Is an “adult” what I want to be?

I had a major realization today. I realized that since I was a small child, all I’ve wanted to be is an adult. I had very little interest in most of the things that “children” did: sports, playing with other children my age and so forth. I always felt like I related better to the adults around me than to those who were supposed to be my peers. I never really felt they were my peers. As a second grader, I didn’t want to learn soccer, I learned computer programming.

Being Adult
Creative Commons License photo credit: young_einstein

Some aspects of this have been a wonderful gift to me throughout my life, I’ve developed my technical and creative skills, and had the opportunity to do some really wonderful things at a remarkably young age.

But this is all familiar territory for me, today was something new.

Today I realized that maybe being a “responsible adult” was not really what I wanted. It had never occurred to me to consider any other possibility, and even as I write these words my monsters (to use Havi’s term) are going crazy yelling at me: “how could you want to be anything but a responsible adult, what else is there that it would be reasonable to be?”

Today I unpacked the meaning of the words “responsible adult” to me.

I came to understand something really powerful in the process of doing this. I realized that in my mind “responsible adult” was nothing more than societal programming, the set of rules that I absorbed unconsciously from the time I was a tiny baby I’m watching the people around me and drawing conclusions about the rules that they operated by based on what I saw. One of the things that’s interesting to note, is that at the time that I was receiving this programming unknowingly I was not in a position to really understand or analyze what was happening. My two or three or four-year-old brain didn’t understand why people were doing what they did, and some of the conclusions it came to are really not useful to me.

For instance:

Urgency should be the key driver of my decision-making. If the phone rings, it needs to be answered immediately. If an e-mail comes in, it needs to be responded to immediately. If someone needs something from me it’s my responsibility to deliver it instantaneously regardless of what else is going on. This is not useful, at least not to me.

Another example:

The only way to be even remotely okay is to be perfect. Less-than-perfect is completely unacceptable. Once again, this is something which is so limiting since perfection, in the sense I’m referring to it here, is not something that I can ever reasonably expect to reach.

Here’s one that really hit home:

When I’m not able to do something easily and naturally, it means that I’m bad, I’m not good enough. Not only should I be doing things easily and naturally, I should be doing them in a way which is unique, but not too different from how other people do them, because that’s not okay either.

All of a sudden I started to understand why I felt painted into a corner so much of the time.

So what now?

Think the most important thing is to recognize that these things which have been part of my worldview till now don’t have to stay a part of my worldview. I find it hard to put into words, but just identifying and articulating is already changing them even as I write this post.

I’ve also become aware, that it would be helpful to encourage myself to be willing to do things in a more childlike way, at least some of the time. This is something I’ve known before, even something I’ve taught when I’ve worked with other people, but I’ve never really given myself permission to do it myself.

Wow, that feels really big. I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

Come play with me?

This is big stuff, when we talk about programming, and change work, and particularly our own internal process, it often brings up things both for ourselves and other people. If my processing my stuff has triggered you in a way that’s uncomfortable, I’m truly sorry and that is not my intention. This is also not advice, sometimes I do give advice here–talking about how to integrate storytelling into life and business, or maybe about how to make technical things work better, for example–but this is not advice. This is nothing more, and nothing less than me sharing my process.

I would love to hear your responses, or any parts of your process you want to share that were sparked by this in the comments below. So come play with me.


Daniel Pink just posted on his blog about something that got me thinking. Emotionally intelligent signage . . . in an airport? | Daniel Pink.

In short, the folks at Milwaukee’s General Mitchel International Airport created an area, just past security for folks to get their shoes back on and themselves back together, and labeled it the “Recombobulation Area.”

I just wonder, how many of us could benefit by creating “recombobulation areas” in our lives.  Be they physical spaces to decompress when coming home, or coming in to our offices or whatever, or temporal spaces.

Recognizing that we are discombobulated, and taking the time to take care of ourselves in whatever way we need to get back in harmony with ourselves.  I suspect that if this is done mindfully, the time gained in increased productivity and gain in comfort would FAR outweigh way the time it take to do the recombobulating.

So if you need a walk, go for a walk.  If you need a cup of tea, stop and make a cup of tea, and take the time to really enjoy it!

Tune in to whatever it is you really need, and find ways to give it to yourself.

I really believe that it will make all the difference.

So what’s your “recombobulation area?”  Please share in the comments!