Reasons Not to Grow Up or Reasons to Pretend You Didn’t
This year my oldest son will turn thirteen years old. I feel fortunate to say that, at twelve, he is still a little boy. He is a little boy in body and mind. He is a little boy in spirit and playfulness. He is a little boy in naiveté. He is a little boy through his ignorance. He is a little boy in his persistence. He is a little boy in resilience and curiosity.
And though these things are still true, I can forecast a time, very near, in which the inevitable changes of teen adolescence will occur. Soon, he will face the things we all faced on our way to becoming self-aware human adults.
He will seek out the nature of things with an increasingly critical eye as the dawn of real understanding begins to descend. He will realize his first true disappointments, likely to be rooted in the people to which he is closest. He will experience his first crucial longings, emotional and physical, in ways that his young mind can’t yet predict. He will experience great misunderstandings and tread feelings of rebellion and make irrational connections and irrational decisions that are entirely rational to him. He will become opinionated and passionate about topics that may have little relevance to others. And because of this irrelevance he will be tempted to shade his interests and passions, but he won’t abandon them because they are part of who he is. He will experience the first warm wash of (non-paternal) love and the first cold splash of jealousy and the first sharp stabs of envy.
He’s going to learn how to analyze and understand all of this stuff in his own way. And though I’ll get to be a part of it, providing him with any insights I can muster (that feel relevant to me), it will be an education uniquely his own. It will be painful and perfect, joyous and lonely. He will attach a sense of eternity to each year even as it is entirely brief.
You and I live on the other side of those experiences. They remain with us as memories and the building blocks of the people we became. And most of us would say, if presented with the opportunity, we would do it all over again. It’s not necessarily a matter of dissatisfaction with our lives. Rather, it stems from the feeling that, in growing up, we’ve lost something that cannot be recovered.
For the same reasons, to an extent, I don’t want my son to grow up, either. A piece of me would love to keep him here, living through these days and these experiences forever. And though my greater, more instinctual drive is to help guide him through to adulthood and meet the man he will become, it is my sincere hope that he will somehow manage to retain the irrational, immutable, irresponsible sense of curiosity that so few of us keep. The persistence, the passion, the resilient searching. I hope he keeps going, keeps making mistakes and being okay with it. I hope he keeps trying to figure it out, whatever it is.
With so many people that need help, so much to accomplish, and so many great things yet to be discovered, I hope he doesn’t grow up.
We live in a time in which youthful fearlessness and innovation is celebrated for its ability to breathe life into tired systems. For its unique ability to reveal art within old industrial platforms and processes that have grown stale throughout generations. While the media props up the smiling faces of startup billionaires, the real value of this mentality is much more relatable and easier to realize.
It is achieved by the recent college grad who worked ninety hours per week for a year to save enough money to travel the world and start an adventure blog, only to find that, three years later, it’s financially self-sustaining.
It is felt by the lawyer who leaves the office one day to create custom wood clocks in his home workshop and later discovers a productivity advantage that allows him to scale.
It is an experience shared by so many during this time of technology and uncertainty and opportunity.
Call it happiness or fulfillment or an entrepreneurial high. However defined, it represents a freedom to engage life in a way that redefines expectations. Technology has made so many things possible, not the least of which is the ability to maintain a youthful curiosity.I can think of no greater wish for my son.
I can think of no greater wish for any of us. We are surrounded by open doors and whispered voices urging us to step through them. For those of us who did our job and grew up, these passageways might just lead us to recapture what was lost. Maybe we can do it all over again. Some of it, anyway.
You’re not too old, yet…and neither am I.
Call it good, unsaid and unconscious business advice from a twelve-year-old.