And we're back.

Breaks are always a cocktail of relaxation and idleness. Many of us return home and find ourselves stripped of our independence for a couple of weeks. We have to be back for dinner and ask our parents if we can stay out. So coming back to school is mostly sweet, but also bitter: on the up side, we're back in our element; on the down side, that element includes homework.

But the beginnings of semesters are always fun. Since my return to Knoxville, I've watched roughly half a season of Game of Thrones with my housemates, played quite a few rounds of Catan, and done one too many shirtless snow angels. Freedom, complete with mild frostbite.

Soon though, the not-so-fun stuff will come back. We see our friends almost too much near the beginning of the semester; by the end, we have to play catch-up after months of all work and no play.

College is meant to be like this. It eases us from the lightness and social ease of high school to the rigor of adulthood. We end each semester feeling old and tired, and after each break we come back a little more adult-like. Freshman year, we stay up till 4 a.m. making stupid decisions. By the time we're seniors, we get droopy-eyed at 11 p.m. and own outfits that qualify as "business casual."

Welcome to the real world?

In a way, college does seem a bit magical and unreal. Buying my own groceries for the first time was a mystic paradise where no one tells you that you can't buy Cheez-It's. But now I plan ahead so I can get in and out of Kroger without walking down the same aisle twice.

College is full of magical firsts, too — first crazy party, first serious romance, first time living on your own, first time with a real job. While fun, each first has its own honeymoon phase, never quite returning to the greatness of the first time. So we go out and adventure for a new first.

This newness is probably why many adults remember college as the best time of their lives, before the mundanity of the "real world."

Maybe John Mayer is right, and there's no such thing as the real world. But it sure does seem that things get more real as we get older.

When we're kids, we think of happiness is just having "fun." A 10-year-old splashing in a pool does it because it's fun, that's it. A happy child is a carefree child.

While adults probably play too little, being free of care is not a happy adult life. We want to care about things. Why would we want families, start careers and develop strong interests if we didn't want to care about things?

So as we age, we're all slipping into the real world of jobs and hobbies and lovers and long-distance friendships. But I think that's a good thing. I think we should want to care, not escape. We want to find things to be passionate about, not just have fun all the time.

Every year on Christmas Eve, my family goes to this old theater in Nashville to watch "It's a Wonderful Life." There's a point (Zuzu's petals!) where I start to cry every year, like an ugly, blubbering little baby. And while I can reign it back in, the last unspoken line of the movie always reopens the floodgates. It reads:

"Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."

George Bailey, the protagonist of the movie, starts out like a lot of us are now. He's young, adventurous and wants to fill his memory with firsts — first trip overseas, first building built, first million dollars. And while he doesn't get to do each of those things, he really does have a wonderful life — full of friends, family and a legacy of kindness.

So as the semesters roll by and we get a little closer to the real world, be reassured that we're headed in the right direction. Don't be scared to have a little fun with it.

Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy. He can be reached at eford6@utk.edu.