Monday, July 25, 2011

Get a "Real" Life!!

I kind of love words. So much so, that I almost went the path of Anthropology for my undergraduate just so I could study Sociolinguistics in grad school. It turns out I got enough of a taste of linguistics through my German major and some of my own dappling to know it wasn't the path for me. Nonetheless, Semantics, or the meaning of words, is something I enjoy pondering, hence this post I wrote a while back. Well, I have another one of those for you today.

The pet-peeve phrase in question: "real life."

It seems like everywhere I go and at each new stage of my life, someone suggests that I am getting closer to "real life." When I graduated from high school, when I went to college, when I got married, when I had my baby and on and on and on.

I hate to admit it, but I've even caught myself thinking about others this way a couple times. When one of the girls in the single's ward we were serving in suggested that, "When you get married, you don't get to play anymore. And you have bills to pay and stuff!" I had to bite my tongue just a little bit. (I'll get to addressing this.)

This notion of a "real life" (or lack of one) pops up in conversation all the time:

"When I get a real job . . ."

"When we live where we're really going to live . . ."

Others use the phrase in more subtle terms in discussing marriage, "Oh, you don't really know what it's like to be married. You're still living in the honeymoon phase."

Or with children, "You don't really know what it's like to be a mom - you only have one baby."

"You don't really know what it's like to work - you're a student."

And another example that will be better understood by the Mormon (BYU community) are "Single's" and "Married Student" wards - church congregations composed of single members or young married couples/families going to the university. Because of the transient nature of these congregations, it is often suggested in passing that these are not, "real wards" and that the positions held/callings were not "real." They are "training grounds" but most certainly not "real."

So, apparently anyone who is single, childless, a student, renting (as opposed to owning), happily married, living at home, living off of student loans/parental income, or is just generally in any sort of transient or unique position in life, is not living a "real life."

Some may scoff, but I believe in the power of words to influence how we think and feel about ourselves and those around us. Here's why I can't stand the phrase, "real life" (and why I think we should avoid it in our everyday speech):
  • It is insensitive to the very real difficulties people face in transient or unique situations.
  • It encourages dissatisfaction with one's present situation.
  • It suggests the notion that unless one is miserable with a spouse, children, a job - that you are out of touch with reality.
  • The idea that one small snapshot of one lifestyle is everyone's ultimate destination.
  • It suggests that those who have not met the checklist of "real life" are not accomplishing anything.
  • If you fit the mold of "real life" you have arrived at the pinnacle of all understanding and wisdom in the world.
  • It encourages an "I'm wiser than you because I've lived x# of years longer and/or I have had x# of experiences you haven't had. You just don't understand anything" attitude.
  • It creates emotional barriers (not bridges) in being able to get to really know and appreciate people for who they are and what they have accomplished.
  • It creates a cop-out for those in a transitory position in life, to not make their situation better than it is.
  • It suggests there is only one possible valid reality for every person.
Sure, I kind of understand why people say this "real life" phrase. But, it's lame. Why not try something a little more thoughtful and actually constructive?

For example, here's my advice to the so-called "not-really-living-people":

To the single (not mentally handicapped) 30 year old living in his parent's basement: Mentally/emotionally/physically capable individuals who are not adolescents should provide for themselves. It'll be difficult, but it'll do you good.

To the single girl who's parents pay for her bills and her fun: Enjoy that fun on your parents' dime! At some point though, pretty much everyone - married, single, in a relationship - has bills to pay. You may not be able to be as free in your spending as you have been. But, it's ok. It will fuel your creativity to have financial obstacles in the path of your fun. In fact, you may even find it's actually more rewarding to pay for things yourself.

To the members of single's or married student wards: Congratulations! You are in quite a unique situation in life right now. Even though you will be in your congregation for a short time, treasure it. You will probably make some of the best friends of your life. Oh, and just in case you forgot let me remind you that you are a real person, with really good ideas, and the other people in your ward are real people too! You can influence them, and they can influence you - for the better - should you choose to take on the challenge.

To the student: Good luck, congratulations, I feel for you, you are privileged. Have fun, study hard, have direction, find more value in your education than just the job it (may) provide.

To the person with a "fake" (part-time/temporary/not-end goal) job: Your "fake" job is still a job. You have an obligation. You show up, you work, you get paid. It may not be where you want to end up, but it will still pop up on your resume for the rest of your life . . . Besides, if you hate it so much, change it. I suggest you read this book. It will change how you think about your work.

To the person who is renting an apartment/basement/home/box: Buy or make decorations for the holidays. Paint a wall. Build a shelf. Make the place better than it was before you lived there. You'll enjoy it more. You may end up living there longer than you had planned.

To the young new mom with a husband in med school (myself): It will be quite a while before you are settled in the location where you choose to live permanently. It will be quite a while before you are making an income as opposed to living on student loans. It will be quite a while before you pay off those student loans too. Don't day dream too much about the position you'll be in by the time you're 40 - you might miss some really great things about life now.

To my "first" baby: I still miss you so much sometimes. Your life was, and is still, real. Your little life touched mine forever. Thank you for the gift of your life in my own.

To my 5 month old son: You are learning so much every day! You know, you still have a lot of learning to do. But I'm loving seeing you grow and develop on your own journey. I can't wait to see what you'll learn next!

To everyone: Live your life like everything you did, said, or thought matters - because it really does. Treat the transient situations as though they are permanent, and your life will be richer for having done so.

6 comments:

  1. I'm not really sure how that phrase is offensive. I've never thought of it being offensive in any way. I think that all of us understand at this point we're in a transitional stage, hence the term "real-life", refers to when you're more settled, and you're no longer transitioning. There's a real comfort from knowing that one day, we won't be taking classes, we won't be renting, and we won't be in BYU wards where the retention rate is about 4 months. I can't think of a single person who doesn't look forward to being a little more settled and having solid ground under their feet - and there's nothing wrong with looking forward to that day, and reminding yourself of what's yet to come to get you through the harder transitional stages. I myself, look forward to "real Life" with the comforts that come with it, and I can't think of anyone who doesn't look forward to 'Real Life". Sorry if I offended you, I just don't get how that is offensive in any way.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I haven't thought about this before. I guess, we just have to remember to be grateful for where we are at in our life.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm kind of with Amber on this one. I use the phrase all the time and don't think it is offensive at all. Still good post though.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @ Amber: Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree - there IS a real comfort in knowing that life will one day be more settled and less transitory than it currently is. I understand where you're coming from, I've had times as a student where I thought, "If I can just make it through this semester, this test, this weekend, etc. I'll be ok!" And personally, I know I really look forward to the day when Squire and I can settle down in the place of our choosing, make an income instead of live on loans, and own our own home, etc. But for us (and a lot of others in our situation) settling down is still another 10-15 years down the road. That day isn't coming for a LONG time. I just think that it is easy to live your life in that forward-thinking mindset and before you know it you have wished your whole life away to the future, only to look back and think, "I wish I would have treasured that time a little more." The transitory time period for us is going to be so long, if I get my mind set too much on the future I can see me not appreciating it as much as I might have. I know that's true for myself actually, because I have already spent portions of my life wishing it away to the future. And, I'm not so much offended by the term "real life" as I am annoyed(?) or just wish that we expressed our thoughts about this transitory time in way that recognizes this time as worth investing our hearts in a bit more. And who knows? Maybe the "real life on the other side" won't be as green as we think? I sort of think it won't be, UNLESS we get accustomed to valuing whatever stage we're in, right now. You know what I'm saying?

    @ Suzy and Vanessa: Thanks for reading and considering my post. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I get it Jaime. I totally get it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Love this post. Real life isn't about arrival. Real life is the transition because you will never arrive at the ever elusive point of settling down. New unforseen challenges arise, and with traditional human creativity we take on those challenges. Life will never get more real than right now, why dull it by pretending it will get better? It may, but how exactly could you know? No moment should be more glorious than the one your in. How else, as the Greeks say, "do we live a life that Gods will envy?"

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...