Growing older is mandatory. Growing old is optional.


"The real trouble with the world is that too many people grow up.", said Walt Disney.

By "growing up" Walt Disney was thinking of becoming old in a sense of becoming: too serious, kind of grumpy, complaining, ironic, cynic, stop playing, stop learning, stop trying new things, stop being curious, becoming bitter, stop planing new and funny adventures, stop being childlike enthusiastic and stop being a bit crazy. All this enthusiasm and playfulness must include curiosity, imagination and creativity.

By "growing up" as "growing old" it is not about people over 70, 80, 90 ... It is about people in their 20s' already! The usual "bottom" in seriousness in a sense of non creativity, stiffness, unhappiness and melancholy usually hits in the mid 30s' or 40s'. It is when life for most becomes overwhelming and too stressful to have fun. Especially for those who try to fit in and so chose life and lifestyle that is not what their true dreams are/were but what is expected of them from others or what is supposed to be "normal". So it is between 30 to 50 years old when most people are less happy, unhappy or simply not leaving their dreams, hoping for better tomorrow or becoming numb, bored, tired and exhausted of "life". And that all effects also their professional life. Looks like "life is way too serious and I am way too busy to have fun".

Why most people choose lifestyle that is expected by others (and so "normal") and don't pursue their own dreams, even if so the craziest of crazy, the weirdest of the weird dreams!? In this one and only life ... WHY NOT? Or better: when they figure out they made a mistake or simply changed their mind, why is it so hard to change? In this one and only life ... WHY NOT? Why most think it is not possible, all is over when you are over 40, 50, 60, 70 ... like it is not enough time!!!??? Most regrets at the end we have about what we didn't do or at least try! Well, that is yet another article, a long story, a book or two.

My great interest and research through theory and practical work was for a long time focused on how to foster creativity. From my high school on, through the studies and is still ongoing observation by daily work. I was always curious what makes us curious and how to foster curiosity, interest, learning and motivation. Why some have it enormously, some less, others close to zero. And what are the consequences of it on our own happiness, working environment, productiveness and for the society at large.

I was always in love with psychology. Psychology as the essence who we are, how we think, how we perceive the world and others, how to be behave, how we feel and how we response and express ourselves. I think psychology should be in the primary school already as one basic topic - we would function better, understand ourselves and others better, have better relationships etc. (but that is again another article or story).

I started my research on creativity with children. Kids are amazing and have infinite curiosity, are (mostly) easy to study, to work and to play with. You just need to discover the individual and unique approach and attitude for each one of them. With older children and teenagers it gets a bit more complex already, but is still great. Later, year by year it gets harder, "problems" occur, puberty hits the hormonal dance, and later growing older and so growing up puts us from being me-myself-frisky-shining-star into I-should-fit-in-the-society-squares. A true art is to reshape these squares back into stars again and foster them to shine throughout the borders of societal boxes and own inner limits. So simply: to foster these (too) serious and so not creative (enough) big "kids" (all, from 20 to 100 years old) to become curious and playful again.

Too many get stuck on the way to growing up when it comes to creativity, performance, motivation, playfulness, communication etc! Where does playfulness go? What happens? Who kills it? Society, parents, educational system, boring or wrong jobs, too serious- narcissistic-Ego-centric managers, unrealistic expectations, ignorance, ingratitude, loneliness, routine, wrong marriages&partners or simply life itself with burdens and upside-downs it brings along? And why by some individuals playfulness and childlike spirit stays with them forever or becomes even bigger, regardless their (potentially bad) circumstances or environment in their childhood?! Countless psychological and sociological studies are guessing, researching and concluding different points, facts and reasons. It is too complex to generalise. Yet one thing I am 100% sure about, and is the most important here and now: we can (and must) revive playfulness and childlike enthusiasm! We can bring the curiosity, fun, play and joy back to daily life!

Later I started researching and working on how to bring a childlike enthusiasm, self initiative and creativity into grownups, teams, companies. Especially to everyday routine work. Even my masters thesis was about it. At the end I didn't even agree with myself anymore, so complicated was all together to put it in simple 100 or 200 pages. Lucky me, some of the best and the "craziest" professors came to listen to my defence. They understood my concerns, supported me fully, agreed with my conclusions and didn't hesitate to ask me 100 provocative and funny questions. Laughter while debating is still unforgettable!

As a serial entrepreneur, after 30 years deeply swimming in this topic, I am more and more sure that playfulness is the core or the most successful and the happiest people, and of the best leaders around the world. The same as children need their role models of playfulness and curiosity fostering environment, so we - the "big children" need leaders/bosses/managers and friends/colleagues/partners who foster and encourage our amazing human creative nature. Foster it by being themselves (so, ourselves) role models and so cooperate and initiate the playfulness in everyday life. We know well that the most successful people are both highly responsible and very playful at the same time. So it is not one or the other at all, as many think! "If I am/would be too playful and make jokes, people will not take me seriously or will think I am irresponsible." Only those who are not creative and playful themselves and don't dare to be childlike judge and are jealous of those who are living their own colourful happy life.

The fact is, we shouldn’t "grow up" where we need to stay playful: by creativity, healthy competition, big dreams, laughter, infinite imagination, innocent spirit, honest intentions and by having fun at work. Anyway we get to know one’s true character much better and faster through play than by hundreds of official meetings! The most creative companies and offices have some games and playing options around their serious working environment. Plus many have dogs! Dogs are a great source of play, relax, cuddle and exercise. A playful walking or jogging partner is always ready, no matter the weather. There is a good reason these amazing hairy creatures are therapists.

The more playfulness is included the daily working processes, the less stress is present. Endorphin-dopamine-serotonin trio raise up, heart rate goes up, we become more awake and our cortisol keeps dancing on the healthy level of excitement and attention. More creative we are and the best ideas are born when we are relaxed and free of fears and tensions. Playing is a great combination of focus, competition and unwind at the same time. Both productivity and effectiveness are better and last longer as a result since the "players" are happy and excited to work in a joyful and positive environment.

My advice is. if you are a little busy: play an hour a day. If you are very busy: play two hours a day. And if you are very busy and exhausted: play 4 hours a day or even take a playful day off! And you will return with sparkles in your eyes and ideas in your mind.

Most people become too serious where they should stay fun-loving, frisky and a bit crazy. Our society puts children way too early into "should", "should not", "Behave!" and "Grown up!" boxes. Not even to mention the educational system where black&white rules kill thousand of rainbow options and unicorn individuals. Who realise only in they later age, around 50 (midlife crisis?), that they actually were much more creative, enthusiastic and so much happier as kids. If not with their playful parents or siblings, surely with their mates or by themselves. Girls especially are raised to be responsible and to "behave" much more and very early. "Be a good girl!", "Smile and be beautiful!" But we all know: Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere! Being a rebel and "too curious" as a girl is quite challenging and I often ended up on the penalty bench with lots of "bad" boys and a couple of "naughty" girls". But on these benches also most of fun was going on, the best and the craziest new ides grew and the boldest plans for the next actions were made. And here is where also entrepreneurship has its roots. Also my entrepreneurship has the roots in "not fitting in". Most successful startups are led by playful, bold, risk taking and fun-loving entrepreneurial people (still mostly men, but also many playful and bold women). And they were very much the same when they were kids.

Perfectionism and playing by the rules cannot be further from creativity and innovation (which goes unfortunately mostly for girls and women). Being nice, kind and even beautiful does not exclude being bold, a bit crazy, creative, unique and risk taking at the same time. Dare to be different and think independently, be a childlike dreamer of possibilities, think as if you were 5, 8 or 12 years old and just try new things out! Be curious, keep asking, keep learning, keep breaking the rules (with common sense, of course)! Without a deviation of the norm, no progress is possible. That is the definition of progress, to move on, beyond the certain lines and limits (in our minds). Curiosity didn't kill the cat; growing up and becoming grumpy, picky, bored and complaining cat did.

On the other hand we should grow up where too many don’t (want to). Grow up to: be responsible, help others, take action, care, give hope, educate with common sense, teach to inflame curiosity, be there for those in need, stop ignorance and arrogance, stand out for justice, be a pioneer of change, be a role model, be a shoulder to lean on & an inspiration to motivate, be the voice for those who have no and make sure through daily (tiny and big) deeds tomorrow will be a better and happier place because of us.

It is all about balance! Being responsible and having fun at the same time!

Grow older to be better, not to become bitter!

Stay childlike curious, not childish stupid and furious!

It is all about the right choices. If you want to be playful, creative, innovative ... go, be, move, run, do it!

The right ones will follow you and join you!

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© 2018 by Mateja Kramar

Mateja Kramar