During your teenage years, who probably hear the fact that things are totally different in the “real world.” But not one time does anyone ever tell you what that really means. At best, you get a vague “oh you’ll have responsibilities and be on your own with no one to hold your hand.” Well duh, that’s obvious. That’s how things will be for you. No one tells you how you’ll fit into the world around you. And if you decide to stay in your hometown and live out the rest of your life, then that’s all you may ever encounter because you’ll constantly be around the same kind of people. But if you move away to a bigger city full of different people, it becomes so much more than that.
4. You don’t know how low your ceiling was until you’re under a new one.
If you grow up in a small town, you may think that being the star quarterback, homecoming king, valedictorian, or any other status/title that brings you praise and adoration from all of your family and friends is a really big deal and a sign that you’ve achieved the most you possibly can at that point. If you’re totally ignorant (which you are), you might think that you’ll continue to have that same amount of success and always be the top dog wherever you go because you probably didn’t have to put a ton of special effort into being the best to begin with.
But when you become an adult and move to the big city, you quickly find yourself around people who not only accomplished what you did, but also found time to cure cancer, rescue cats from trees, mentor at-risk kids, and travel the world. Suddenly, you realize how not-special you really are because not only are there so many people who did what you did, they also did so much more, have so many more skills, and are generally just so much better (and younger) than you.
3. What you don’t have feels different as an adult.
When you get told “No” as a kid, you get angry toward your parents because they don’t give you a real answer (“Because I said so” doesn’t count as a real answer). And when it happens to you, you might resolve to yourself that when you become an adult, you’re going to get everything you want and get the happiness your parents robbed you from.
And then you become an adult and you realize you still can’t have or be anything you want. And I’m not even talking about wanting ridiculously expensive items like yachts or Bentleys. I’m talking about the simple things in life, such as a strong, supportive social network or the basic ability to interact with people. If you have even just a slight amount of self-awareness, you realize your own shortcomings are the reason you don’t have what you really want. Those who lack that self-awareness to hold themselves accountable tend to blame their problems on the government or other people.
2. People will never understand why you’re not like them.
I’ve written before about how people don’t truly understand me. If you aren’t a stereotypical person who doesn’t do basic things like drink, smoke, gamble, network, or go out, then you’re in this boat too, especially if you’re around people who do some or all of those things. The problem is that people cannot comprehend others who are different from them. If you don’t drink, you’re the one who’s weird. If you’re not regularly hooking up with people, those that do look at you and don’t understand why you’re not all about quantity. Of course there’s nothing wrong with living your life like that, but if it’s not for you, it’s difficult for you to find common ground with people.
So if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t come in to make small talk with everyone and be everyone’s friend, you’re going to get left behind. I come in, do my job, and leave – and I’m very much behind. Will I have the same success as others who schmooze everyone to try to get a leg up? Probably not. If we connect, great. But I’m not about to make a special effort and compromise my own peace of mind to get gains or step all over others.
1. You don’t realize where you went wrong until it’s way too late.
This is where the previous three points culminate into one final, crippling realization. If you grew up being worshipped by everyone because of all the basic stuff you did, you have no idea what you’re doing wrong. By the time you realize everywhere you went wrong, whether it’s decisions you made (or didn’t make) or people you kept or kicked out of your life, you’re so far behind that it will take a dramatic redesign of your life that only continues the circle of realizations I’ve pointed out so far. You’ll continue to realize how far beneath the ceiling you are, you’ll constantly be trying to catch up and achieve the things you always wanted, and people will always point out your changes and how you used to be versus where you are now, still failing to understand why you just can’t be like them.
So instead of warning teenagers of the “real world,” actually explain it to them. Instead of being vague, tell them their adult life will be the result of the environment they’ve created for themselves and grown up in, that they’ll likely never be the best at anything, and that almost everyone around them will constantly question them about the way they are.
And in the past, I would stop there, leaving you with a dark, depressing portrait of how I see the world. Not anymore. I like to think I’ve grown in that regard. Instead, rather than using all of that evidence to wallow in how terrible of a person you are, you can use it as an opportunity for continual self-improvement. You will always have more people who don’t believe in you than those who actually think you’re great. So the key is to find the people who believe in you and never let them out of your sight, because they’ll work to understand you and help you be the person you want and think you should be.