Living in Neverland

I don’t want to grow up. That doesn’t mean that I refuse to get a job, pay my own bills, or be generally responsible for myself. It means that I don’t want to lose my curiosity or my creativity and I’m terrified that one day I’ll start being too practical about things.

Last year as I sat on my couch shuffling through a stack of essays for my creative non-fiction writing workshop I came across a piece written by one of my classmates that brought up an important topic. I still think about that essay every now and then. I’ll get to the topic in a minute, but first you need the long story short summary.

My classmate wrote about either her young cousin or her nephew, I can’t remember, but what’s important is that he was a child. During the time she spent with him she recalls all of these questions he asked her that sounded so ridiculous in the moment but end up being kind of profound. The one question that sticks out to me still is “How do you know that Europe exists if you’ve never been there?”

She tries to come up with a rational answer to that question and others throughout the essay, but finds her explanations falling short each time. She says that any rational person might say they know Europe exists because they’ve seen pictures, read about it’s history, know someone who has been there, etc. Despite all of her efforts the kid remains skeptical. He seems like one of those people who takes the “I’ll believe when I see it” stance on the subject.

What came across at first as a heartwarming, comical picture of the relationship she has with a member of her family quickly turned into a piece with a more serious concern.

Her piece got 15 or so twenty-something students to side with a toddler. During the critique portion of workshop we all started thinking about how smart and curious this kid was, we didn’t write him off because of how young he was or how silly he sounded. What started as critique turned into a college classroom trying to figure out how it is that we come to lose our curiosity about seemingly mundane and unimportant things. When kids ask questions like “How do you know Europe exists if you’ve never been there?” we don’t tell them it’s a stupid thing to ask, we encourage them to keep asking questions no matter how irrational. When they say they want to be a bull rider or an astronaut when they grow up we encourage them to follow their dreams, we don’t tell them to pick something more secure.

Where along the timeline of our lives do we lose that curiosity that compels us to question things? When do we stop indulging in irrational behavior that brings joy to us for a more practical take on life? When do we stop doing things simply because we want to and they make us happy? Maybe it’s when our first major disappointment hits and we feel silly for taking a risk. Maybe it’s when we graduate from high school or college and we feel there is a set of expectations we have to meet to become successful in the eyes of others. But what the hell is success? What kind of people are we if we let one disappointment force us to trade curiosity for practicality?

Success isn’t worth a thing if your definition of success makes you miserable.

I don’t want to grow up. I want to have a job I love, I want to have my own place, I want to have a family somewhere down the road, but I don’t want to grow up. Not if it means I have to stop asking silly questions and stop doing seemingly irrational things that make me happy. I may never have a book published, but I’m still going to write every day. I may never become good at any of the hobbies I take up, but I’m going to keep crocheting, crafting, and sketching. I may never have some high paying job, but I’m going to keep pursuing the projects that give me life until I find something. I’m going to keep doing all of these things because they make me feel alive and connected to my life.

Practicality and normality will kill your happiness. Sure a “normal” life might give you comfort and stability but neither of those things made anyone excited to wake up in the morning and take on the day. Passion is what makes people excited to wake up in the morning and use the time that they have to inspire and create and do something that adds value to their life. It doesn’t matter where the other people in your life are or were at your age or what they wanted, what matters is you and what you want. Tirelessly and in any way you can pursue those things in life that are going to make you feel alive.

We need to learn to be like children again. Kids take risks without fear. Kids dream big. Kids ask the important questions while the rest of us are trying to come up with a logical answer to everything. Being an adult doesn’t mean you have to lose who you were as a child. It doesn’t mean you have to grow up. It doesn’t meant you have to cease doing all things that don’t bring you money, success, or that don’t have a purpose beyond making you happy.

The happiest people I know decided they weren’t going to settle for ordinary. They may not have it easy most of the time, but they’ve enjoyed the ride so far.