© Paul Wyman, 2022
“Adulting: the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” (Oxford dictionary)
“I just can’t adult today!”
So said my 20-year-old daughter as she declined my invitation to leave her room before noon.
I get it. Adulting is hard. Some mornings, getting out of bed can feel like climbing a mountain. Responsibility is heavy, literally. When I run through the seemingly endless list of commitments I need to honor in the day ahead, it feels like I’m carrying a boulder on my back.
Despite their burdensome weight, I’ve learned to step up to my responsibilities. I meet them habitually, automatically, sometimes even successfully. The rock on my back feels familiar, but still feels heavy. The urge to toss it aside and feel a bit lighter for a while shows up in the form of escape fantasies. I visualize no longer having to clean up my own dishes after breakfast, pay my bills, show up to the meetings on my calendar, or whatever adulting the day requires of me.
I’ve spent most of my adult life pushing these daydreams and impulses aside. They’re unrealistic, impossible, unavailable, little more than a fantasy of how my life could be.
After all, I’m a responsible person, which means, by definition, I’m not irresponsible. Being more irresponsible has never been high on my list of aspirations for myself.
But what if the opposite of responsibility isn’t irresponsibility? What if it’s not about the absence of being responsible, but the presence of something else. What would that quality be?
If responsibility is about keeping commitments, fulfilling obligations and honoring agreements, then the opposite of responsibility might be something freer, looser, less bound by the past, more in the moment. Less like carrying a boulder on your shoulders, more like dancing.
This is what I’m referring to as Kidding. It’s not the absence of responsibility, it’s the presence of a child-like capacity to play, dance, imagine and dream. It’s lightness. It’s being unselfconscious. It’s making new friends instantly. It’s the ability to turn anything into a game. It’s guilt-free naps. It’s being available for joy.
Kidding does not require the rejection of adult responsibilities. It’s not an invitation to disappear into self-absorption and self-indulgence. It’s about finding a way to be both a grown up and a kid at the same time. This means putting one metaphorical arm around the shoulder of the responsible grown-up part of you, hearing what she needs to get done, while the other drapes around the shoulder of the little kid inside you who’s here to have as much fun as possible.
If you can hear both their voices and value them equally, then it becomes possible to be both spontaneous and planful, driven and relaxed, serious and silly.
Imagine if you could experience a dose of lightness, joy and spontaneity, while you fulfil responsibilities. Formerly routine tasks of adulting can take on a new pleasure, like Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar. It’s playing at life while working at it.
What would be possible in your life if you could embrace both adulting and kidding?
Exercise: Meet the adult and the kid within
1. Take a pen and a blank piece of paper, and write down a list of what you should do this week. Notice how you feel (in your head, heart and gut) when you’ve finished your list.
2. Now switch the pen to your non-dominant hand and write (or draw) a child-like list of things that would be fun to see, do or play with. Notice how you feel now.
3. Imagine you had a volume control in each hand. The dial for responsibility is in your dominant hand and playfulness in your non-dominant.
4. In your mind’s eye, imagine turning responsibility up as you approach a deadline at work, and down when you’re at home with your family or out with a friend.
5. Play with the dials until they feel balanced for where you are, right now. Is this a moment for 70% playful and 30% responsible, or vice versa? With this balance in mind, how might you approach your adult responsibilities this week?
Three “Kidding” Practices to Experiment with: Blurt, Riff and Giggle
Blurt - Just say it. Exercise a little less self-control and self-editing when you’re talking to people. Toss in the idea that’s on the edge of crazy. Even if your idea never goes anywhere, it might just spark someone else.
Riff – Play with conversation as if it were improvisation. Listening to the riff being played by someone else, and respond with your own melody, harmony or rhythm, which builds on it.
Giggle – Absurdity, silliness, irony and ridiculousness can be found in most adult conversations. Listen to a serious conversation as if you were watching stand-up.