“I never want to grow up.”
– Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie, August 3, 2008
This is the second in a series of my 3 favorite posts over the past 9+ years, in anticipation of my 1,000th (!) post coming up on August 23rd. As always, I’m eternally grateful that you’re here today to read this post and join my More Human Leadership journey.
This post was written in August of 2008, after a trip to Boulder, Colorado. At that time I was spending a lot of time traveling back and forth from my home in Connecticut to the Rocky Mountain region for my cable TV company, and Boulder was always a welcome resting and recharge place during my western journeys. It was also a very reflective place, owing to its picturesque locale at the base of the Rockies.
On this trip my wife flew out to join me in Boulder, and we took several long and leisurely strolls down the Pearl Street Mall. Little did I know that those walks, and watching an HBO special when I got home, would produce one of the most important and personally enriching posts I ever composed, and provide a critical guidepost for the life I have led (and written about) since then….
The Real Secret of Life
I’ve recently discovered the real secret of life. It took me nearly 49 years to figure it out, but as they say, better late than never.
I realize many other very smart people have taken a crack at this one. And some are making millions from their theories (hello, Rhonda Byrne – loved “The Secret“!). Others have put it in a song (e.g. James Taylor, who claimed the secret was “enjoying the passage of time“).
Me, I’m going to lay it out in a blog post. Much quicker than writing a whole book about it, and less complicated than writing a song.
How did I figure it out, finally? This “ah-ha” moment will be revealed later in the post, but I’ll give you a hint – it was during something I was watching on HBO.
For whatever cosmic reason, my path to the “ah-ha” became much clearer of late – I believe it was because I had laid much of the groundwork as a result of my thinking and writing about happiness and half-fullism over the past several years.
Happiness and fulfillment are elusive goals, and while I understood clearly that clear intent and a open-minded perspective were necessary ingredients, I had been searching for something else that would bind everything together into a nearly indestructible whole – the secret of life, if you will.
But now I’ve found it, and am ready to share it with the world.
The real secret of life?
Never grow up.
That’s right, just never grow up – completely. “Adulthood” as our society has defined it is the bane of our happy existence. Being in the open, wondrous, and joyful mind-set of a child as often as possible is the key to opening our hearts and minds.
How should this be applied in practice? Over the past several weeks, I was able to more clearly see the connections between certain “child-like” behaviors and what are commonly considered to be keys to a happy and successful adulthood. I present 7 of them below:
- Ice Cream and Candy Stores (Enjoying the Simple Pleasures). When I was in Boulder Colorado two weeks ago, I spent time in ice cream parlors and a candy store. There’s nothing that says “joy” more than walking into these kind of places . The vibe in the candy store was electric – both children and adults smiling and laughing like they had discovered paradise (or Good and Plenties) . Next time you have a chance, go into one of these places and watch a person of any age as they are handed their ice cream cone, or their bag of candy. Pure bliss. The adult lesson here is the enjoyment of simple pleasures – those little things that put a little more sparkle in our eyes and a spring in our step. It can be as simple as an ice cream, or if you are put off by the caloric content, a beautiful sunset (free of any fat or carbohydrates).
- Tantrums (Emotional Honesty) . There’s something liberating about wearing your emotion on your sleeve like a child does. Now I’m not advocating that all of us start yelling at the top of our lungs and jumping up and down every time we get upset (as attractive of an option that may be sometimes), but the essence of a tantrum is its raw honesty – there’s no hiding or obfuscating how the child feels. In our adult lives we all too often conceal our real feelings -for me, it’s mostly when I want to avoid conflict. That’s really no way to live our lives – hiding from the truth.
- Parental Acceptance (Goal Setting) – This one came to the surface for me just last week. During a whole process of preparing for and delivering a presentation to executive management, I realized that a great deal of what was driving me to do a good job was similar to how I would want to please my parents as a child. That desire for acceptance still tugs at me today – but directed towards mentors and those leaders I respect and admire. This elementary part of humanity is a powerful motivator, and most of the time you don’t even realize it. Down deep, we just want to please – and when that emotion is focused properly, it can be a powerful driver of success and goal setting and attainment.
Singalongs (The Therapy of Music) – My iPod is an interesting machine that I swear has a mind of it’s own when I put it on shuffle – it has some kind of mood sensor in it that picks up my vibe and then serves up just the right song (out of 4,000 possibilities). This past week it decided to play several songs that have children’s voices on it- real “singalongs“, just like we used to love to do when we were kids. Sure enough, when I heard these tracks (“Sing” by the Carpenters and “High Hopes” by Frank Sinatra), I sung along. Thank goodness I was alone in my office at the time, because I really belted them out, with a big wide smile on my face. The adult lesson here – never underestimate the power of music and what it can do for our mood and outlook.
- Wonder and Curiosity (Lifelong Learning) – When in Boulder my wife and I watched a couple of street performers work their magic. One in particular was a fantastic juggler, and I couldn’t get over all the children sitting as close as possible to the action, looking absolutely mesmerized by the proceedings. I thought how easily this feeling can be lost as we age – our curious nature can so easily be drummed out of us by the daily grind. We also take a lot of things for granted, never having the time to pause and ask that simple question, “why”? My sense of wonder came back a few weeks ago, when my wife and I watched a mini-series on National Geographic channel called “Earth – the Biography”. This planet of ours is a fascinating place, and for a few hours my wife and I became like those children in Boulder, leaning forward and being awestruck with what we were seeing. We must keep our curiosity, for continuous learning is not only good for the mind, but also for the soul.
Water Fountains (Being Present) – I was walking along the pedestrian mall in Boulder one afternoon and I saw a two year old playing in a water fountain. The child was totally focused on the water going up and down. He was studying it very closely, and began to walk closer to one particular stream. You could tell there was absolutely nothing else on his mind as he extended his hand to feel the water. This focus was quite admirable, especially for us typically multitasking adults. I’m glad he didn’t have a Blackberry buzzing on his waist, or a cell phone to his ear, or was in the midst of sending a DM on Twitter – that would have made it tougher to focus on that water. Watching this not only reminded me of the difficulty of “being present” in our lives, but the real benefit of doing so – an opportunity to truly “see” (and appreciate) what’s in front of you.
- Dancing (Exuberance) – Another great memory of our recent Boulder trip was watching the children dance to the street performers’ music, usually with reckless abandon. What fun that was to see such expressions of joy. Which brings me to the “ah-ha” moment I was talking about at the beginning of this post. Just the other night, my wife and I stumbled upon HBO, and a concert special by Justin Timberlake. This is one talented young man, and this concert featured more than just singing – there was a entire troupe of dancers that surrounded him throughout the show, showing off some very energetic and inventive steps. Justin was a quite impressive dancer himself. You could see the high energy on the screen, and feel it in the music. You could see the 18,000 people in the audience having the time of their lives, singing and dancing along. Before you knew it, my wife and I were totally drawn in. We actually felt a little guilty liking it so much, because it’s supposedly “younger persons” music. But like it we did, and when it was over, the exuberance transferred to us.
And that’s when I had the “ah-ha”.
I never want to grow up. I want to retain that exuberance. I can’t forget what being a child was like. I need to remember ice cream, candy stores, tantrums, the yearning for parental acceptance, singalongs, wonder and curiousity, water fountains, and yep, dancing. If I do, this life journey becomes even easier to navigate. And enjoy.
And that’s my version of the secret of life.
Coconut Chocolate Chip, anyone?