big kids: part 1 of 4

Childlike isn't childish.

My friend Matt is celebrating his birthday this week – and by “this week,” I do mean all week:

BD Exchange

Matt is an adult – a tad older than me, in fact.  Matt is also Vice President at a well-known, multi-billion-dollar international company. Rest assured, people take him seriously.  He’s just learned not to take himself that seriously.

Before I go further, please know that Matt is not celebrating his birthday all week because he’s stinking rich and is just finding another excuse to lounge around having his servants feed him grapes and fan him. He’s actually a rather shy, nice, normal guy.

I told Matt that I have actually always celebrated Birthday Week myself (and sometimes Birthday Month). In fact, at 45 years old, I have never once worked on my birthday.

I can imagine the polar reactions going on right now.

Actually, I don’t have to imagine them because I’ve experienced them. On the one hand, I can think of the many people in my life who’ve heard me say this and are disdainful – perplexed at best.  Scowl lines abounding, they say, “Why on earth would you do that? Birthdays are for kids not adults. That’s just ridiculous.”

On the other hand, I have a small handful of friends who would respond, “Well, of course! Why wouldn’t you? I say take every single opportunity you can to celebrate in life!”

So who’s right?

Of course, this is about more than birthdays. It’s at core a debate about whether there comes a time in life when “the responsible thing to do” is to make a clean break from our childhood selves in order to be taken seriously in the landscape of adulthood.

I would propose that there is a vast difference between being childlike and being childish. Let me go a step further and suggest that, in order for us to enjoy life fully as we get older, we absolutely cannot abandon those parts of our earlier selves that held insight, creativity, simplicity, joy and the like.

There is a vast difference between being childlike and being childish.

Over the course of the next several posts, I’d like to suggest four parts of our child-selves (among many more) that we would do well to hang onto.

Or perhaps rediscover.

1. Children understand the value of fun and laughter.

By nature of my mentor role, I get to spend a good amount of time around kids and teens.  I won’t quote debatable studies about the number of times children laugh in a day versus the number of times adults do, but I can tell you with certainty – kids laugh more.  They just have a knack for seeing the humor in things.

Even now, I can vividly recall sitting in boring church services next to a friend, and playing out silent “scenes” with each other, using our index and middle fingers as the legs of imaginary people who did daring and absurd stunts. There we would be – hunched over, our backs quivering and our faces turning red – as we fought with all our might not to burst out laughing in the middle of the sermon.

We could make a game out of nearly anything – or nothing at all – and wind up doubled over and out of breath with our antics, until we’d finally be lying on the floor or draped over furniture, exhausted, with that feeling you’d get in your cheeks as if you’d just blown up too many balloons. It was cathartic. It got us through not only boring times, but times of hardship or stress. Somehow, kids just know – you have to laugh in life.

Yet for most, when we pass some imaginary line in time, we get the idea that this natural and effective means of combating life’s stresses is now off limits. (I actually even have adult friends who go to great lengths to maintain a neutral expression at all times, shunning laughter altogether on the sheer grounds that “it will deepen my crow’s feet and laugh lines.”)

I’d like to stand up and say that you can be taken seriously in life without committing to a serious demeanor and decorum as the norm.  In fact, I would venture to say that negative terms are used far more often in describing the all-too-serious people of the world, than in mocking those who are known for an abundance of lightheartedness or laughter.

Don’t be too “adult” to laugh. Make room for fun. It’s not just “OK to do.” It’s a necessity.

[Check back tomorrow for another idea on how to bring back the best parts of the childlike you.]

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