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When Two Worlds Collide: College vs. The “Real World”

I graduated college a year and a half ago, and a lot has changed

I traded a college town for New York City, a class schedule for a job, single life for a new relationship, a dorm room for an apartment, and rule-following for complete independence. When so many tangible factors in a person’s life change, it follows that the person herself would change as well. And so I have. In separating my college self from “real” life, I’ve grown up. However, while I feel more secure, more confident and much more independent than I did in college, I have been on my own for so short a time that my world sometimes feels precariously balanced, and I, vulnerable.

I have therefore found that the stress of living in the “real world” manifests itself not as I create my own real world, but as I learn to let others into it.

Starting a new job is easy; feeling the pressure to justify why your job is a good career move is the hard part. Getting a paycheck is fun; dodging questions from some random acquaintance about how much money you make is awkward. Going out at night in a new city is a wonderful declaration of independence; running into people you knew a long time ago can make you feel very young, and very small.

Last Saturday I found myself stuck in a conversation (interrogation, really) about old college drama.

Instead of reacting, I tried to channel all of my thoughts and emotions into remaining calm and polite, and in appearing neutral towards topics that still upset me. I totally shot myself in the foot; by the time I extracted myself from the conversation, I was feeling not only hurt by the words of the boy with whom I had been talking, but also incredibly frustrated with myself for bottling up my emotions and not sticking up for myself.

I ended up spending the rest of the night in tears, trying to figure out why I had been so incapable of bringing any sense of self-confidence to this inappropriate conversation. I woke up on Sunday feeling exhausted – and just plain mad at myself for letting a conversation with this acquaintance trigger such an emotional reaction. I hated that he had been able to so deeply affect and upset me, and wondered if being left so upset after this run-in indicated that the years since college hadn’t made me stronger or confident at all.

In the end, the moral of this story is not about controlling emotions, or even about properly timing the freak-outs that post-college life will invariably bring.

Instead, the moral is that it just may be okay if your world isn’t totally perfect, or if you, in your world, aren’t perfect; in fact, imperfection seems to be part of what makes this crazy “real world” feel real. Even though we have graduated college and no longer see the same set group of people every Saturday night, we all still place our opinions, thoughts, and even judgments on each other. And because we sometimes do feel so young and vulnerable, one negatively charged encounter can leave us feeling ready to just break in half. But I guess it’s hard to put yourself back together until you let yourself break.

Ebbe Sweet is a blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.