How To Be A Grownup On The Outside

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

There’s a lot of talk about always wanting to be a child inside, but being a child on the outside kind of sucks.  For all the comfort of being a kid, your parents still control your bedtime, order for you at restaurants, tell you when to go to school, and can ground you if you annoy them.
No, what you want is to be a child on the inside and a grown-up on the outside, so you can drive your car to the bouncy-palace and have ice cream whenever you damned well please.  And to have that kind of freedom involves letting go of one critical, childlike way of thinking:
The idea that if you sit still long enough, someone will tell you what to do.
The world of grownups is full of wonder – but whereas childlike wonder is happy because its unknowns are full of soap bubbles and puppies, grownup wonder is filled with anxiety-causing unknowns like tax returns and home loans.  How do you do this?  When you get your car, it’s a welter of bureaucracy-causing things of registrations and insurances and forms, and how do you know how to fill them all?  You want to be a writer, or a talk show host, or a cupcake maker, but how do you get from “love” to “full-time career’?
And if you’re a child on the outside, you often freeze.  A teacher will make you do it, eventually, if it’s important enough.  And when they do, if you tell them you’re confused, they will sit down and explain it all to you, step by step.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen much in the outside world.  There are some things with built-in punishments – taxes, car insurance – and if you don’t do them, then someone will come along to take things away from you.  But they won’t care much about teaching you, and they’ll be quite mean.  You can usually pay those off enough to get by, if you’re lucky, but you won’t learn a thing. Those are the good bits, strangely.
The bad ones are the bits that you want to be.  If your deepest desire is to be the man who designs billboards, nobody’s going to come along and say, “You know what you should do?  Paint that wall over there.”  And if you’re still a child on the outside, you’ll be forever waiting for someone to come along and light that inner spark.  They won’t.  But the bills will show up knocking, and you’ll take a job down at the McDonald’s to get by, and when you get home after a ten-hour shift stinking of fry grease, there will still be no one to whisper, “Hey.  You should get out there and design a billboard, and send it to these people.”
So you do nothing.  Nobody’s making you, after all.
Slowly but surely, your dream will starve to death.  It’ll be a slow death, smothered under many real necessities of life and a career, and you’re doing quite well at McDonald’s because the bosses tell you exactly what bathroom to clean and when to do it and how it should look like when you’re done… and so, inch by inch, you become an awesome McDonald’s employee and less of a billboard painter every day.  And you wonder why things never quite panned out, but things are all right, you’re a manager at McDonald’s and earning a nice salary, and the next thing you know you’re all grown up on the outside and the inside. And something quite vital has been lost.
Here’s the trick: the madder your dream, the less there is to know about how to do it.  If it’s really unique, it hasn’t been done.  Nobody knows.  There was no “Building Apple IIs for Dummies” that Steve Jobs could look at, no “How To Sell Things Online” manual that the founders of eBay and Amazon could turn to, no “How to write a Sandman comic” for Neil Gaiman.  They had to be their own teachers, to look at a complex and bewildering world and form their own lesson plans, solving one challenge at a time.  And they felt lost and stupid, which is what grownups on the outside often feel, and they despaired – but rather than waiting for someone else to come along and explain it all to them, they asked friends and consulted books and made their own explanations.
They didn’t wait for someone to tell them to paint a mural.  They went out and painted the mural.
They became extraordinary without a single person’s permission.
That’s what being a grownup on the outside is.  Those actions feed your child on the inside, too, because your child on the inside doesn’t really want to be told what to do, either.  Your child on the inside wants to follow grand dreams, do the impossible, fight great monsters.
To do that, your grownup on the outside has to stop waiting around.  Get out there.  Walk into dark forests, chop the trees down to make pathways, and use the wood for torches.  Because no one else can.

2 Comments

  1. Kat
    Sep 4, 2012

    Chills, man. Chills.
    This speaks so well to moments I’ve had so often over the last five years, it’s eerie.
    Excellent post.

  2. Jesse
    Sep 4, 2012

    My girlfriend and I just stumbled on you. Your writing is beautiful, I hope you can understand and appreciate that. Many kudos.

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