This summer, without even realizing it, I became a grown-up. When I started my internship at Tablet Magazine at the end of May, I felt like a 19-year-old college student, but after a few weeks, I became completely immersed in the world of the full-time employed. I worked from ten in the morning until six in the evening each day, received regular paychecks, and started saying things such as, “I’ll look at it when I get to the office,” and, “Want to meet on my lunch break?” On my many subway commutes to and from Brooklyn, I looked around at my fellow subway riders, most of whom were dressed in work attire and sending emails on their phones. For the the first time, I felt like one of them.
That was when it hit me: this is what my everyday life could be like someday. I was getting a sneak peek at life in the place that most college students speak of with dread: “the real world.”
The professional world, or what many Wesleyan students refer to as “life beyond the bubble,” is often viewed with more fear than excitement; it is difficult to think about the moment when we will leave this nurturing, safe community and be sent out into the world to figure it all out for ourselves. And from even my brief experience in the working world this summer, I realize that there is some truth to this fear. While I was fortunate to work in a personal environment with mentors who were eager to help me learn the ropes, life at work was still a whole new world.
I was given the independence to make my own choices and to carry out my responsibilities in whatever way I chose, and unlike in college, the decisions that I made often didn’t affect just me; they affected those around me and the bigger picture that we were all working towards. But while this was scary at times, it was even more exciting. With new independence came new opportunities, and I was pushed to accomplish things that I never thought I could.
Still, as I returned to the “Wesleyan bubble” last week, I did so feeling even more appreciative than I had when I’d left. I loved my summer in the professional world, but it was also a reminder of how lucky I am to still have a few more years to spend as a college student. After all, when else in our lives can we live and study with our peers, develop personal connections with incredible professors, and follow our academic curiosity wherever it takes us? Being “in the bubble” is a unique opportunity to focus on our growth, both academic and personal, and to do so while surrounded by a supportive community.
Most importantly, I came to realize that the world within the college bubble and the world beyond it aren’t as separate as one might think. My summer job allowed me to understand that the parts of college that make it so unique do not simply remain in the sphere of college. Instead, they actually extend into the real world. Some criticize a liberal arts education for being disconnected from real life and for not providing its students with the practical tools necessary to further their career, but at my job, I found the opposite.
Throughout my first year at Wesleyan, I was aware that I was developing skills that would be essential to my growth as a person and a citizen of the world: I learned how to think critically, to ask questions, to take risks, and to interact with others with diverse opinions. And I was fairly certain that these skills would remain invaluable, no matter where I went after college. But I didn’t realize until this summer that these skills are essential not just on a personal level, but just as much on a professional one.
Coming up with creative article ideas required taking risks. Bringing up an idea at my first staff meeting required the ability to communicate with others effectively. And interviewing people with a variety of opinions required the ability to engage with diverse perspectives. Life in the real world doesn’t just call for a particular set of skills specific to one’s profession; perhaps even more critical to success are these less concrete tools that guide the way we think and the way we interact with others. These tools are not at all removed from the real world; instead, they will likely prove our most valuable assets in handling the real world gracefully and effectively.
College can seem a bit like a world of its own sometimes. But it would be a mistake to think that when the bubble pops after graduation, we will be left with nothing to stand on. From what I’ve seen, we’ll be left with a pretty strong foundation.
Fattal is a member of the class of 2017.