Most of us have heard the phrase “the real world” expressed in our direction at one point or another. Usually this phrase is spoken to us as a rebuttal against idealistic discontent. “The way things should be” is sacrificed on the altar of “the way things are.” This is often seen as a generational battle, but in truth, it is a battle against the “haves” and the “have nots.” Change is always undesirable to those in comfort, and demanded by those in need.
In business, this battle is often generational. Those who have worked and labored for their positions, salaries, and reputation are now embattled, embittered, and enjoying some level of deferred gratification are not eager to make changes, learn new things, or give themselves extra work. The young have not experienced much pain, nor have much to lose and seem careless, nieve, and to make it worse, appear foolishly arrogant to their predecessors, if not intimidatingly reckless.
The idealist and the cynic both stake a claim on “the real world”. Both are wrong. As each generation is born, the world we live in is not “the real world” but rather the world of the generation before us. The wisdom of the parent becomes the rules for the child, experience becomes tradition, and the insightful becomes the obvious. When the pain of a generation settles into some level of success and comfort a collective reality is formed for the next generation in the hopes that they don’t screw it up.
So here is the challenge of the young: To rise to the demands of the previous generation long enough to grow its own strength, then to begin to discern what it can keep from its predecessors and what it needs to discard. Since we learn through positive and negative feedback, our journey is polluted by the artificial negative feedback from our predecessors telling us “stop”, “you’re doing it wrong”, “that’s stupid”. Somehow the young have to filter that false feedback while still getting our butts kicked by the natural world.
The young never make it all the way. First of all, we can’t do it alone. At some point we reach a compromise between the way things are, our own idealism, and what we managed to figure out before our strength gave way. Each generation taking another step, and then repeating the cycle for the next. So the truth about “the real world” is that we still have no idea what it really even is, because we haven’t gotten there yet.
Mankind moves together, whether we like it or not. Those who see how far we have to go never live to see us get there. The saints of our generation are those who invest in change that carries through the next generation. This is the ultimate selflessness we must rise to if this world is ever to really change for the better. Not to send our lives creating a bubble of comfort for ourselves, but to plant seeds of the trees we will never sit under.
When people say “the real world sucks”, just smile and politely point out, “no, YOUR world sucks.” I bet “the real world” is actually much better than one we have created. That is what I believe even though I will never find out. If I push hard enough, however, maybe my children will get a peek.