DELAYING THE REAL WORLD: a 20-Something's Guide to Seeking Adventure
by Colleen Kinder
Running Press, 2005, 240 pages, $12.95
reviewed by Meredith Dearborn
Colleen Kinder doesn't like cubicles. After avoiding the corporate track by volunteering in Cuban nursing homes, she returned to the U.S. to steer her peers away from movable half-walls, channeling her distaste into a how-to book called Delaying the Real World. This well-researched manual is squished full of ideas to help 20-somethings creatively avoid getting stuck in a narrow career track, at least for a little while. She covers esoteric volunteer work, overseas travel, internships at home and abroad, and finding the best watering holes of a new American hometown—all without a trust fund. The book quotes an eclectic bunch of wanderers and lists hundreds of organizations to help young people not waste their footloose years. Kinder has even set up a Delaying the Real World fellowship to help them find the cash to embark on an adventure.
As a freshly minted college graduate with itchy feet myself, I understand the pull of stability and steep incomes. More than a few of my classmates shot straight into investment banking jobs in big cities, and now, feeling stifled in their starched collars, find themselves wishing they had taken time to explore both their opportunities and the world.
For better or worse, Delaying the Real World is written almost exclusively for the young American educated class. She assumes that her readers will soon funnel themselves into either graduate school or a career with medical benefits. As such, the book stops short of asking critical questions: What's so distasteful about the “real world”? What counts as “real”? And why is it inevitable that we must end up there? Although Kinder writes that “redefine real” is one of the fundamental tenets of her plan, she still assumes that the end point of an adventure is a stable, settled life and well-paying, white-collar career—a.k.a. reality—and that doing something untraditional is a résumé-building, educational tool, not a life in and of itself.
The book also shies away from addressing those young adults who are chained to the cubicle by their student loans, or those who have never been to college, whose vision of a “real world” future may lie in a truck's cab or a hospital's laundry room, rather than a cubicle. It leaves one to wonder how to get those folks to Prague.
Kinder does offer ideas for how to finance adventurous living. She focuses on volunteer opportunities that provide a stipend or housing (although she does include many that would require subsidy) and she suggests supporting oneself in a dream internship by working in food service and giving up one daily foible (although the foible she chooses as an example is the daily grande latte, which seems to assume a significant amount of disposable money). Some of the opportunities she mentions offer the perk of deferring college loan payments. Still, she assumes one can make use of the kind of networks and resources college brings, and that one always has a comfortable parental home full of free food as a money-saving fallback.
Kinder's project is simply to stave off the drudgery so educated idealists can live a little first, and live better later. It's a valid goal, particularly if the book succeeds in reaching 20-somethings who have so far ignored their wanderlust: both those who had never considered the possibility of living abroad on a budget, and those who committed early to spend their 20s climbing the corporate ladder. She is spot-on in her observation that a “year off” should in fact be considered “year on,” in which the post-graduate learns what truly makes him or her tick—a process that can only lead to a more personally fulfilling career and life. Kinder cites a surprising number of traditionally successful careers that began with a plane ticket to Costa Rica, an internship in Burlington, Vermont, or caring for an ailing mother at home. The U.S. may radically change if every future CEO spends time volunteering with street kids in Burkina Faso and if every politico remembers paying for her ski-bum winters working tirelessly for meager tips.