Tag Archives: culture shock

On Numbers

Adulthood was a numbers game to me, that’s how I saw it growing up at least.

I would be an adult when I turned 18.  I would go to post-secondary school for 4 years and get 1 degree.  I would eventually meet someone and be in 1 loving marriage, and with that have somewhere between 2-3 kids and be 1 happy family.  I would have 1 successful career making hopefully 50,000 a year, and if I got good enough at what I did, maybe more!

Clearly I didn’t know anything about adulthood, and numbers were a way to help make it easier to comprehend.

Reflecting on all of that now, my math was WAY off (Reminder: I am an engineer by training, so I take pride in getting the correct numbers).  I put such face value to these numbers, not understanding the depth and meaning behind them, and how it would ultimately translate into reality and life.  And it is probably because of that simplistic and naïve view of adulthood that made it such a weird, confusing, muddled, stressful, and ridiculous time in my life so far.

In the short stint into adulthood so far, there were so many numbers that I didn’t expect, that completely blindsided me.  Instead of the 1 degree I anticipated, I ended up pursuing 2, and one of which was at a higher level than I anticipated.  That meant 7.5 years in school, 2.5 of which was an unfamiliar blank space that haunted me at the same time as the blank space of young adulthood, feeling like I was falling behind in life.  What about the nearly 3 years of depression I struggled through, and the approximately 20 one-hour sessions of counselling to try and figure out ways to manage it?  Nearly a handful of ruined friendships because I was in such a dark place and did not know how to properly confront those problems. 0, count that, Z-E-R-O, “proper” relationships, as it were.

However, not all the numbers were negative.  I completed 1 thesis (totaling over 160 pages of written analysis) in those extra 2.5 years, and I’m in the process of writing a scientific journal publication to accompany the hard work I put into that masters, and I’m proud of those achievements, especially when it was such a difficult time in my life.  I volunteered with a great organization for 3 years, getting more involved with each subsequent year, on 3 difficult and personally important projects, working with countless amazing individuals that brought me inspiring friends across all 10 Canadian provinces. I was fortunate enough to find 1 great starting job so far that keeps me on my toes and constantly challenges me, in the midst of struggling whether or not I should stay in the field of engineering or attempt other passions, or whether to stay in the City I was born or move to a city that is new and full of wonders.  At this job, I’ve met great coworkers and friends, and have been fortunate enough to have a good handful of mentors to help me grow personally and professionally.  I’ve attended 3 great weddings of friends already, and 1 of whom I had the honour and privilege of being a part of as a groomsman, with many more to come.

But these are the things that I have been able to understand through numbers with adulthood so far.  And it really is such a minute piece of the puzzle of it all.  How can I even come close to quantifying and giving numbers to experiences?  I can’t put a number to travelling to across the Pacific Ocean with my dad after high school and meeting my extended family for the first time.  No numbers can describe being taught by friends how to ride a bike or camping for the first time or learning how to ski because you never had those opportunities as a kid. Numbers aren’t the things you remember from roadtripping with friends across the Western US, the late night discussions about the world and its complex issues, and the skype calls or google hangouts just to see faces you’ve missed from across time zones.

I am coming up on 9 years of being an “adult”, and simultaneously sharing that anniversary along with 9 pieces of random rant-filled thoughts to this appreciated space I’ve stumbled upon, alongside wonderful friends exploring the same ambiguous time of young adulthood.  This piece, my tenth, reminds me that adulthood is so complex, so abstract, and so unpredictable, that mere numbers could never help me comprehend what it means to be an adult.  Adulthood is not a zero-sum game, nor an accountant’s balance sheet, nor a set of mathematical equations. Adulthood is messy, full of questions with not enough answers, and ultimately unexpected experiences.  Adulthood has meant that with each passing year, I gain control of my environment and choices a little more, I get better at pretending like I know what I am doing; I embrace ambiguity just a little more.

– Jeff

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On things they don’t tell you about the “real world”

Upon graduation, you cease to be defined by what you study, what sports you play, and what clubs you join. Instead, you become defined by how you answer the question “What do you do?” And if your current “doings” aren’t employment for financial gain, or if your employment activities aren’t easily summarized in one sentence, you have just thrown a giant wrench into the question-poser’s day. Graduation, essentially, is a massive paradigm shift in your life. After over 16 years dedicated to being a student, you just change gears, and start being…an employee? a citizen? an ADULT?

You would think that after 16 years of study you should know every single thing about life and living it, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is going to be some culture shock. For example, once you leave university, it will no longer be safe to assume that everyone around you is computer and technology literate. You may encounter situations like the following:

  • People who don’t know where to find the control panel.
  • People who ask you how to hashtag things while composing a Tweet using only one ring finger.
  • People who don’t understand why printing out non-static, shared calendars to organize their month is a bad idea.
  • People who did not know that you could make a “neat chart like that” in Excel.
  • People who do not know “how to print this.”
  • People who think that it would be okay, since they don’t have Photoshop, to just “fix it up” in MS paint.
  • People who do all of these things combined, and are your boss.

Another culture shock comes with the realization that your former knowledge base is mostly useless, and that your new life paradigm requires a completely new type of knowledge, of which you are entirely devoid. You might be able to rattle off (easily Google-able) factoids such as all of the former PM’s, or sing a soulful tune about the Kreb Cycle, but chances are that your education did NOT teach you:

  • How not to cry during your first oil change, and phone your partner crying about your cabin air filter.
  • How to not sound like a total moron the first time you call your insurance provider.
  • How to obtain said insurance before even being able to ask silly questions regarding it.
  • How to have a tough conversation with your boss, or in the event that it becomes necessary, your boss’ boss.
  • How to write a resignation letter that doesn’t teem with seething resentment.
  • Where to even start when you just moved across the country and you literally need to buy one of everything that anyone ever needed in a house, ever.
  • That not every city has rodent and raccoon problems like Toronto does, and that enquiring as to “how bad the rats get around here” may get you some strange looks in Alberta.
  • How to look semi-composed in your office parking lot in the middle of a tearful phone call home.
  • How to do your taxes in a timely and non-stressful fashion.
  • What the letters TFSA stand for, why mutual funds are mutual, or the tenuous difference between the words stock and share.
  • How to FUNCTION at LIFE.

But another thing that they don’t tell you? Figuring all of this out is complex, and terrifying, and humbling. It is full of uncertainty, and flip-flopping, and stress-eating. Some days you might open your front door, and look out at the real world, and get so nervous that you barf on your doorstep. But some days, you take a deep breath, and walk out said door vomit-free, and realize that real life, however uncertain, can actually be a lot of FUN.


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