From kindergarten through senior year of college, I have been told about the “real world”. I graduated to find that even many adults aren’t really in the real real world. To get to the real world, you must face uncharted territory. When you get to the real world, you will find it is chaotic. When you really take that phrase for its full meaning, “real”, meaning wild and unstructured and untouched, and “world”, meaning, much larger than your city or your whole country, you find something that no one dares to actually enter. Many people who have warned me about what they considered the “real world” to be have never even been.
Here’s what I mean.
School is not considered “real” because there is structure. It is easy to see a path to success (it is difficult to go down this path, but at least you know what you’re supposed to be doing). You take courses and receive grades. You perform research or internships to gain experience. You work your way upwards. You have support — people (teachers, counselors, professors, parents) who can help you along this path.
Many types of work or career, I would argue, should also not be considered “real”, then, assuming that the same metric is used as the one we use for school. You enter an organization at the entry level. You work your way upwards, or even to a different organization. Again, it may be difficult to actually perform well— but often, there is a clear and concrete path forward. It becomes even more clear and concrete when you know what type of profession you want to pursue, or what type of organization you want to reach. For certain types of individuals in a capitalist system, making money is easy. You just have to see the structure, define a path of success for yourself, and you can go forward. Sure, not billions and billions necessarily, but maybe millions if you play your cards right. And this is exactly why we have all these issues— structural racism, for example, because there is structure in the first place.
None of that is real.
Here is real:
I spent my entire life working hard with a single motive in mind, which is that I would improve opportunities and quality of life available to my family in rural Ethiopia. I was told that going through these structures are what would help me. If I was successful in school — accomplished, when I graduated from MIT in 2018 — and if I was successful in my career, I would be able to make a significant change.
If I would do these things, we could finally have running water and electricity out there. If I could do these things, it wouldn’t be so difficult for our children to go to school, and to live out their own dreams. If I might do these things, somehow we would find a way to preserve the environment there, allow for more efficient agriculture, and reduce government corruption all at the same time.
A year out of school, I am now very skeptical of these claims. I understand why people do what they do — they migrate. My parents did. They understand how difficult it is to change structure, to modify the world while you are in it, because the very fabric of a society is what causes all these issues, enormous and complicated international relations affect these things, and you, an individual, have few options. So why try? Just run, to wherever the best city is, the best country, the best place. It is so difficult to change the society you are in, unless by luck and a few other factors you are part of a privileged few.
How do you make change?
How do you make change?
How do you make change?
I have asked myself this question again and again over the last year. I have lain awake in bed at three in the morning thinking about it, from Boston to Shanghai to Bulawayo. I have reached uncomfortable conclusions — like, the only way is to be a political entity, or to become capitalist in the extreme and repurpose your billions down the line for good things, unlike most of our current billionaires. These are both difficult as they require a lot more luck than skill.
I therefore feel terribly unprepared for the real world. I feel unprepared to make change. The idea of having a normal career — the kind that leads to 2.6 children and a white fence or something — feels depressing to me, even if it would potentially make me more successful than my parents, which is every parent’s dream. The idea of having a normal, which is to say, capitalist American-dream-style career, that focuses on doing something I enjoy but also accrues wealth, is depressing to me. I feel very not normal for thinking that.
I am looking for clues and paying attention to whispers of revolutions that comfort me.
I am trying to think about how I got here, why I was interested in technology and engineering in the first place — a belief and excitement in physical things, in the ways that something I create could make something better for someone else.
I am trying to think of where I might go, or what it is that the world needs.
I am listening, always, always listening, to those whispers —afrobeats music is one, even if people might laugh at that. Late night conversations with friends about how to change things at home, or how to even go back — that’s another. I am trying desperately to understand where the loopholes are, in the structures, where there are cracks we can exploit, where something might be able to change. I am frustrated constantly that my upbringing was stolen from me, that my very existence is predicated on the fact that I could not have grown up in either of my parent’s nations and because of that I have lost the ability to have an intimate, native understanding of either.
But maybe I also gained something else.
Even I am not yet in the real world, but right now I am closer than I have ever been.
I am between, not quite inside the structure but also not outside of it. I am between, looking at it and thinking. I am realizing how much everyone lives in their structured bubbles, in their cities and their countries and their organizations and many never dare to break into a different path. I am not afraid of breaking away, but I don’t know yet what to do. I don’t know how to make the path myself, to create the structure myself, to make voices heard or to invent something truly useful.
But something at least has changed, regardless of what I feel.
In times — recent times — when I have felt worthless again, when I have felt like nothing, when I have felt like just my existence is a disgrace on Earth, I also felt something grounding me. I feel something strong.
I feel that I am not just a person, but a force of nature. And somehow I will find a way.
One day people will look back on what I have done with the world and be amazed.
One day I will release that energy toward something incredible.
But right now I am just thinking and thinking and thinking about how to make change.
How you can change the structures that govern the world, so that a certain rural village does not continue to go without clean water,
So that my cousins can have similar opportunities to me,
So that no more of them die young.