I’ve recently achieved my 4th grey hair, so I assume my demise is imminent. As time itself clutches at my throat, I wonder about “growing up.” My generation, perhaps like other generations before us, seems to fear maturity. I don’t think it’s solely an aversion to nearing death, but I think we feel as Peter Pan did, that growing up is the end of imagination, light-heartedness, and fun. As we have seen it, grown-up life is marked by drudging toil, deadlines, debt, ever-deepening worry-lines, and a complete lack of time to do anything that was once found delightful and enjoyable.
A great challenge for Generation Y is taking on the “adult” roles in society without feeling like they are completely losing their identity. It can seem confusing to delineate between growing one’s identity and changing it. Perhaps some of the challenge is the feeling that the reigning Baby Boomer generation doesn’t understand and won’t accept the GenY attitudes and backgrounds: should my friend go to a “formal” job interview with a nose piercing? Should I even try to explain to a 55 year old how a video game teaches me useful skills? I wonder if this is unique to my generation, or if every generation has felt that to grow up required entering a world dominated by the past. This is fundamentally disorienting: to move forward to the future and then arrive there in the past.
The other fear of growing up might be boredom and ennui. The adults in our lives have always seemed so bored and discouraged, so alienated and fearful. This was, generally, not part of our childhoods, and our taste of it in adolescence does not entice us to enjoy more of it. As children, we enjoy creativity in our world: we can imagine and create and see the commonplace anew. Some parts of adult life are new and require seriously bad consequences for being too creative and imaginative (insurance, taxes, bills, etc.). But other parts of adult life are actually the same parts of childhood, slightly scaled up (walking down the street, eating a meal, talking to friends, thinking about a problem, etc.)—and as such, are still completely fair game for refreshing creativity. Yet grown ups frown upon too much novelty in these areas as somewhere between “silly” and “insane.” To the extent that maturity consists in accepting a single, static, solemn view of the world without imagination, fancy, we are prone to avoid growing up. If we could see growing up as compatible with creativity, originality, and a vibrant love of life, I think we would see it less as a prolonged funeral and memorial service for our imagination.