"You Don't Have to" Series, Independence

You Don’t Have to: Grow Up

“When you’re a child, anything and everything is possible. The challenge, so often, is hanging on to that as we grow up. – Dame Ellen MacArthur in this great TED talk

As kids, the idea of growing up means achieving some unwritten list of objectives: start liking pizza crusts, stay in downtown hotels when you go on vacation, move up the corporate ladder, and go to spin classes at 6am.

You’re supposed to read the news instead of mystery novels, and wear a tie even though it serves absolutely no purpose. Yeah, right? Ties are dumb.

Short of eating glue or soiling your pants, here are just a few practical reasons for keeping at least some of your inner-child alive and well.

1. Keep Reading Fiction

When Andrea and I go to the library, I don’t see her until we’re ready to leave; in a cloud of dust she’s off to the fiction section and I make my way to the old man aisles: finance, gardening and urban design.

I feel like just by showing her my stack of books her eyelids start to droop. That’s fine, each to their own. But I convince myself that my pile of non-fiction is superior; reading stories doesn’t teach you anything.

I mentioned this to Andrea, and of course she squashed my dumb assumption. Sure, a book on stock market investing might help you grow or build a skill to some degree, but fiction builds you in a way that’s just as, if not way more, important.

It flexes your creativity and imagination muscles. And those muscles are just like any other muscles, without use they atrophy.

A child’s imagination is astounding. When I read Harry Potter as a kid I remember creating and visualizing an entire imaginary world filled with detailed characters and landscapes, all in my head. Maybe I should put a few of those mutual fund books back on the shelf.

2. The Importance of Making Art

Growing older and being subjected to countless standardized systems, it’s hard not to get cornered into certain ways of thinking and doing things; passing tests, fitting in, appropriate dinner conversation, ‘acting our age.’

And that’s fine, but Seth Godin says that the future desperately needs artists. The new world now demands connection and creativity, not widgets and items like we have the last several decades.

Plus, we also have no shortage of big worldly problems that aren’t going to be solved by inside-the-box thinking.

So think like your 9-year old self. Be an artist and stay creative. And I don’t mean in the stereotypical ‘paint a mountain landscape or sing a song’ artist. Any profession has the opportunity to make art. Maybe it’s making a 2-minute Youtube video instead of a complicated report to get your point across in a meeting.

Look at Walt Disney, Elon Musk, Yvon Chouinard; changing the world means resisting conformity and trusting your core beliefs and imagination.

Peter Pan had it figured out.

3. Doing kid stuff is cheap

Adults love having plans. They often pay for entertainment or a fancy meal. They have to buy specific running clothes to go running (“ooh does that shirt have ultra-light, super-dry, mega-wicking technology?”), and fly across the world to see beautiful places and meet new people.

Kids don’t care about plans. They can make entertainment out of some chalk and a sidewalk. They wear the same clothes whatever the heck they’re doing. They find beauty and friendship in their neighborhood.

What’s the difference? First, kids find joy in all the amazing stuff we take for granted. And second, it’s all way cheaper.

Running around with a soccer ball is way more fun and requires no monthly fee like a treadmill in a gym. Going tobogganing at the local hill saves a $180 Whistler lift pass. Go out without a plan (full disclosure I’m absolutely no good at this), or build a fort and watch a movie inside it instead of going out to the movie theatre.

Creativity is the critical sidekick to frugality: DIY and life hacks demand the thoughtful action rather than the mindless replace/consumption approach as so well ingrained in us well trained grown-ups.

That all being said, I love being a grown up. I mean, taxes and body odour aren’t the greatest but I love the growing challenges and responsibility that my increasing age brings me.

But I don’t want to leave behind my inner 9-year old. I want to be my most authentic self, and do and say what my gut believes.

I still want to find wonder riding the commuter train or taking out the garbage, and I generally want avoid doing things just because ‘that’s what everyone else does.’

I suppose that’s what this whole ‘You Don’t Have to’ series boils down to: to approach life decisions with ‘what would the kid in me do in this situation?’


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