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Delaying the Real Worldby Colleen Kinder
Many adventures would follow in Mexico, in Prague, in Haiti but this initial thrill of living overseas never faded and led me to write Delaying the Real World: A Twentysomething's Guide to Seeking Adventure. It's not just a practical guidebook for recent college graduates who want unconventional jobs; it's a manifesto to young people about why the office cubicle can wait. There are few years in life when you can fit all of your belongings into a couple of suitcases no heavy school books, no bulging briefcase, no baby stroller, no heap of prescription drugs and then misplace it all with a sense of humor. These fleeting years most likely begin with the number two, and only if you treat them sacredly will they stand out in bold, unforgettable letters.
When I neared the end of college, I had little clue what career was right for me, let alone what "real" job to commence it with. But I did know what I was passionate about: writing, foreign cultures, and public service. All three of these things made me feel most alive, so they became the criteria for my first year out of college. I searched until I found a national fellowship that would finance a year of writing and volunteering in Cuba, and after a few strokes of luck, I was on my way to Havana.
It didn't take me long to figure out that my decision to "delay the real world" was the best I could have made. When else would I have the chance to ride in Oldsmobiles older than my parents, and roam through a city untouched by American influences? Who else could claim to have marched all night with Cuban college students that quietly resented attending Castro's political rally? And what makes a female stronger than having to walk by hissing men every day? You'd be amazed how much a year of catcalls builds character!
There is no better way to dive headfirst into a foreign country than by working alongside its people. I lived in nursing homes run by nuns and helped them entertain residents through the dark ennui of power outages. I helped care for old men and women in the final days of their lives, and heard about their uncensored version of Cuba. I became best friends with a tiny forty-six-year-old man in a wheelchair, who loved to joke that he was going back to the United States with me in my suitcase.
The most crucial thing that happens when you delay the real world is something you didn't expect. I found as most people who spend time doing "service" overseas do that my capacity to contribute was dwarfed by how much Cubans gave to me. From encouraging my unimpressive salsa dancing to feeding me sumptuous rice and bean combos, the Cuban people's generosity came through in countless ways, making each day on their island feel like a gift.
The biggest surprise of my year overseas was the book I ended up writing. I had been slaving over a novel when the opportunity to publish Delaying the Real World popped into my email inbox. Halfway through my Cuban adventure, I was more than ready to talk up the road less traveled to fellow twentysomethings and to encourage college seniors to view their futures outside of the narrow 9 to 5 box.
My appetite for information about cool jobs and diverse adventures from teaching at Hawaiian high schools to leading charity bike trips through Italy was fueled by how much I prized my own experience in Cuba. You see, adventures aren't the sort of thing young people regret; instead, we end up wishing them on our friends. I researched like mad, finding teaching programs in Japan that pay more than many U.S. jobs, learning the hiring practices of cruise ships, and reading the fine print of around-the-world plane tickets, which can deliver you to over six international cities for under $3,000!
The more I researched ways a twentysomething can relish youth, see the world, and make money, the more certain I became that fresh college graduates don't belong in the cubicle. There are far too many delicious alternatives making that fleeting period between professors and bosses, seminar papers and TPS reports, the ideal time to make raw passion your compass. After all, when the roaming arrow points to the unknown, you scarcely have an excuse (spouse, mortgage, career ladder) to disregard it.
The young adventurers I asked to contribute to Delaying the Real World only validated the merit of pursuing your passions early in life. I heard from Alaska fishermen, Teach for America volunteers, Hollywood novices, cross-country bikers, photographers in Barcelona, forest firefighters, Fulbright fellows, nannies in Italy, whitewater rafting guides, volunteers in Israel, and dozens more gutsy twentysomethings. Their written accounts oozed with passion, and confidence, too. These gutsy young folks had kicked off adulthood by throwing convention to the wind, and none of them seemed in a rush to be anywhere but far, far away.
Britt Harter was studying bird migrations in Equatorial New Guinea and babysitting orphaned baby chimps in his spare time. Gabrielle Cardillo had taken her dance career over seas literally by working as an entertainer on a cruise ship. Emily Hurstak was doing a public health project in rural India. Will Ralph was finishing up his year of ski instructing in Vail, Colorado. Mary Finnan was earning her keep on an organic farm in rural France. And globetrotter Gideon Maltz was sending emails from Togo, Kyrgyzstan, and Bhutan that were making his friends salivate onto their desktop computers.
My peer Ned Smith may have phrased it best in the segment he wrote for Delaying the Real World. While doing a yearlong research project in Taiwan, he also wrote a weekly column in a bilingual newspaper, taught classes at the local university, and rode around on his motorcycle. Ned wrote, "I may be delaying something maybe owning a dog, buying a car, or joining a bowling league but I'm not sure it's more deserving of the title 'real world' than what I'm living."
Since the release of Delaying the Real World in January, many of the young adventurers featured in the book (including its author) have returned to the U.S. and joined the work force. Some are teaching, many are now in medical or law school, and others are working for MTV, for senators, for wineries. The only common denominator is the passion they have maintained and applied to everything they do. When you start your career happy and stimulated, it's hard to settle for anything short of fulfillment again.
As for me, I'm dabbling in employment just as much as my rent payments demand, but the better hours of my day are spent writing. Cuba left me enough fodder for volumes of books, and I'm happy to be working on my second one without Havana power outages teasing my laptop. Cuba was the ultimate adventure year, and now every day that I sit down to re-create it on paper is a trip in itself. But my suitcases are always nearby and ready for a new overseas odyssey. I've learned to always keep them within view.