[dropcap letter="“W"]elcome to the real world,” she said to me, condescendingly. John Mayer couldn’t have gotten it more right, if he tried.
I remember how it was when I graduated a few years ago, and I had all these lofty dreams and aspirations that I had for myself. Then, immediately the day after graduation, I simply rolled up my sleeves and went on air, since I was still a student DJ trainee at the time. It was exciting to finally enter the so-called real world, and find out for myself how greatly different it was. Except it wasn’t.
I was genuinely surprised to discover that the real world was a whole lot like college, after all. The stakes may be higher, and your “grades” now affect how big your “allowance” is, but while the terms and the magnitude of things may have changed, the dynamics clearly haven’t.
For example, think about…
Prepared You For: Falling in line, and red tape.
I hope that even just once in your life, you actually went through the process of enrolling for yourself for even just one semester, instead of relying on your parents to do it for you throughout your college life.
And it doesn’t even matter if it’s one of those newfangled, fancy registrations you get to do almost exclusively online: you still learn the (relatively) hard way that there are lines to be had in life, and anyone who cuts in line should never be given any quarter at all, especially on a rainy payday Friday night when you’re waiting for a taxi.
One can hope that as schools learn to make enrollment faster and faster, our government agencies can start doing more of the same, but for now, imagine the anguish or lack of that you went through during your college enrollment days, and multiply it by five the first time you try to get an NBI clearance.
Prepared You For: Office diplomacy and lateral thinking.
Whereas in high school, there was very little room to negotiate with teachers, college professors are far more known to be amenable to the ways of parlay, although that’s not always a good thing. Unlike family members, whose personalities are relatively predictable to us after all these years, a college professor you could possibly encounter for only one semester and never again afterwards is all sorts of unpredictable.
There is no surefire way to ask for an extension with your prof, or to ask her to grade your class on a curve. At this point, you learn to discover new ways to coax your instructors in the direction you want them to go, and this is an invaluable skill to have when you enter the corporate world.
Doing your job and being good at it is just one part of what makes a person successful. Another important part is when you understand that there are ways to get what you want without making other people feel threatened, and that is the fine art of diplomacy that you so carefully honed by buttering up your Accounting prof to postpone the long exam to next week while you debated your Philosophy prof just to notch that B you needed to make the Dean’s List.
Prepared You For: Fluid and volatile office factions.
It’s fairly common to have a “solid” barkada in high school, whereas in college, that’s a bit tougher to pull off if you end up having a whole bunch of different classmates in a huge campus. Even in the org you frequent, members come and go as the years go by, and gone are the days where only the nerds get to hang with the nerds and only the jocks get to hang with the jocks.
In college, the cliques are a little less homogeneous, and that’s how it usually is in the office: sometimes, the threads connecting each other are actually as tenuous as “everyone in this clique drinks coffee on the dot every 8:47 AM,” so people can come and go into cliques most of the time, with minimal consequences.
If you only came into the work environment expecting the kind of iron-clad factions that were the norm in high school, you might be surprised to find out that being a social butterfly works more to your advantage in the workplace.
Prepared You For: Terror bosses who don’t actually quite measure up to your terror teachers.
Whether it was the impossible dream of achieving an “A” in Philosophy, or merely making it through History class without breaking into tears, there is a certain masochistic pride in taking on your school’s terror teacher, and living to tell the tale. What makes these profs very intimidating also tend to be the things that make them admirable: rarely do you ever encounter a terror teacher who is actually an idiot.
That isn’t always the case with terror bosses, though. The tragic reality is that while in college, the scariest profs are also often the best profs, in real life, the scariest bosses also tend to be the worst ones. Not that all great bosses have to be goody-two shoes, or a pushover: good bosses simply have to be fair, and the scariest bosses rarely have that going for them.
How do terror profs prepare you for terror bosses? By reminding you that you’ve had worse back then, and like the terror prof that you managed to get past, you too, can overcome this temporary and ultimately inferior obstacle. Surely, to get through your terror prof, you didn’t engage in any shouting matches with her. Well, don’t get started with your terror boss, either.
Prepared You For: Hell Year.
In college, there was always that crunch time we called “Hell Week,” which referred to the week when all your deadlines, tests, and maybe even finals started crashing together. It was always a relief to see that week pass us by, and we longed for the end of the semester shortly thereafter.
When you get to the working life, welcome to Hell Year. Which isn’t to say that the next year gets any less hectic, mind you. Just that deadlines, projects, meetings, requirements, and all of that never really stop coming after a week, and even if they might, that’s never an excuse to slack off, which was hopefully a lesson you learned already while you were still studying.
Prepared You For: Taking the initiative and accepting credit when it is due to you.
One of the worst things an employee can do is to just punch in, do their thing, and punch out afterwards. Not that there aren’t any worse employees than that, mind you: but underachieving at your job really is a disservice to your own capabilities.
Exemptions in final exams was a merit-based means for students to take the initiative to do so well that the professor will throw you a bone to make your Hell Week just a little easier to bear. You have to show without a doubt that you are qualified for it, and that means making sure that you get credit when credit is due, which many employees shy away from doing - only to grouse about that one guy who always grabs the credit because everyone was too shy to do so.
Exemptions reminded you that doing above and beyond what is expected of you was rewarding. All you need to understand is that even without exemptions, doing above and beyond what is expected of you is rewarding in and by itself.
Prepared You For: Group dynamics, or failing that, learning how to work alone. Also, to recognize that one guy.
During college, you probably had group projects where everyone had to pull their share and make something big happen. If, in all your projects, you never felt anyone wasn’t keeping up with everyone else and being that one guy who would end up getting the same grade as all of you for the least amount of work, then that one guy was probably you.
In the work environment, you will always be a part of the team, and in every team, there will almost always be someone who is giving so little when the rest are giving so much. Or conversely, it could be only one person is putting in all the effort, and everyone else rides on her coattails. That could happen, too. You get to understand all these subtle dynamics at work during college group work in a low-risk environment, and one does hope you have not experienced how it is to work extra hard just to compensate for the possibility all your groupmates would betray you in the end. If you have, though, be prepared to relive that experience many more times in your working life.
So don’t be that one guy who grabs credit for no effort at all. But don’t be his favorite victim, either.
Prepared You For: Managing expectations, and realizing that life isn’t always fair.
If your school happened to be UAAP or NCAA men’s basketball champions, just look at how revered your basketball team is, and how many perks they get that have absolutely nothing to do with how good they are in the classroom. Quiz exemptions? Bonus points? Extra credit? Sometimes, they get that, less often times, they don’t. But you can’t deny that they are held in such high esteem, whether or not you feel they deserve it.
Meanwhile, you study and work hard, and you may or may not get a fair share, but whatever you do in the classroom, for an agonizing few months, will be completely overshadowed by whether or not the basketball team manages to win the big one. And unless your name is Chris Tiu, that’s probably how it’s going to be for the rest of your life when you graduate in college.
It’s not all gloom and doom, but don’t expect to make a six-digit salary in an executive position when you get out of college. While the eminence of the basketball team is long established regardless of which players are there, you have to prove your mettle in ways they never had to. And you will meet people who seem to not know what they’re doing, and you’re so full of energy and great ideas, and it annoys you to no end that it seems they are resistant to what you have to offer, without realizing that more often than not, you’re not the first person to think of that great idea you think you have, and they found out long before you came along why it won’t work.
You learn a lot from college. You learn a lot of the things you would need for your life, especially if you end up working in something related to your course after you graduate. But more than what the curriculum tells you, college inadvertently teaches you that not everything is as neatly lined up and packaged in life as college purports it to be—precisely because even the supposed bastion of organization and linearity, the academe itself, falters in this very objective.
If an institution meant to be as systematic and organized by nature as the academe itself cannot achieve this, how could you expect it from the so-called real world? You can’t. And because you can’t, you start looking at every little thing you did in college that didn’t seem to fit in or make sense, and realize that in the long run, they fit in and make sense with the rest of your life. And that’s when you find the motivation to flourish.
Yet, calling life beyond the academe the “real world” does beg the question-is this world any more real than the world the student already exists in? Why? Because you have to do a job now? That’s an arbitrary distinction in a world where there are people who can’t work, won’t work, or never need to work.
Ultimately, all of life is just a stage you’re on until it’s time to get off of it.
Were you sufficiently prepared for the real world? Share some protips for or younger readers in the Comments Section.