As a very old bit of wisdom says, “Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.” And whether you believe it was said by Carroll Bryant, Chili Davis, Bob Monkhouse, your therapist, your mother, or someone totally different, it doesn’t matter. It’s not true.
I mean it is true. No one necessarily has to grow up. Unfortunately, most of us are forced into the act.
When you’re young, people praise you for being creative and asking questions and playing pretend and imagining great things. They tell you that you can be anything in the world, anything at all, when you get older. They praise your curiosity.
Then somewhere along the way they tell you to sit down and be quiet. The world spoon feeds you and tells you to grow up. Don’t do that. You’re too old for that. Stop finger painting and reading children’s books and watching fantasy and sci-fi shows and watching clouds and playing pretend and dancing in the rain and chatting up strangers while waiting in line and being so nice to people and being silly and enjoying bumper cars and laughing when someone farts and dreaming of being the president and JUST STOP trying to be something you’re not.
Well who decided what I’m not?
I certainly didn’t decide I wanted to stop helping the kids at church with their arts and crafts and learning fun songs about the endless and bountiful love of an all-powerful, accepting God. The assistant pastor told me I had to go play with the teenagers who teased me for things I couldn’t change and who never played anything I was good at or ever wanted to learn about anything religious. So I grew up, and I stopped loving religion. I stopped loving church because I was told I was too old to have fun there. I was too old to enjoy it.
I didn’t decide the playground was too childish for me or that laughing out loud was inappropriate. The parents who stare at me like I’m about to abduct their children even when I’m just on the swing set making myself dizzy decided that. The guy at 2 am at IHop who complained that me and some friends joking around was disturbing his meal decided that. I didn’t stop enjoying those things. I became ashamed of those things because of society.
I used to revel in my originality and my interests, and now I hide myself from even my extended family because the world has decided I must grow up, I must. I must grow up or I’ll fall behind. I must get a job at a desk or working for minimum wage. I must get a Doctorate. I must get married and have 2.5 kids and a dog.
But I want to wind down after working with a fantasy novel and play video games until I pass out and put bright highlights in my hair and go to work with it and get too emotional over television shows about people who don’t exist and sleep with a giant stuffed tiger and dream about traveling the world and having the job I always wanted to have and get my face painted at a carnival and play on the jungle gym and sing to myself in public and skip when I want to and break out into dance and have fun my way, not society’s way.
And who decided that I couldn’t? Because there’s something wrong in society when we force our citizens to give up on their dreams and to put aside originality to fit in and succeed and yet claim we want “creative individuals” in our job postings.
Growing old is mandatory, and in this world growing up is a rule. And if you break it, you’re either a success story told to inspire others to keep treading the mill or you’re a failure and society uses you to wipe their shoes after work.
Break the mold for a second with me and use your imagination.
What kind of world would we have if we let people keep dreaming as they got older? What kind of innovations would we have if we just let people grow whichever way they wanted to?
Stop telling people to grow up. The greatest horror this world imposes on us is the idea that we must grow up or be deemed a failure.