When we think about the notion of growing up, compared to “not” growing up, we often connect to Peter Pan – the boy who never grew up.  We visualize flights of fancy, far off places, spirited battles, and happily ever afters – things that we used to dream of, that have since cooled off on the back burners of our brains.

Over time, we transition from children to adults. The carefree, uncluttered childhood brain that allowed us to imagine the world (and be very good at the game Memory – I’m convinced) has become crowded with worries, burdens, sad stories of the “real world”, and other “grown-up things.” We seldom take a walk in the park, and rarely have the spirited energy to skip through the parking lot or race to the door.

Our once inquisitive minds become saturated with information and obligations. Time becomes scarce, and we run ragged just keeping up with the fast-paced schedules of this world’s typical adult life. To phrase it as simply as Walt Disney did – we grow up. We forget.

As a kid, I LOVED all things Disney. Movies, cartoons, Walt Disney World, toys, puzzles. You name it, I loved it. As I progressed through middle school, then high school, then college, my love for Disney, and for most youthful notions, took a back seat to college prep, then college work, then professional career and social maturity. I was like the growing-up version of Andy in Toy Story 3 (to me, the most difficult concept of the later Toy Story films is the realization of growing up and needing to embrace change).  Thanks to some youthful-minded friends in college and a bit beyond, I was able to be a kid again (at least here and there), and enjoy games, movies, and films much like I did as a kid. But on the whole, I couldn’t escape growing up.

You know what? None of us can escape growing up. We all grow older (hopefully wiser), and more mature. It’s a fact of life, and that’s ok.

BUT, growing up doesn’t mean we can’t still be a kid at heart. We can go to work, pay the bills, balance the checkbook, and cook dinner, while still being true to the dreamer inside our hearts. 

One of the beautiful things about having children (either our own, or nieces/nephews/friends) is that we are reintroduced to the magic and wonder the world truly provides us. We have a unique opportunity for a second chance to be a kid, to see the world through their eyes, to think about the things they wonder about, and to play, play, play.

Take that opportunity to sit on the floor. Get your knees dirty. Look up at the world. Take things apart. Take a different road to a familiar place (or take a trip to an unfamiliar place). Ask questions and be curious. These are the healthy youthful mindsets that Walt Disney maintained throughout his life, not just as a kid. He was curious, imaginative, and exploratory for literally his entire life.  Even in his final days, Walt was still imagining and planning his largest dream to date – EPCOT Center.

Walt lamented the fact that people grow up, and he did his best to preserve a bit of imagination and good nature in the world, through his cartoons, his films, his Disneyland, and his smile. Walt grew up, yet he never “grew up.” He preserved the perfect balance of responsibility, initiative, and wonder.

And I strive to do the same.

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