As adults—in the workplace and elsewhere—when we’re asked to do something we’ve never done before, when we need to grow beyond our current capabilities, we can tap into what we naturally did as children, and perform our way to who we’re becoming.
For adults, though, play, performance, and pretending can feel anything but natural. We got the message in a myriad of ways as we left toddlerhood: Play is for kids, not for big people. We’re supposed to color inside the lines; know the correct answer; understand how to behave and fit in. And there’s no denying the importance of that learning—obviously we need to learn how to safely cross the street, say our ABCs and wake up an iPad. But this need to get it right eventually takes over. We learn what we need to in school and by the time we get into the job market, the support we got to learn developmentally as children is long gone. As an adult, it is embarrassing to not know. There are repercussions if we don’t get it right. We feel stupid, and we make others feel stupid if they don’t ‘have it together.’ Many (most?) of us get stuck being ‘who we are’—as defined by ourselves and others—whether that’s our personality (and the initials that we’re assigned by the psychological tools that assess it), what kind of job we do or career we can have, if we’re confident or insecure, and more. Without realizing it, we’ve gotten ourselves in a non-developmental box where there’s not much room for new learning, growth, or experimentation.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.