tender age of sixteen. Even though it was simply a small taste of the future to, I knew I already had enough.

As a bag boy at a local grocery store, I was making a whopping $5.15 an hour. I had a goal to earn enough money to gain my freedom (in teenage terms that translates to a car). While working at the store, I got to know my co-workers well--maybe too well. One of the cashiers, let's call her Sally Mary Sue Smith, had a Master's degree! A Master's degree! If you didn't hear me, I said a Master's degree! And she was earning a tad more than my measly pay. After finding out this tidbit of information, I was dumbfounded. Why?

Well, just like all of us great American folks, I was taught that if you got an education, you'd bet set in life. Education is the key to ending poverty.. right? Go to school, get your degree, and you'll start making tons of money. All of these philosophies and ideas that were socially embedded into my worldview, had been flipped upside down! How could our great American way of life let this happen? I heard stories of people with all kinds of education working dead-end jobs, but it never really registered (no pun intended) until I worked side by side with Sally Mary Sue Smith, the cashier with a Master's degree. And it wasn't an isolated incident. It was a phenomenon occurring all to frequently in America. Education can certainly increase your life chances to become somewhat happy, but it's certainly no guarantee. My example of Sally Mary Jane, or was it Sally Mary Sue or whatever her name was illustrates that!

We all know someone, or have heard stories of people with little or no education at all who become millionaires. And what about people that actually did attend some sort of college, but did poorly. If you do your research, you will find a surprising amount of America's richest people weren't superb students. Personally, I was one of those students who did just enough. I was capable of doing the work, but I was lazy and lost interest really quick. College was just a quick way to get away from home and start my own life. A big vacation if you will. Some people chose the armed forces for the same reasons. But I was certainly not military material! Maybe going to the military was also just an alternate path to having a "happy" life. But how come our educational system doesn't promote enlisting into the armed forces as they do the university system? Aren't soldiers just as important as America's top college CEO hopefuls?

Anyway, after all of the babbling I have subjected you to, I sit here typing away in my apartment nestled in the heart of suburbia. I'm no super expert, but I have been in the real world long enough to get benefits! Being pimped by corporate America isn't my idea of a fabulous life, but it keeps my electricity on so I can type this.

Taking that long journey into the real world can be frightening when you've been sheltered by the safe confines of college or university life. Heck, I'm still adjusting to LAC (Life After College), but I think I've overcome the initial shock of not being able to skip work like I skipped class. I hope my mother isn't reading this! Never-the-less who knows, I may turn my memoirs into a fascinating book for you to read while you're sitting in the doctor's office, sitting in the front seat of your best friend's, brother's old roommate's Lexus or on the toilet...

The Real World: Life After College by Michael T. Owens

© Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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