Friday, February 8, 2008

One Difference Between College and the Real-World

Since graduating from the Air Force Academy this past May, I’ve been thinking of differences, similarities, ideas, lessons learned, etc, between college and the real-world. One of the big differences is the lack of shared common experiences. I think the main reason for this is because the workplace contains various people going through different stages in their lives.

First of all, why do most people go to college? If you are like most students, it boils down to the desire for a comfortable life, a decent job, a mate, etc. Most students go to college because they think they have to. After all, it’s statistically proven that college graduates make more money (on average) than people with only a high school diploma. If you go to college and graduate, you’ll likely make more money, allowing you to buy more things on your journey towards happiness.

Ahh, but now you graduate, and you’re faced with some new realities: School loans, possibly a job you don’t like, a life you aren’t used to, new friends, a different work environment, etc. However, I’m not saying it’s worse than scraping by on Ramen noodles working two jobs in college—it’s just different.

One of the biggest differences between college and the real-world is the “bubble” you live in as a student attending an institution of higher learning. This “bubble” gives students an environment for shared common experiences. The different groups, clubs, gatherings, parties, etc, create a gathering place for students that give them common experiences. This is one of the quickest ways to make new friends—spend quality time partaking in common experiences. Let me give you a quick example. A group of students that barely know each other wind up joining an outdoor group that plans to go white water rafting. This is an awkward situation at first, but soon the trip evolves into an adventure full of situations requiring mutual trust and understanding. One of the rafts tips over, and people are forced to help reconcile a tough situation. After this event however, the group is forever bound by this common experience. Even if a person finds out they don’t like everyone, this shared context provides safe haven for future endeavors and new relationships form based on trust. The group begins forming an identity. This identity grows strong with time and more shared common experiences.

In the real-world, you must actively seek these environments. Most people in the workplace are in completely different stages in their lives, so it makes it hard to get into situations where you can truly understand someone and their background. Some people are married. Some are single. Some are young. Some are old. Workplace identity is not enough to form strong ties and lifelong friendships. This will only form “casual” friendships. There must be off-site common experiences that allow you to create stronger ties.

I’ve been trying to reconcile why the above happens after graduating college and to the best of my knowledge it’s because of the clash between people going through different stages in their lives. However, this isn’t all that bad—it’s just different. This environment allows you to find out who you truly are as a person rather than what you may have been conforming to during group interactions. Now, it’s what you do with your new environment that makes all the difference.

What do you think are some similarities and differences between college and the real-world?

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