Walking into a Starbucks recently, I held the door for a young mother wheeling a baby carriage. Standing in line, the baby peered at me past the mother’s shoulder with a look of curiosity — then broke into a smile.
I realize I don’t smile as much as I did as a kid. Is it the weight of adult life and the daily stress of responsibility? Or is it that the world is no longer new to me and I lack the natural curiosity of a child? Or is it something different?
When you’re a kid, you’re just you. Of course you haven’t figured out who that is yet. Your frontal cortex hasn’t had a chance to form a sense of self. But maybe that’s the point. You’re free to just be you without worrying about what you should be.
Beyond the constraints of your parents and your teachers (rules, manners, discipline) as a kid you’re free to be yourself. These are the days when teasing is just poking, and differences are met with curiosity — long before those years when it will be met with ostracization.
For kids people aren’t a collection of traits. People are just the feeling they engender when they enter a room. You don’t worry where it comes from — you either like the feeling or you don’t.
By the same vein, you don’t worry about yourself either. Sometimes people don’t like the feeling you bring when you walk into a room and it’s confusing and it hurts. So your parents teach you that not everyone is going to like you.
But you don’t think about changing who you are. You don’t know how to. You don’t even know such a thing exists. Free of the pressure to change yourself to be valued, to be liked, or to be accepted, how much more of the day is freed up for wonder?
As a kid, how much of my fear is confined to skinned knees and scary dogs rather than worrying if I’m the person I want to be? Being an adult is an endless series of micro-failures orbiting around whatever I’m doing right now — constant thoughts about the things I’m doing too much or things I don’t do enough.
Heck. Some of them may even be true. But I shouldn’t define myself by “what I’m not” today. I’m still me. I’m not perfect by any means. But a few people think I bring a good feeling when I enter a room. And that should be enough to make me smile.