When I was a little kid, I thought everyone past the age of twenty was old. Now, I’m past the age of twenty, and what do I think? I think I’m still that little kid, and of course, now I realize – through the eyes of a thirty-year-old woman – that everyone in this world remains a little kid inside no matter whether they are 20, 50, or 90, and whether or not they realize it. That was a lesson I suppose only age could teach me. Okay, so maybe I’m still a little young to be writing an article about how to stay young at heart, but everyone has something valuable to say at any age. And I’ve known people younger than me who seemed older than dirt, and people much older than me who rightfully acted like two-year-olds. Who needs those barriers anyway? It’s sad for me to recall those days that, as a teenager, I thought someday I would have to grow up and let go of my childlike ways. It’s even sadder to think that many young people actually buy into that line of thinking on a daily basis.
In the western world, youth appears on the surface to be respected as a source of newness, energy, charisma, and creative thinking. Yet, despite the young photos splashed on the magazines, and the fact that young beauties take center stage in just about all motion pictures, youth’s internal characteristics are not as widely regarded, as it seems. The reality in the United States is that youth in the form of beauty is the truly respected variety. Youth in the form of naivetÃ?Â© is not. This is one of the numerous hypocrisies of our society. It is that certain kind of innocence which makes young people strong, bold, and willing to try anything, a quality that expires with age. As the bible says, the little children shall lead the way. As we age, we get set in our ways, and instead of focusing our attention on the child within, we think it’s that extra wrinkle by the corner of our eyes that’s bringing us down. A youthful appearance is ephemeral, but a youthful mentality can live forever if we will it. It’s that mentality – of innocence, of simplicity, of creativity – that fosters happiness. And who wouldn’t want to be happy now and then?
So, if you’re one of those people that hooked onto that “mature” attitude with a vengeance, to show the world what kind of a good adult you could be, then this message is for you (and for all those 40-year-old kids who want some validation). Staying young at heart is more than plastic surgery to cover up the kid inside, more than that tattoo on your right shoulder, or that sporty new red motorcycle. It’s a means to an end. Grow young inside, and grow happy. Now, here’s how you do it:
Give Up Pretense
Do you know who you are? Well, you might say that you’re a 62-year-old banker who is about to retire, and that you have 4 kids with 12 grandchildrenÃ¢Â?Â¦blah, blah, blah. But, who is John Smith really? John Smith is the accumulated essence of outward and inward thoughts, actions, and reactions. He is someone who is in relationship to someone else – a wife, a daughter, a coworker. What would those people say about him? Would they say that he slaves on his house everyday making it look magazine perfect, working from sun-up to sun-down until his back breaks? And then when he comes inside to rest, he snaps at everyone because he’s got no energy left to care about his family? Or would they say that he’s sitting up on his high horse, preaching about morality to every one that’s masochistic enough to listen?
Pretense is more than just pretending to be like the Jones or the Johnsons or the Jeffreys. It’s a general feeling of falseness that is designed to hide something. What are you hiding? Are you running away from feelings in general? Another custom in this society is the disrespect for negative emotions. Because we are so afraid to acknowledge pain, to accept tears, or to get angry, we stuff it. And most of the time, we aren’t even aware of it. It’s an acquired trait. Remember the time when you were a child, and you came home crying because someone at school picked on you for the shoes you wore? Well, what did your mom tell you? She probably said that it wasn’t worth crying over, and to be proud of yourself in spite of the ugly comments from your peers. But, though most might agree with this kind of motherly advice, the abrupt dismissal of a painful feeling without acknowledging it first is an abrupt dismissal of the natural instincts of the soul. It is a dismissal of the lesson that comes with pain. With this kind of dismissal, it’s no wonder people are so adamant about trying to keep up with Mr. and Mrs. Jones when it’s counter-productive to do so. Everyone wants to be an individual, but few people genuinely know how. Who are you, if you don’t even know how you feel?
Pretending to be happy when you aren’t, or pretending to be kind when you feel like being unkind, is a form of pretense that is damaging to the soul. And everyone can see through it, whether you are aware of it or not. Interaction with a person who is pretending usually feels stifled and uncomfortable, like something is missing. I would rather for someone tell me flat out that they “feel like crap” than to say everything is just fine when it isn’t. Wouldn’t you?
That doesn’t mean go ahead and punch the first person that makes you angry or to wallow in an abyss of self-loathing. It just means to acknowledge your feelings the very moment they happen – all feelings, including happy feelings and feelings that you have no vocabulary for. You don’t always have to act on them if it is not in your best interest, or if it lands you in jail. If you don’t acknowledge your feelings immediately, you will lose your ability to assess them, and to permit yourself the necessary time to react at all.
Acknowledging your emotions is one step beyond judgment. Acting on them is the next step. Have you ever wanted to skip through the park, but caught yourself in time, before you “accidentally” made a fool of yourself? I wish more people would skip. How about going in the water at the beach? Afraid you’ll get your hair wet and look like a fool? I wish more people would try to catch a big wave at the risk of damaging their already dead protein shafts. Have you ever taken an inflatable boat fit for two out into the lake or dubbed it the “Floatie Boatie” at the risk of sounding like a fool? Or sang at the top of your lungs in the car while driving down a busy highway? Risk is the champion of charismatic youngsters.
Fear tends to chauffer the world around. Fear that others are looking, and fear that something will break, or some negative outcome will befall you, does nothing but hold you within a perpetual state of indecision. I always look back to history and wonder how anyone survived without pasteurization, medicine, and modern miracles, or time-outs, suffering, and hitchhiking. It amazes me how every generation thinks their generation is the smartest and best that ever existed, or that “things are not what they used to be.” But, human beings have survived for thousands of years, in all different circumstances. In fact, scientists are finding increasing evidence that our species has existed for millions of years – much longer than ever considered before. Is it possible that now, this current age, is the time when we finally get how things work? I doubt it.
I watch animals scurry about, collecting nuts, eating dirty things off the ground, digging through nasty garbage cans or wading in swamps. They don’t care what diseases they catch. While this is an extreme example, I do wonder how they could possibly survive. But, for the most part, they do. I’m sure you’ll survive if you take a bite of your friend’s ice cream using her spoon.
Don’t Allow Others
People are infectious, aren’t they? And everyone’s a critic. But, it’s not that they are being critical of you – because who really cares what you do when it all boils down? It’s that most folks are really critical of themselves, and they project that onto someone else because they haven’t taken the time to analyze their opinions before they opened their mouths.
Toxic people are the ones that go around repeating someone else’s truth without discovering their own. Why do people waste their time this way? It boggles the mind! I don’t like using the tired, old phrase, “just be yourself,” though that is pretty much what this whole article boils down to. I remember hearing that phrase a lot, and wondering what it really meant, especially coming from people who were so caught up in the pursuit of anonymity that I could barely relate to them. When you speak your truth, speak it clearly. Don’t repeat old clichÃ?Â©s when you have something valuable to say. To me, “just be yourself” is a phrase that really means, “Be me – because I’m clever and interesting, and I’m courageous enough to do what I want. And you’re clearly not.”
Other people will look at you funny when you spread peanut butter on your French toast. But, they will also question you when your actions don’t reflect their own. If you feel the need to run away to California, and the means to do it, then why should anyone be allowed to criticize you? It goes back to the driver of their lives: fear. Don’t let other people’s fear eclipse you. Don’t give the voices of judgment any credence.
Be You, Be Quirky, Be Memorable
Instead of trying to fit in, try not to fit in… If it weren’t for the quirky people in the world, this place would have no character. If someone were watching a movie about the world, what would they see? And what if that movie had a bunch of ordinary people walking around, all wearing the right kind of jeans and working at the right kinds of places? (Besides, what is the right kind, anyway?) Dr. Seuss books would never make it to print, if that’s the kind of world we lived in.
Basically, no person is better, smarter, or more mature than anyone else, so why pretend to be? Why always try to measure up? Open your heart a little, and open your mind. Get down on your hands and knees and dig in the dirt. There is nothing to fear and no one will get you. Keep your life in perspective – it’s a darn short one.
I used to work with this man, named Jimmie. He was a 210-pound, bald, black man with glasses and a gap between his top front teeth. Now, if that isn’t enough for character, wait until you meet the man. He came over to my desk one day brushing his teeth! But, the man had a heart of gold and the personality of an energetic child, and there wasn’t a single person out there who met him that didn’t like him, or who immediately forgot him. Half the time, Jimmie would break out into song, and usually it was “This Little Light of Mine.” He wasn’t a genius, he didn’t have a big house with lots of fancy cars, and he certainly didn’t look the part of James Bond. But, he was spiritually centered, loving, and downright crazy. I know I’ll never forget him.
The truth of the matter is that regardless of whether you clip your toenails while sitting at your desk or make gulping noises at random, people will know whether you are intelligent and responsible. You don’t have to act the part. A person’s essence, maturity, intelligence, and lovingness will reveal itself naturally, and without conscious thought. It isn’t something that can be forced.
So, be someone unforgettable, in your own unique sort of way. Be as close to your personal truth as you can be. Make up words, sing nonsensically, jump up and down when you’re happy, stick out your tongue if you feel like it. And, please, teach a child to do the same. We have too many unhappy people in this world already.