“Act your age, not your shoe size.”
That is one of my least favorite quotes ever.
Something happens when we grow up. Officially grow up. Adulthood.
We forget to be silly. We don’t belly laugh. We lose that sense of wonder. We forget to make time to “play”. We forget what it felt like to be 10 years old, a kid. We get so damn serious.
Why? I am not sure, but everywhere I look I see the same serious, stressed-out faces of grown ups looking and acting like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. And in their thoughts. Distracted, far away, sad faces.
I was “that guy” for a long, long time.
When we get older society tells us that we must “grow up”. That life as adults is serious business. We need to make money. Raise a family. Go to work. Wake up early. Do it all over again.
Politics and the world is complicated and scary. As adults, we face serious challenges and responsibilities. Loved ones get sick, people die, kids go sideways and backwards and work is hard.
While I get all of that and I do take my own responsibilities very seriously, I have come to understand that living without a sense of joy, fun and silliness is really not living at all. That it’s possible to be focused on the things that matter and that are important, and also enjoy the hell out of life. To never take a day for granted.
When I was younger and building my career and growing my family, I was a serious guy. Intense. Focused. I never wanted to appear to be anything but that for fear that people wouldn’t take me seriously. As I started to really understand the meaning of life through my Buddhist practice, I learned that the real purpose of life, the true meaning of life, is simply to he happy and that we ourselves are the only ones that can determine that life state. So I started to see that what was missing from my own life was my ability to act and feel like a kid again. To find joy again in the simplest of things and situations.
I went searching to reclaim my inner child. To find him. I had buried him deep, deep inside. I missed him. I wanted desperately to rediscover him.
When I was a kid I loved music. My mom had come home one day and bought a drum set from a thrift store. It was a piece of crap held together by duct tape actually, but when I played I was John Bonham! I also had a basketball court in my driveway that had potholes all around it, but when I played I was Walt “Clyde” Frazier. And when I was hanging with my friends, we would sit by a fire and laugh our asses off. When I was a teenager I loved being a camp counselor, too. It was one of the best jobs I ever had. I secretly wished I could be like Bill Murray in one of those cheesy movies where he was the grown up who acted like a kid. I also remember watching my dad paint as a hobby and loved seeing the joy it brought him and always marveling at that.
But along the way, I lost my passion for all of those things. I buried those thoughts and feelings deep inside my serious, driven, focused life condition. So it’s not too hard to understand why my stress level kept rising and rising as a result. Without laughter every day, each day simply became a grind.
As I embarked on my spiritual awakening over the past few years, I discovered that I really missed my younger self. All of these things I do daily now like meditate, read, practice Buddhism and mindfulness, reinforced in me the notion that if I am not happy, I need to change my thoughts and as a result, my life condition will change.
So I did.
And guess what? Those things that I used to do as a kid are all things I am now doing again and more. I play the drums again. I am the camp counselor again when I coach my kids’ basketball teams. I play basketball with my friends (and their kids:). I paint. I sit buy outdoor fire pits and laugh with my friends and family.
Every day, I find things that make me laugh. I find situations that are hysterical. Like all-out belly laughs. And I also make it a point every week to be with my friends to hang out, tell funny stories, make fun of each other. Laugh at it all. And the same with my family. And as a result, I rediscovered my younger self and I honestly have never been happier.
One of my favorite movies is “Finding Neverland.” I remember when I saw it, I was so emotional (as my wife and friends will tell you, that’s probably an understatement since the even the coffee commercial of the soldier coming home makes me cry:). I didn’t really understand why then but I do now. Because the simple premise of the movie is a grown up who never lost his sense of childhood wonder. This scene gets me every time…
Why should we lose our sense of joy, humor, silliness and fun as we get older? Why do we have to be so serious all the time? Why don’t we make time for our friends more to just let go and be silly? Why must we be consumed with our disappointments and frustrations?
I get that life can be hard. That life is serious. That as we grow up the pressures and responsibilities grow. But perhaps the most important thing I have learned on my spiritual highway of self discovery is that we each have the power to determine our life condition. Not society. Not culture. Not our peers. Nothing. We lose our sense of self when we surrender our power to others. And so I decided to take back my own narrative and as a result, I have more fun in my life.
There is a great quote that I have hanging in my office to remind me everyday of living a life of joy by Benjamin Franklin:
“Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five.”
Today I dance, I sing, I laugh and I play. I find wonder and joy in everything I do. And, as a result, the more difficult and serious things I have to confront and deal with in life don’t seem so serious and difficult any more.
What if instead of complaining or bitching about the things that disappoint you in life, you used that time to tell a funny story? What if instead of keeping your head down when you are out and about, you smiled at a stranger or simply engaged in small talk and made light of something in that conversation? What if you focused everyday on spending more time on the silly than the serious? What if…
“You acted your shoe size and not your age?!?”
I bet your life would be a whole not different. I know mine is now.