Do you ever feel lost?
It seems like an absurd question when we all have smartphones offering turn-by-turn directions to anywhere we want to go.
But having access to all the paths isn’t the same as knowing which one to take.
What happens when none of the paths you’ve tried have led to where you want to go? What do you do when you know where you are now isn’t where you want to be, but none of the roads before you seem quite right? What then?
Perhaps the best place to begin is with those little bits of colored whimsy people sprinkle on ice cream sundaes. Indeed, it’s as good a starting place as any.
According to an Internet search, the ball-shaped versions of hardened sugar are called “sprinkles,” while the rod-shaped variety is known as “jimmies.” My family isn’t particular, we just call them awesome. My youngest daughter drew a picture of a “Jimmy Machine,” illustrating how they are made.
According to her, “Jimmy goes in a machine and it prints out Jimmys onto a conveyor belt. When it goes upside down, they fall, dropped onto a series of four trampolines, and then into a butt cheek pit where they emerge as butterflies. Finally, they go in lava and then turn into jimmies.”
I like to think of myself as creative, but this is PhD level stuff.
Some might say it’s merely the absurd ramblings of an eight-year-old with an overactive imagination.
Yet, is it that much different than Walt Disney’s preposterous vision of Disneyland, a vision that investors, his brother, and even his own wife considered a disastrous waste of time and money? The success of Walt’s idea seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time it was anything but. Same goes for “Snow White,” history’s first feature-length animated film, which was derisively dubbed “Disney’s Folly.” To those who didn’t get the vision, Walt’s ideas probably looked a lot like the blueprint of my daughter’s “Jimmy Machine.”
Overactive imagination, indeed.
If you look closely, most of the best advancements of humankind started out looking like delusions of ridiculousness. Walt Disney knew that sometimes the best path forward isn’t on the map at all and the only way to see it is through childlike eyes.
Reminding people of this power of the childlike spirit is my mission in life. In a world overwhelmed by Adultitis, it’s been an uphill battle.
You see, the danger in branding your company “Escape Adulthood” is that it’s easy for people to discount you as irresponsible, immature, cotton-headed ninny noggins who are avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood and trying to escape the pressures of the “real world.”
As a pragmatist, I’d be tempted to think the same way if I didn’t know any better.
It gives me solace to know we are not alone. J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of those little-known books The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, was often accused of writing fairy tales that were nothing more than the escapist’s way out of this so-called real world. His reply was simple and brilliant. He proposed everything was dependent on that from which one is escaping. “We view the flight of the deserter and the escape of a prisoner very differently. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”
Paying bills, upholding responsibility, and making hard decisions are important and necessary hallmarks of adult life. But the deep down person we were when we were kids is much closer to the real us than the stilted, joyless version we often present to the world around us. Cynicism, common knowledge, and the rules that don’t exist have imprisoned us from being our true selves: passionate, playful and curious creatures who dream big dreams and are filled with faith, hope, and love.
So no, we’re not about shirking responsibilities or ignoring reality.
We’re just trying to get back home.
That’s why Kim and I often refer to children as sherpas. Like those experienced wise guides who escort climbers up the face of a mountain, children have a pure wisdom that can help us traverse this adventure called life.
A GPS will not get us where we want to go.
Like any good adventure, life is difficult. We need all the tools we can carry, including the ones we tossed away so carelessly in our hurry to grow up. So yes, bring your logic, your experience, and self-control. (Walt needed all of them to make Disneyland real.) But don’t forget to pack your curiosity, playfulness, and passion, for they too, have their usefulness.
They help us to identify hidden paths missing from our map. They open our eyes to help us see what can be, which is the first step required in making it so.
And leave room in your pack for one more important but overlooked tool: whimsy.
Although Whimsy is often viewed as superfluous, it is a spark of delight with the supernatural power to uplift the human spirit. Whimsy can fill a heart with happiness and a head with new ideas. Whimsy brings a playful unpredictability to our days. It puts the heavy things we carry in perspective. The delicious ridiculousness of whimsy helps lighten our loads and brings joy to others.
Sometimes in life, we get stuck circling the same path, repeating our mistakes because we keep trying to use the wrong tools for the job, expecting a different result. The tried and true tools of adulthood are useful, but like using a screwdriver to shovel your driveway, insufficient for the task at hand.
If you are sad, stuck, discouraged, or overwhelmed…try whimsy.
It’s a small thing that can have outsized results, the same way a sprinkling of jimmies can transform an ice cream sundae.
A good sherpa knows the power of whimsy. Don’t bother looking for it on a map, but it might be the best path to take right now to get where you want to go.
In a dark world where the terrible stuff weighs so heavily upon us, we need whimsy more than ever. Whimsy lifts the soul, loosens up the mind, gladdens the heart, and it opens the eyes to what can be.
This is the way.