As many of you may know, I recently came back from a trip to the U.S., where I had the opportunity to spend some real quality time with two very special little gentlemen. No, I did NOT hit the midget convention in Las Vegas; I’m talking about my two adorable nephews. I love spending time with kids. I study them, soaking up every detail I can about how they view things. I’m convinced that kids are our greatest teachers. They remember how to be happy, and I do my best to crawl inside their little heads and get me some of that.
So, like Jane Goodall with the monkeys, I tried to blend into the gooey, slimy, farty world that is the habitat of the average, American little boy and gain their trust. The purchase of a remote controlled helicopter helped (I suspect Jane may have done something similar with a rope and an old tire.) I’m not sure if they ever really accepted me as one of their own, but they never once threw their poo at me, which, I believe, is more than Jane can say. More importantly, I took away many, many lessons, one of which, I’m going to share with you today.
Children know how to be young. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Duh, Melody. It may seem redundant, but stay with me: Age is nothing but a mindset. Sure, you’re going to move through time, and you’re going to get older – chronologically. You’re going to have responsibilities like a job, a house, a girlfriend or wife and maybe even a kid. But you don’t HAVE TO really ever grow up (at least not completely anyway), and you certainly don’t have to get old. Ever.
I’ve met people in their 20′s who were old. They went to a job that they hated every day, came home exhausted, sat down on the couch, bitched about how crap everything is and waited for the sweet release of death. They had no energy, no interests, no passions, no joy, no giddiness, and no playfulness. They acted like you might expect an old, tired man to act. I’ve also met incredibly inspiring people in their 60′s, 70′s, 80′s and even 90′s who were young (I’ve yet to meet a young person who is over 100, but I know they exist). I don’t mean that they were young at heart or some bullshit like that. I mean, these people had more energy than I did, could’ve probably outrun and outfoxed me in the event of a Zombie attack, cracked jokes, continuously found new and interesting things to try, lived their lives with passion, and truly enjoyed every single day. While backpacking through Europe, I met a fellow backpacker, a woman in her late 60′s, who had just come back from walking the entire Camino de Santiago de Compostela. That’s over 500 miles! This is a feat I have yet to accomplish, although I plan to only do much less than that and start on the Spanish side of the mountains, because I’m too goddam lazy to drag myself across the Pyrenees. I met a woman in her 70′s who was traveling the world. She had no fear of falling down and breaking her hip. She had a ton of fantastic and funny stories to tell (I actually really want to be this woman when I’m 70. And 80. And 120). Seniors are running marathons, learning how to ski, starting businesses, going to Yoga class, learning Kung-Fu, and generally doing anything and everything they want. Well, some of them are – those that don’t think that they’re too old for such shenanigans.
Age is a mindset
If some chronologically “young” people are actually old and some chronologically “old” people are actually young, then our date of birth or number of wrinkles clearly don’t have to determine how old we truly are. We can all stay young forever, we just have to remember how. And who better to teach us than those who seem to remember best: little kids.
Kids know how to be young
When I watched my nephews and other children, as well, I noticed that they embody certain qualities that we’ve associated with youth:
- They have the ability to enjoy themselves under almost all conditions. Kids can have fun with a shoebox. They don’t care (unless they’ve been taught to) what other people think. They’ll play cops and robbers in the supermarket, or turn the handrail at church into a slide.
- They live completely and totally in the moment. Kids don’t worry about tomorrow (we do, and we try to get them to, but they generally don’t give a crap.) They’re infinitely impatient. It’s all about the NOW. How can I have fun NOW? What can I do NOW? And when they find something that interests them, they are completely and totally immersed in that subject. They shut out the rest of the world, thoughts of homework, even food, and focus so completely on their game and their enjoyment that everything else ceases to exist for them.
- They are interested in new things. Kids are always learning. This isn’t because they’re new models and their brains aren’t full yet (which would be the conclusion of the “too old to learn new tricks” paradigm). They’re interested in everything around them. They see the newness of it. Even when they look at something they’ve seen before, they discover a new angle, a new way to see it. They can be fascinated by an ant, a butterfly, or even a blade of grass. They read voraciously (or ask tons of questions) and soak up any bit of information they can on the subjects they find interesting. And these subjects are always changing. They’re never done.
Why aren’t you married yet?!
If you’ve been feeling old lately, it’s not entirely your fault. Ok, it totally is, but I’m going to let you off the hook anyway, because I know that you may be subjected to a ton of pressure from those around you and if you weren’t conscious of this pressure, it may have been nearly impossible for you to stay objective on this.
Most of us grew up in an environment of expectation. By 18 months, you should be walking. By 24 months, you should be talking. By 5, you should know how to read. By 16, you should be prepping for college. By 22, you should be done with school, get a job, marry your high school sweetheart, get a house, a dog and start thinking about making babies. The authority figures around you (parents, grandparents, other assorted relatives, teachers, doctors, neighbors, people on TV, magazines, newspapers, the media in general…) have all these deadlines and if you dare to miss any of them, bad, bad things await you. The people that love you use these deadlines to assure themselves that you’re going to be ok. They want you to be happy and they figure that if you follow the right path, you’ll have the highest possible chance of getting there. Except, they only know one path – the one they were taught to follow with the promise that it would lead them to happiness. The fact that it often didn’t seems to escape them now. This is the safe path, the secure path, and anything that deviates from it is scary as hell. For them.
And this is why I got 2 emails in one week, one from a 24 year old and one from a 26 year old, asking me to help them because at their age they’re running out of time to get it all together. Sheesh. Kids today!
Meeting responsibilities vs. growing up
When I tell people that I don’t believe that we ever have to grow up, their response is usually something like “We have to. What would you have people do? Live with their moms for the rest of their lives?” What they don’t get is that I never meant that people shouldn’t become responsible. I don’t live with my mom. I pay my bills every month. I have insurance. I clean my house, wash my clothes, manage to dress myself, eat incredibly well, maintain a variety of personal and professional relationships and even managed to not only hold down but totally excel at a number of jobs across four industries. And I refuse to grow up. In fact, I have gotten quite a bit younger in the last two years. I was so intent on hitting those deadlines (mine were more self-imposed though) that at 19, I was actually more like 45. Now, my age depends on how I feel that day. On some days, I start the day off as a Chai tee sipping 26 year old, then drink my raw chocolate berry smoothie with the joy of a 7 year old, switch to 30 while I call my bank and pick up some groceries, become a 12 year old while I stand in line and imagine all the people around me doing the Mambo (naked), write a blog post as a 29 year old, occasionally dip back to 11 to come up with some juvenile jokes, go have a drink with a friend at 33 (I’d go younger but I would regret it the next day), get a total giggle attack as 10 year old me, and finally fall into bed as a 60 year old, only to wake up and do it all again. In other words, I have the ability to morph into any age, depending on what the situation calls for. I do tend to avoid the teenage years. They’re entirely too pimply and angsty for me.
Being responsible is not the same as growing up and certainly not the same as growing old. “Growing Up” in our society often means no longer taking the time to really enjoy life. You don’t have time for that. You’re a grown up, now. It means caring more about what society or other people think than you do, so that you’ll slot into pre-defined boxes just to make them happy (or to shut them up). You can’t afford the luxury of being happy. You’re a grown up now. It means taking care of others (even if those others are your boss, your friends, your spouse and other assorted adults), before you take care of yourself. That’s what grownups do. They bite the bullet and do what has to be done. It means no longer having permission to be silly, to have giggle attacks, to fart in public (ok, that last one isn’t such a bad thing), or to simply daydream. That’s not appropriate for a grown up. What’s wrong with you? Silly rabbit! Happiness is for kids!
Except it’s not. And that’s the point of this whole post: You can get back that child like wonder, that ability to enjoy yourself anywhere and anytime, that ability to be happy. You can become young again, no matter what your age, and you can stay young until you die, no matter how long you live.
Start growing younger now
- Find a new way to look at an old situation. While driving to work, instead of zoning out and going into auto-pilot, really notice your surroundings. Look at the buildings and the billboards. Notice the other drivers. Now, resist the urge to bitch about them. Look for good things, silly things, things that make you laugh. Make up funny stories about the other drivers or pedestrians. Sing a silly song. What would your kids do?
- The next time you’re standing in line at the bank or the grocery store, instead of hating every second of it, just decide to smile and be happy. Be the happy dork. I do it all the time. I’m sure the people around me wonder what the hell I’m so happy about. Maybe they think I’m brain damaged. But you know what? Some of them smile back.
- Be in the moment. Be totally present. The activity doesn’t matter. You could be doing the dishes or a financial report. You could be soaking up the sun or looking at a ladybug. Be present in that moment. Notice every detail. Notice how you feel.
- Learn something new. Read a book that looks interesting, even if, or especially if, it’s on a subject you know NOTHING about. Go take a class. Get the old noggin’ moving. Doing the same thing every day will make you old.
- Travel. Get out of your comfort zone. Give your brain some completely new surroundings to chew on. Be childlike when you visit new places. Marvel at everything you see. Look for the beauty and the newness. Soak it up. Don’t go to France and eat a Hamburger. Try new foods and have new experiences. You might not like everything you try, but then you’ll have some funny stories to tell.
- Seek out and collect adventures. Life isn’t about collecting stuff, it’s about having experiences. Even just planning a trip will change your outlook. The preparation and the looking forward to it will get you excited weeks or even months before the actual travel date. You don’t have to run off to China. Plan a hiking trip for the weekend.
- Make a bucket list and start checking things off. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go skydiving. Learn how to Salsa. Learn flower arranging or bungee jumping. Volunteer at the old folks home, like you’ve always wanted to. Do one thing a week or one thing a month, but do it. New experiences and surroundings help our brains stay young and keep us excited about life.
Young people live. Grownups exist. Stop being such a freaking grownup already, will you?
How do you stay young? What life lessons have you learned from observing children? Have you adopted any of them? Share in the comments!