The Real World

“The real world isn’t a place – it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.” (Rework, Jason Fried & David Heinenmeier Hansson)

Okay, this is a hard one. Because as much as I adore this quote, this perspective, I know how it sounds every time I advocate it, especially out of context. “Yeah, yeah,” I hear, “there is something called reality out there Cathy. You can’t just be an idealistic, unrealistic, delusional moron about the facts of life.” Actually I can be, but I’m not. Neither are Fried & Hansson. Nor the plethora of other intelligent beings who are getting their Work done despite the so-called ‘realities’ of life.

Are they superhuman? No. Are they ordinary? Most definitely not. Ordinary stops at ‘the facts’ handed to it: “It’s hard.” “We’re in the middle of an economic recession!” “I’m just one [insignificant] person.” “I have responsibilities, and duties, and obligations! – I can’t x, y, z” and, let’s be honest, probably most of the other letters of the alphabet as well.

No one is asking you to be superhuman – there are only two beings that could ever deign to ask this of you: you and Life. No one is asking you to deny reality either. You are being invited to be extra-ordinary in the sense that you may very well have to leave the crowd behind to move past the facts and realities we are spoon-fed and, likely, choking on. You are being asked to decide what goes on your spoon, what you are going to swallow, how much, and what you are going to send back to the kitchen. I look forward to the day enough of us are doing this that it becomes the baseline, and this kind of extraordinary becomes ordinary. Until then … extra-ordinary, so be it.


What we mean when we say the real world is an excuse, or that one’s reasons – however true, reasonable, and real they are – are excuses, is not that they don’t exist. We are not with our heads steadfastly planted in the sand or, amputated from our shoulders, la-la-la-ing away on cloud nine. We are not in some childish pose with eyes firmly closed and fingers shoved directly into our ears. And we’re certainly not asking you to take up this position.

Reality exists! Your reasons exist! And the reasons you have your reasons exist too! Especially in our hardest times our reasons are likely to be so true and real and substantial as to seem obvious and inarguable. And it is rightly infuriating, and often painful, for someone else to argue that these reasons don’t exist, or that they aren’t ‘good’ reasons, or that they aren’t worth the breath it takes to articulate them.

But it’s not the reasons, the facts, or the realities of your situation that are being brought into question here. The question is not whether our reasons, facts and realities are true – it’s not even whether they are good. The question is how we are using them. It is what we are doing with the facts that is being brought into question.

You see the facts by themselves don’t mean much, everything rides on what we decide to do with them. “It’s hard.” “The unemployment rate is high.” “One person is an infinitesimal part of existence.” “I have responsibilities, and duties, and obligations.” – These are all fine and true. Or maybe not so fine and true. But they become excuses when they are used as reasons not to try. Because, they could equally be used as reasons to try.

The facts are the facts, but what they mean for you and your life is determined by you. It’s up for grabs. It’s still up for grabs. I mean, like right now, for you.

Will the fact that ‘it’s hard’ mean more cause for rejoicing when you accomplish it? or will it mean that you’re not going to invest any energy in it?
Will the fact that we’re in an economic recession mean even more pride as his start-up continues to grow? or will it mean that he puts the idea off for another 3 years?
Will the fact that she has so many obligations, duties and responsibilities that she is unable to do something she really wants or needs to do – will that mean she redresses and re-prioritizes her commitments and where she puts her energy? or it will mean that she sacrifices those needs or desires?
Will the fact that I failed mean that there’s still some growing I have to do, or that I will forever be incapable? Will it be the turning point that spurred me on to greater heights, or the straw that irrevocably broke my back, my confidence and self-esteem?

Someone found a job today despite the unemployment rate and the economic recession. Someone went into remission despite their diagnosis and prognosis. And someone found love despite their 20 year history of loneliness. The question we really want the answer to is whether we will be this someone, (in relation to whatever reality or facts we are handed). And the answer to that question is not determined by the facts alone. It is not determined by our past. It is determined by each of us. Now. I mean right now. … … … And now, too. And so on, in each present moment of our lives.