You know that song “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin?” That’s me. That song is my life. I feel like I waited through high school to get to college so that things could start. But now I’m here, and it’s just more wait. It’s just like one more thing to get through before real life starts. So how am I ever going to know my real life has started? What’s the marker that will tell me REAL LIFE STARTS HERE, PAY ATTENTION? What if I’m just always waiting, saying “any second now …?”
– Colin Hay Is a Prophet
Let me tell you a story.
High school felt like waiting for me, too. For a lot of people, I think. It is primarily the time we spend with adulthood within view but out of reach. We are all waiting to be freer than we are. Whether that means college or working or just moving out, there is a freedom that comes at 18.
College can feel like waiting, too. You’ve decided on adding at least one extra round of education before really entering into the world as an adult. I’m a little different, because I waited to go to college and decided to wait at work. Retail is the most repetitive, soulless, predictable and tiresome place to count the hours. I told myself to count the hours off in dollars, and that would help it seem all right. It paid the rent, but it didn’t make the wait any better. When I finished at that job, there was no signpost or commencement. There was only another name on the schedule, someone else to stand in my spot and do exactly as I had done and wait in her own way.
While I was waiting in retail, however, I developed my habits of waiting. Everyone has them; I’m sure you do, too. Lots of people play with their phones while they stand in line; my co-workers and I all did that to pass the time. Some of us started fights and drama to make the wait seem more exciting. Many of us forged romantic relationships, lots had and raised kids and all of us tried to see the job as something other than waiting for our real lives to begin.
It never begins. There is never a moment, not even when you’re standing in your cap and gown and someone hands you your fake diploma in one of the most symbolic moments of your young life, when you realize REAL LIFE STARTS HERE and you must PAY ATTENTION.
Real life is a lot like college. If you wait around for someone to tell you to pay attention, you are already behind.
My best habit of waiting was something I was not supposed to be doing: I was writing. I wore a long baggy apron with two deep pockets up front. The pockets slowly filled with dust and scraps of paper and junk, but I also kept a pen and pad there. I occasionally used it for work, to write down stock numbers or do a little math. Mostly, I was waiting until nobody was looking so that I could write poetry and stories, because that was the only thing I did in life that did not feel like waiting. It felt like flagging down my life as it passed me by so I could ride for a while.
So my long-winded and story-form advice is based on those days in my greasy apron pockets: Find the thing that does not feel like waiting. It might seem silly, and outside of your chosen discipline, it might be dancing or painting or being a good friend. It might be something you have to hide in your pockets and undertake on the sly.
There is no marker.
There will be no signpost.
Conditions will never be perfect.
You alone decide when the wait stops and real life begins.