the real world.

The so-called “real world” with all of its rules, structures and regulations is indeed out there; it is our job to deconstruct it.

In the climax of my four years of undergraduate education, I came to heads with the realization of what exactly this “real world,” that people have spoken of, warned me about and whispered of in corners for the entirety of my life, was. It is a world that demands its rules be followed by all of its inhabitants – rules that have been written and rewritten by people who abhor those who call into question issues of inequity, oppression and power dynamics that are inherently written into the rules by those who enjoy the privilege of making up the name of the game.

It was a Tuesday and it wasn’t as hot as it had been lately. I sat in my business class, excited at the prospect of watching a short film instead of listening to a lecture and inevitably dreaming of warmer days and graduation and summer. I grew even more excited when I saw that we were watching a talk about power dynamics in the workplace by Deborah Gruenfeld, a business professor and the co-director of the Executive Program for Women Leaders at Stanford University. Surely, she will talk about this real world the way I see it – a world full of unjust structures and norms that discriminate against anybody who did not have the privilege to write the rules.

But alas, no. While recognising a problem with the hierarchical structure of the real world, she instead instructs anyone on the low end of the corporate ladder to earn respect from their higher-ups through sticking to the status quo and doing as much as possible to keep them and their privileged ideas assuaged and happy. This, she and my some of my fellow classmates reiterated, is the real world. It is simply the way things are and if you are unhappy about it, just seethe in low-power silence, sneakily climb your way to the top and make some changes then. Putting off change for a couple decades never hurt anyone, right?

Now, I am not calling for an all-out war where employees run amok around their respective offices, refuse to cooperate with their leaders’ instructions and show a complete lack of respect toward those in leadership roles (it’s hard not to imagine an all-employee Office Space moment just now). Instead, I am calling those of us who are young (or not) and educated (we are supposed to be learning something here, after all) and passionate (who doesn’t get riled up for equality?) to recognise that the fact that “that is just the way the world is” does not mean that the real world inherently reflects any sort of moral correctness or ethical rectitude just because it is.

When somebody says, “This is not how it should be,” the reply should not be, “Well, sorry, but that is just how the real world is.” It should sound more like, “Why do you think so? What can we do to change that?” The system is the way that it is because it was written up by the privileged, with little thought to how everyone might be affected by their instated rules. It is the most we can do to question that system and society everyday and behave (respectfully) the way we think we ought to behave, were this a just and equal society. If that loses me my job – my performing respectfully, but ethically normatively – then so be it. Hopefully the event can cause others to think critically about what has happened, why it happened and how it should have happened.

Change is usually not easy, speedy or perfectly carried out, but we as students and professors of higher education have a sort of duty to exact it where it should be exacted. In business and finance and economics, we love talking about how strategies and practices and equations would be carried out all else held equal. Why, then, are we so unwilling to talk about actual workplace equality?

In a little over two weeks, I will cross a stage, receive a paper and inevitably be a functioning part of the real world. I, as well as all of you, can choose to spin around with all the other cogs – twisting and turning and fueling the machine – having a secure job, moving up the corporate ladder and enjoying the benefits that society presses upon those at the top. Or we can work together to try and take apart, rebuild and reinstate the machine – not easily, not speedily, not perfectly.

But more as it should be.


one size fits all?

Advice for our futures: one size fits all?

Even as I write the headline, I shake my head in obvious dissent. Of course our futures are not one size fits all – what a silly concept: in clothing, in ideas, in beliefs. As a varied mix of people with differing experiences, worldviews and perspectives, it seems ridiculous to continuously write this column, preaching how one “should” act or pursue their unfurling future. And yet, I continue to think in this way – as I dole out advice matter-of-factly when my friends fret over their woes and as I sit down write my column from week to week. I seem to imagine that for every situation there are absolute truths that bypass small concessions and minute exceptions.

In a world of differences, there is some small comfort in thinking that there are one-size-fits-all explanations for the things that we tend to encounter along the course of our lives. Perhaps it is the (false?) knowledge that no matter what we come across, no matter how complex or harrowing a situation, there will always be someone else who has experienced something similar and has something worthwhile to say about it, something that consoles and councils us back to the road we should be walking on.

I mean, that is what the Internet is for, right?

Inevitably, though, we have all found that, as well intentioned as advice and stories and anecdotes are about people who have experienced similar situations, there is something missing from the advice and council that we receive from our friends and Google alike: us. As helpful as it is to talk to someone who has felt your feelings and gone through vaguely what you have gone through, there is often a sort of emptiness as advice pours out of would-be-helpful mouths and off of your computer screen as you think to yourself, “Well, that is kind of like me, but –” and the “but” trails off into a list of individualised perspectives and concerns and exemptions.

So here I sit, wondering if I should take the steady (and visa-offering) job over the blind ambition that my harbored passion wants to pursue and wondering what advice to offer the people who may glance over my column on their way to the crossword or a challenging game of Sodoku. Do I profess to follow one’s dreams over anything else? Do I make a succinct list of the pros and cons and offer my unique perspective on this conjured up list? Do I tell you all to be safe and smart and secure and go for the steady job, just to get you on your feet as you ready yourself to pursue your dreams?

The truth is, any one of those pieces of advice could be valuable and valid pieces of advice for different people – depending on your individual values, dreams and passions. Who am I to value my own views over those of people different than I? While my whole life has been one of gawking at those who do not share my own perspective (gawking followed by reflection and eventual understanding, mind you), I also must admit that there are surely people who, were they to follow my writings, would find themselves unhappy, uncomfortable and far away from where they should be.

So how do I go forth, then? Undoubtedly, I cannot offer a choose-your-own ending type of advice service, nor can I promise a one-size-fits-all approach.

The answer lies in the way we should all perceive newness, change or differences in opinions: to question, question, question, until you have an answer that burrows deep down to the root of it all. When confronted with a piece of advice, an article, a column, a moving speech, a talk with one’s parent or mentor, a book, it is essential to the understanding of ourselves that we ask of each notable quote or counseling word, “Why?”

Like the child who refuses to stop asking why until they are satisfied with the knowledge of why the sky is, in fact, blue, so we too must ask why, why and why again until we are satisfied with our chosen path of being.

Indeed, the person who stops asking why can never find the because that they search for.

rejection in the age of Millenia.

My phone silently rung in the middle of my costume construction class last Thursday, the blaring digits bearing an unidentifiable number. It’s probably just another telemarketer, I thought to myself, pressing ‘Ignore’ and refocusing on the task at hand (sewing buttonholes, of course). However, my phone lit up again, this time alerting me to a missed call and a message left by the unfamiliar number. After getting the go-ahead to listen to the message from my professor, I head to the back of the classroom, standing between stacks of colourful fabrics and unfinished hemlines, press ‘Play’ and hold the phone up to my ear.

“Hello Mary, this is Catherine from Nordstrom –” I drew a deep breath. Finally, the internship that I had lusted after, had interviewed for three months prior, had studied up on, had put off all other summer planning for this one, attainable plan was about to come to a heads. Within the forty seconds that was ticking away from this message, I would know if all of the time that I had put into longing after this internship would be worth it.

And in the one second that it took for Catherine to say, “I’m sorry, but,” I knew that the job was not mine. I hung up my phone, a slight ringing hollow enveloping me – the bright fabrics fading and the fringed hemlines blurring. I walked back to my desk with a smile on my face, letting my professor and classmates know that I was okay, that it was fine that I didn’t get the job, that now I could focus on other things post graduation.

And really, it was fine – it is fine. Sure, I wanted the internship and sure it was supposed to lead to a furthering of my passion for the fashion industry and sure it was going to get my foot into the stubborn door of this world that I love – but it wasn’t not getting the internship that left a ringing noise in my ears or made my vision blur a bit, it was the realisation that this is another pined-after internship that I decidedly did not get, despite my brazen confidence in the resume that I have to offer.

We are taught to be confident in what we have to offer this world upon our leaving this university – that our education is well rounded and profound and valuable, and truly, I believe that it is. The thing is, we are not so unique in our grand education as we might like to think. Though our resumes may be padded with fancy “action words” and study abroad experiences and other internships and a really personable “Interests” section, it turns out that a lot of other people’s resumes are pretty comparable in scope and personality, too.

This is not to downplay the things that this university can teach us or to give up hope of ever finding a decent job or happiness or whatever, but it actually shows me how much more valuable these things – interests, friends, learning, experiences – become when they are brought outside of the objective to solely settle down and find a job. If one can recognise that our degree and experiences are not guaranteed to bring us stability or happiness or comfort, how much more focused could that make us on finding those things that we desire outside of the confines of a coveted job or a sought-after internship? Our degree is not meant to buy us a one-way ticket to a worry-free existence, but to challenge us, to question us, to prepare us for a world that is full of nos and yeses alike. A rejection from one or two (or three) internship applications should not discourage us, it should inspire us to keep pursuing the things that we know will enrich our lives – whether or not we have a job or not.

Placing the means of your supposed future happiness in the hands of a professional (whose hands are already full of identical resumes) will only bring about disappointment and a lot of waiting. Our real job as we create and write down those lines of achievements and skills and interests is to find within those lines our own sort of happiness, independent of objective judgements from faraway strangers. We must follow our joys and know that happiness will soon follow.

let’s be real.

This is the time in our lives to learn that happiness is not borne from acts of cultural normalcy, but from the act of being genuine

From my mother, I inherited a dream: that one day of my life could be a musical. Raised on a strict diet of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz and every Disney animated feature released in the 90s and early 2000s (okay and Frozen), the possibility of everyone that I encountered within the realms of one day knowing and performing to perfection a choreographed song-and-dance number didn’t really seem so far fetched.

Since the dreaming days of my youth, however, I’ve learned that people generally aren’t into random breakouts of song or dance or anything that makes them mildly uncomfortable as they attempt to go about their day normally and music-free. So, disregarding every inspirational Pinterest quote, I put my dream of a musical day on the backburner and went along with my life, keeping the songs to a minimum and the dancing to a thing to be done behind closed doors (behind which I dance fake ballet to Lana Del Rey, as any normal person should).

So as I watched Little Miss Sunshine last night, I noticed how Olive, the oddball star of the film, was encouraged to solely be herself – to sing and dance and rip off her Adidas flyaway pants – not because of how it made the people around her feel, but because of how happy it made Olive to perform. The whole film follows the journey of a dysfunctional family on their way out of their daily performances of American normalcy and into a world of discovering just what it means to do what they do for their own happiness rather than for others’ satisfaction.

It is easy to watch this film and scoff at the father and his sorry version of the American Dream that he seems to be faithfully living out and yet it seems that even us vivacious and dreamy college students can fall into similar traps – choosing homework over friends, salaries over dreams and a busy schedule over the chance for spontaneity and adventure. Even now, as we come back from our intrepid ventures of spring break, we look forward instead of downward – counting down the days until Easter break, summer break, graduation. We worry about our futures without a thought about what this all does to our present experience, as we shelf current opportunities in favour of the promise of bigger and better ones that the fabled “future” holds for us.

We’ve all done this: refused to go out for drinks with friends to work on a paper that we have told ourselves will surely be the key to our eventual success. We sit here and tell ourselves that there is a distinct hierarchy of important things in our collegiate lives at the moment and that list is topped with homework, internships and remain busy (!!!) while fun, friends and play bring up the rear. Even as I write this, I must stop myself from agreeing with this proverbial list – that tells us all that being busy is the ultimate goal, that having “nothing to do” is a laughable fate, that a completed essay means more than a walk with a friend.

Through Olive’s small but wise character in Little Miss Sunshine, it is noted that the self is most happy when it is performing a script written purely by one’s own self – not by cultured expectations or handed down lists. It is with this knowledge that I try to press forward out of my university days and into the so-called real world. Learning to write a script completely out of my culture’s reach is a lesson that will surely have to be learnt many times over, but one that I will continue to try to emulate until my moves are as free and silly and utterly real as Olive’s.

Maybe my dream of a musical day does not have to be so far fetched after all.

nothing to do; nowhere to be.

The idea of nothing to do and nowhere to be should be revered, not feared.

At first, the preparation genius in me twitched uncomfortably at the lack of planning that was put into the spring break trip to Moab, Utah that I joined up with rather last minute. From figuring out which route to take once we were already bolting down Hamilton, Starbucks in hand, to getting directions for a free campsite texted to us hours before our arrival to stopping at an abandoned playground on our way south to the general lazy consensuses that were agreed upon in the early morning sun that determined what, exactly, we would be doing that day.

In truth, I didn’t mind so much that the group hadn’t made any plans, but more I wondered how I was expected to soothe the little voices in my head that like to be told what to do and where to go so that they can know how exactly they should prepare for the experiences in front of them. One side of me rationed that it wasn’t worth it to worry about things that will surely happen, one way or the other, while the other side rashly bleated that it needed to know everything now – and it means now – so that it can prep and devise and write scripts for itself in anticipation of the known plan.

As I went through the week, however, I noticed that the rash and bleating side of me subsided and allowed room for a certain kind of graceful silence and peace to take the reins. There was a definite loveliness to our spontaneous plans made in the morning over a pancake breakfast and between sips of coffee. There was something liberating about not having plans, classes to skip off to, papers to write, agendas filled to the brim with scribbled due dates and page numbers.

This all seems rather obvious and I admit, I feel almost foolish typing it out on paper for the prying eyes of Bulletin readers to laugh and point – but I have grown to rely on the stringent schedules and the busy(-ish) lifestyle to keep my mind subdued and unthinking about the realities that life could usher in for me. While I spent my time adhering to deadlines and agendas, thinking that I was busying myself to prepare for (and subsequently not think about) my impending future, I didn’t even realise that I was also shutting out the unacknowledged beauty of an empty agenda. My university state of mind congratulated me when I was busy and stressed and admonished me when I had nothing at all to do for a day – leaving me no choice but to appease the part of me that pats my back when I’m stuffed in the library on a sunny day, catching up with what my agenda says I should have done already.

I find it funny, because this seems to be a lesson that I must learn and relearn. Perhaps planning is in my bones or simply handed down to me from a line of prodigious preparers, it does not seem to matter much. I like planning even though I’ve learnt, over and over again, that freedom and discovery and learning most often comes from plans thought up two seconds ago rather than two months ago.

Even more interesting is that I am always happy to slide into the idea of unplanned occurrences only after a legion of arguments and pouty attitudes rage through my head for a couple of cross-armed-days. I can never just look at an empty schedule or hear that the plan is to play it by ear (so the plan is that there is no plan?) without making inner snarky comments (as observed above) or having a minor eye-widening paralysis where I can help but think, “What now?”

I suppose it is my lot in life to keep relearning this important lesson: that having nowhere to go and nothing to do and nobody to see is something to be revered, cherished and anticipated rather than feared, shied away from or hidden by an invented busy lifestyle and filled up agenda pages. Instead of looking ahead with fear and trepidation at an unsolved next step, I must learn to see an empty page not as an enemy to be filled with meaningless clutter, but as a gift to be written on in due time, with various unplanned presents, lessons and adventures waiting for me and my white blank page.