“Growing up is a terribly hard thing to do. It is much easier to skip it and go from one childhood to another.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
As you begin reading this article, sitting in front of your latest technological device in your best work clothes, take a moment to look at your hands. Yes, your hands.
There was a time when those hands would unthinkingly pull on grass when your parents set you down in the park. A time when those hands would happily hold action figures and dolls in them as you made up stories and dialogues, believing in every single bit of it. A time when you’d get scolded for having mud all over those hands when you came home after hours of unrestrained fun. Think back to those innocent days when if in the middle of your games, a kid happened to walk in looking for a playmate, you’d be more than happy to hold her hand and run around giggling together. Today, you seek to train yourself on how to deliver the ‘perfect’ handshake with the right amount of firmness and duration, lest you make a bad impression.
Today, you might feel ‘uncomfortable’ including someone in your personal projects, paralyzingly embarrassed if you falter during a meeting or presentation, or frustrated if your resumé isn’t as extensive and fleshed out as your colleague’s.
So how did we get here? If being a child was such a liberating experience, why did we ever give up on it and decide to “grow up”?
Well, the most obvious response to this apparently ridiculous query is to say “well, because I had to grow up”. You had to. With parents regularly reminding you to start acting your age, relatives comparing your life achievements to the ideal ‘adult milestones’ of your cousins and peers and the society in general just nudging, pushing, literally shoving you down the path to adulthood with a heavy rulebook of do’s and don’t’s. To have to grow up is never easy, and when you’re looking for a way, blindly reaching out in the dark, you’d rather follow directions.
There’s nothing wrong with growing up, really. How else would we land the perfect job and evolve into smarter, wiser people? But smarter, wiser people with perfect jobs aren’t always necessarily happier. The reason looking back at our delightful childhood days invokes the kind of nostalgia it does is because it reminds us of a time when we were truly, unabashedly, unconditionally happy. It was a time when we were the best versions of ourselves, a time when we wanted to grow up but had not.
Today, we spend hours poring over self-help books, watching life-coach videos and just overall trying to be a better employer and employee when all we truly need to do is reconnect with and listen to that little buddy – the child within us.
Growing up doesn’t need to be about not laughing out loud at the silliest things anymore, or strictly conforming to the ‘role’ the world assigned to you on the basis of your education and experience. A child would laugh at you if you told him he couldn’t, in fact, be an astronaut-cowboy. So go ahead, laugh at the world as they list out all the reasons you wouldn’t be able to get that job done or accomplish that project you have given your heart and soul working for. People plan to do ‘impossible’ things all the time. Then they get them done. It is the persistence reminiscent of a determined child too short to climb atop a trampoline that gets them through anything.
The child in you had the skills to be friends with anyone, start a conversation with anyone and see the good in everyone. It wasn’t as much a skill, really, as it was the complete absence of instant, biased judgment. Yes, the years have shown you all sorts of characters but life has also given you the experience to be able to peek into the other side of the wall. Amalgamate the thrill of childhood naivete and the compassion of adult understanding to see colleagues, employers, clients in a different light – as people struggling, much like yourself, to survive in a ‘grown up’ world. Crack a smile, share a good joke or go along with a bad one. The world is too serious a thing to not be laughed at.
Yes, you did grow up but don’t be afraid of mistakes along the way. As a child, a fall off your bike, a misplaced letter in the alphabet or a crayon masterpiece on your bedroom wall didn’t mean the end of the world. It was just your young, curious mind “learning”. Why should it be any different now? Bring new methods and approaches to your work, and they’ll either fail spectacularly or succeed gloriously. Either way, you’d have “learnt” something for the day. Sure, the stakes are higher than just grazing your knee on the sidewalk, but that’s where the wisdom developed through your years of ‘having to grow up’ comes in. Use your years of worldly knowledge to your advantage and allow it to build on your passion for life instead of chipping away at your enthusiasm by drawing imaginary boundaries of conformation. Although you have had to grow up, temper your wild, child-like dreams with wisdom and voila, nothing is impossible.
The child in you is patiently waiting for a chance to revel in the joys of life. Just the way you watched and waited for the ice-cream guy to gently place the scoops on the crunchy cone. You know you and that child can take on anything together. It’s time.
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