I really, really hate how condescending people can be to students sometimes, especially high school students. We’ve probably heard the same song and dance.

“When you’re in the Real World, people won’t give you detailed instructions!”

“You think you have problems now? Wait until you get into the Real World!”

“High school/College is really the best time of your life”

The phrase Real World is capitalized for a reason – I don’t think these people are talking about the same thing as the real world, so it’s only natural to differentiate it. Because if we aren’t living in the real world, where the heck are we?

Naturally when people use this phrase, they don’t mean it literally unless they have a very different understanding of reality than most people. What they mean is that there’s this fundamental idea of the Real World where people don’t really cater to you, where there’s less structure, and where you more or less have to fend for yourself for the most part. To some extent, this is true. But I think people who espouse this ‘advice’ are ignoring or ignorant of the following two facts:

  • Students of any age can be dealing with serious Real World type problems, up to and including things like having to work to feed their families. Even the ones who are doing fine are likely to know at least one peer who isn’t.
  • The lack of external structure and care giving is, at least ideally, meant to be replaced by intrinsic structure and self care as a person grows. These are skills that people are “supposed” to be learning on the side as they go through school.

Because of these facts, this sort of sentiment is absolutely useless. The reason school does not resemble the Real World is because students are ostensibly supposed to be learning how to navigate said Real World.

This kind of advice is not only useless, it can be actively harmful. While it’s true that being in school often confers many benefits, there are also plenty of benefits to living in the Real World. It’s easy for those who are out of school to look back on the time with rose colored glasses. There’s a lot to be said about living under your own roof, by your own rules, with your own structure in place. And this is to say nothing of the 10% to 25% of high schoolers report struggling with suicidal ideation, and those who suffer from it tend to hide it well. If you tell someone who’s contemplating suicide that it’s all downhill from here, the consequences could literally be deadly.


That being said, if you’re here and you’re reading this, you’re a lot more likely to have been on the receiving end of this advice than having espoused it. I’m aware that I’m likely preaching to the choir here. But I think that it can be valuable to remind people of these things. This time of year, a lot of students are staring graduation straight on, whether this semester or next. And everybody wants to give you advice. Including me right now, I guess.

But if I may add my own drop to your bucket of brain slog, please allow me to give you some perspective.

  • School is not everything. Grades are not everything. Good grades can absolutely open doors, but that doesn’t mean that bad grades are a death sentence. Do your best and only compare yourself to your past self.
  • If someone else who’s either graduating or preparing to graduate tells you that they’re not full of existential dread, they’re either lying or they don’t understand what the word existential means. Okay, maybe not literally everyone is full of anxiety, but you’re not exactly alone either.
  • Your problems are real. I promise. No matter how small and stupid they might seem to others – even if they seem small and stupid to your future self. They’re real right now. It hurts right now. It’s okay to acknowledge that you

To everyone else who’s coping with the stress of graduation and looking the Real World straight in the eye – good luck, and as always, I believe in you.

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