Living Your Real Life Now

Something I hear often from grad students (and say often myself) is “When I have a real job…” followed by some fantasy about the future like saving for a house downpayment or going on a big vacation or not being in the lab after midnight.


Since these sentiments come out of my mouth, too, I obviously understand where they’re coming from.  In grad school, like in college, during an engagement, or just before starting a family, there is a sense of now-but-not-yet.  I have this life and it’s not quite what I want it to be because there is a waiting period, a working period until I can achieve something that will usher my life into its next stage.


But the fact is that just because I don’t have a real job and I don’t yet have what I’m hoping and striving for doesn’t mean that my life isn’t real, isn’t going by moment by moment.


When I was a kid playing sports, my coaches would tell our teams to treat practice like the game.  You were supposed to work hard in practice, to take it seriously and not beg off from attempting the killer shots or sprinting all-out for the ball.  That way when game time came you were fully prepared for the level of play required in competition.


I believe that our ordinary, everyday actions form our character and what we’re currently practicing is a good indication of what we’ll do in the future.  Another way to look at this is that whatever our intentions are to be something different, how we act every day further entrenches that behavior into our character.  There is no such thing as a time-out from real life that we can take during college or grad school or while on vacation or on Halloween.


One of my favorite movies in college was Mean Girls (instantly available on Netflix!).  The premise is that a nice, innocent girl, Cady, is made a pawn in a powermatch between two former friends – the artsy outsider, Janis, recruits Cady to spy on her “plastic,” popular, mean-girl enemy, Regina.  Cady pretends to be like Regina and her friends to get close to them, but through the course of the movie her real personality comes more and more to reflect their mean, shallow, manipulative ways.  Finally, Janis confronts Cady with the truth of who she has become – at some point she transitioned from a nice girl to a mean girl despite the fact that she thought she was just faking it.



The reason that Kyle and I don’t put off saving for retirement or tithing is that we are paid real money at our not-real jobs.  And we have grown our real relationship into a marriage and have developed real friendships and really invested in our church community during this ‘magical time-out’ period of life.  We practice now how we want to live in the future to the very best extent that we can – of course given money and time limitations, our values have to be prioritized, but we’re hitting the top ones.


I encourage you to practice for your real life, even if you don’t consider it quite arrived yet.  Implement percentage-based budgeting no matter how low your income (above subsistence!) so that you can live out your values now.  Don’t put off saving for the long term in favor of wants because you don’t want to look back with regret on the time and money that slipped away.  Cut up your credit cards before two months of carrrying a balance becomes twenty.  Give generously now and watch your character be transformed.  There’s always a reason that it’s hard to live how you desire now, but it will probably be hard later, too, and with every day that goes by you more deeply etch your habits and personality traits.


Of course, this principle goes way beyond money issues.  I’m glad we’ve been sending our money where we have, but I don’t have a daily habit of prayer and I’ve become more of a TV-watcher than an avid consumer of books, which I was when I was a child.  Be who you want to be now because it’s getting harder to change all the time.


I know there are some slivers of life that do have to take a time-out in some situations.  When you are intensely working to pay off debt, no, you won’t be directly living out the value of saving for the future, but you are striving hard to get to a place where that is possible for you.  When you are enrolled in a demanding graduate program, your personal relationships might suffer, but you hope that they will still be largely intact when you emerge on the other side.  When you are taking a time-out, though, for whatever reason, I encourage you to keep visualizing what you want your life to be and make it like that vision in every way that is not directly prohibited by your situation.  As soon as the external pressure keeping you from your real life is removed, you should snap into what you visualized for all that time like a rubber band returning to rest.  Don’t continue on in your time-out habits for longer than absolutely necessary.


P.S.  For those of you who like listening to sermons, our pastor preached one on a similar topic a couple years ago that spoke to many of the 20-somethings in our church.  It’s about David’s time as a shepherd after he had been anointed king and how God used that time to build his skills and character.


Is there anything keeping you from living (a component of) your real life now?  What practices do you have the ability to change but just haven’t yet?  Do you have experience in the difficulty of altering a way of living that you had for a long time?


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23 Responses to "Living Your Real Life Now"

  1. Leigh says:

    I definitely made “When I have a real job…” or “When I’m done with undergrad…” comments all through college! Oh man. I’m so glad I’m done with that and feel like I can live my life now.

    But then once I got my first promotion (almost two years ago now!), I realized that that had been part of the timeline on my “When I’m done with undergrad…” comments. So then what? What did I want to do after that? Wait a minute, I’m just supposed to live my life? Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun.

    The main aspect of my life that I’ve made a really strong and conscious effort on since finishing undergrad is making conscious decisions in relationships. I need to choose the person I’m in a relationship with every day. If I want one day to myself, that’s fine, but if it becomes too many more than that, that’s a very clear red flag. I’ve learned how to say no to dates and to re-evaluate a relationship and determine if I see it going towards marriage. If I don’t see it ever going towards marriage, I’m not going to waste any more time.

    One of my “When I have a real job…” statements in college was that I would actually spend money once I had a real job! Ignoring the fact that I was making bank as an intern… I’m much better at not guilting myself over spending money now 🙂

    Hmmm, so I guess there isn’t much stopping me from living my real life now, but there certainly was back in college. Maybe in some more months or years when I’m confident that I want to marry someone I’m dating, I will feel like an engagement and a wedding are stopping me from living my real life, but for now, I’m good.
    Leigh recently posted..Today, I’m thankful…for my employer matching funds in my 401(k)!

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you’ve already made some great advancements in this way of thinking. I read The Defining Decade recently and one of the main sections focused on relationships – not wasting time in dead-end ones, mostly. I spent some time in relationships that I knew weren’t leading to marriage but thankfully I was really young and turned out to be wrong about the last one!

      I’m glad you are living your life a bit better through spending money now – and also that you started out with the opposite problem of most!

  2. Daisy says:

    I am in a huge transition period with where I (we) live right now. In a dumpy apartment, it’s always “when we have a house”. It’s a huge dream and we’re doing all we can do to actually reach that dream and the goal of buying a house. But maybe I am not living in my real life.
    Daisy recently posted..Analyze My Budget: How Much Can I Save?

    1. Emily says:

      If you’re saving really aggressively for a house I guess it’s worth it to save on rent in the meantime. Just stay focused on the goal so you don’t end up in the apartment you dislike for terribly long – it is your life! Personally where we live is important to us – we love having people over and don’t want to live in a bad part of town – so we aren’t willing to put off our day-to-day comfort for while we’re in grad school. When we finally get to San Diego (fingers crossed!) we’ll probably live in a small apartment while we save up but I hope it will still be fairly nice.

  3. SWR says:

    I’m one of those people in a demanding graduate program and that really makes it difficult to live my real life now. I don’t have the energy to devote to much anything else. While I like being a student, it is tough being in a different place than most of my friends. Our
    SWR recently posted..The weekly menu

    1. Emily says:

      Our program is long enough that we couldn’t consider it a time-out and had to make new friends. I am looking forward to when we can move back closer to some of our college friends, though.

      1. SWR says:

        Lol. I didn’t re-read that one. I meant that we are in a difference place in our lives than most of my friends who are finished with schooling for good, and on to building careers, and houses, and families. Luckily the distance isn’t too major of a factor for us.

        I (we) have friends through my program, but I’m getting the sense that they are going to be “stage of life” friends and not the kind of relationships that we’ll hold on to very tightly post-grad.
        SWR recently posted..Tuesday thoughts

  4. I just got rid of the “maybe I will wait until I am married to do X” and I honestly feel ten pounds lighter — I can do anything, and the future is hazy, so why wait for it?
    Kathleen @ Frugal Portland recently posted..More thoughts on buying a house

    1. Emily says:

      Congrats! I fell victim to the “when we’re married” thinking for waaaaaay too long. I really should have bought some towels – they are not that expensive!

  5. My most recent one has been “I’ll wait to start biking to work again until spring when it’s warmer again.” I did the same thing last year and guess how many times I actually did it? Zero.

    I’m going to bike across town tonight to BS instead of driving (it’s about 9.5 miles, vs 8.5 to work), just to prove to myself it’s still doable.
    David@SkepticFinance recently posted..How Important Are Mutual Fund Expense Ratios?

    1. Emily says:

      You probably still have a bit of warmth left in the season! I bet if you biked for just two weeks consistently next spring it would become a habit.

      1. Plenty of warmth left, 9.5 miles last night in 51F weather and I was still too warm when I arrived.
        David@SkepticFinance recently posted..How Important Are Mutual Fund Expense Ratios?

  6. Erin says:

    I think it’s okay to have “later on” priorities for some things though. Pretty much all of my furnishings are eclectic at best and not necessarily what I’d want to have forever, but I’m fine with that for now. The later on could be moving or getting a house or just when X savings/spending goal is accomplished.

    1. Emily says:

      Haha you know our furniture is all from craigslist! But for us and probably you too furniture is not a high value. I’m living my life just fine with my cheap couches. 🙂

  7. Kristen says:

    I also attend Summit RDU! I love J.D.’s sermons. So glad I just found your blog!

    1. Emily says:

      Cool! Glad to have another local connection. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Catherine says:

    Good post! I agree…”We practice now how we want to live in the future to the very best extent that we can” Love this, hubby and I were the same way.
    Catherine recently posted..Scared.

    1. Emily says:

      I hope you still are!

  9. H says:

    Great post! I identify with this theme quite a bit. In order to justify my time as a grad student, I needed to recognize that this time in my life is not just a stepping stone, a “time-out” from my career–this is my career–now! It’s like a responsible way to interpret “carpe diem,” to practice, and enjoy what you want to be.

    Like you said, this theme permeates other parts of life–excellent example: Tonight we’re backpacking/camping! We don’t have time take a longer trip like we’d like, but we’re fitting in what we can now, before the inviting autumn weather turns to chilly winter.

    1. Emily says:

      Good furtherance of my point – grad school is actually a really important and formative (in many ways) career stage, not pre-career training.

      Have fun on your trip! I’m glad you’re doing what you can with the opportunities you have!

  10. […] made a good follow-up point to my post on living your real life now.  I advocated for not putting off your priorities and values, but Erin countered that “I […]

  11. […] and I’m serving as a financial coach through my church.  I’m particularly passionate about PhD students getting ahead financially during that time of their lives instead of just keeping their heads above water, which is why […]

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