Are you growing up to be a child?
As I careen into my thirties, this idea about the direction I want my life to unfold has been dancing in my mind... The life I aspire to have “when I grow up” is reminiscent of, to my surprise, my childhood.
I find it interesting that as we become adults, we (are told to) let go of one vocabulary, and replace it with another, obscuring the similarities between five year old me, and the aspirational 50 year old me.
To have an impact
Think about a baby poking and prodding the toys hanging from their mobile… Or what about the never-ending joy we got as kids building with blocks and then knocking them down? According to research cited by David Graeber, as babies develop, their “sense of self is tied up with that kind of joyous realization that you can have effects on the world.” This realization creates “absolute joy and delight” in them.
Wanting to have an impact is a fundamental motivation for me now. Solving big tough problems in my work, creating things that will touch lots of people, tackling systemic issues, or making a difference in my community are my adult versions of prodding at a mobile and seeing it move.
Playing alone, or with my sister and my friends, was literally what life revolved around.
As an adult, on weekends I like skiing, mountain biking, playing music, dancing to music, board games, and hockey (just to name a few). We don’t use the word as much as adults, but damn, I still love to play! I’m lucky too, because I do manage to make time to play. And as I grow up, I aim to make more time for it. There’s that sweet sweet “life of leisure” that retirement is said to bring. Sounds good (old man dancing and bridge playing, anyone?). The point is, as adults we still want to play, even if we’ve replaced that word with others.
The definition of “leisure”: use of free time for enjoyment
To be taken care of
My mother and father used to take care of me, feed me, do things for me, and keep me warm and dry. They made me feel safe and taken care of.
For those socio-economically lucky enough, many decisions are made in the name of delayed gratification, like siphoning some cash into RRSPs, or sticking out a degree. Ultimately, the goal is to have enough financial and familial support to be “taken care of” as we age. We all want to be able to pay for restaurants, laundromats, taxies, cleaners, cruises, healthcare and assisted living. From the time we leave home, we’re working to build up the wealth to have the bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs taken care of for us once again, like our parents used to.
To be present
When I was a kid the days were longer, and life was right in front of me. I (think) I was pretty present in what I was doing, and would often lose track of time.
Now I’ve got “adulating” to do. I’m being pulled in many directions at once: notifications on my phone, a busy schedule of meetings, projects and a social and family life to nurture. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy. Presence is a sought after state. I’ve listened to countless interviews, and read countless articles about meditation or mindfulness practices. If you search “meditation” on Medium you could probably scroll for hours... It appears that once we graduate from childhood, we spend the rest of our lives pursuing the lifestyle and mental state necessary to go back to being present again.
To use my imagination
When I was a kid I used to play with Lego for hours. A trip to the park took on countless forms in my mind’s eye, and we loved to craft our own board games. I remember thinking it was funny how adults seemed so bad at using their imagination — “what’s wrong with those poor adults?” I thought.
Now, my favourite parts of work are brainstorming, visualizing future states, and developing strategies that consider all the scenarios. I still like using my imagination, though we don’t call it that now. As I grow up I want to spend more of my time using my creativity and imagination to get after increasingly exciting and complex problems at work, and have time for other kinds of art.
Are you growing up to recreate some aspects of your childhood too?