Forever Young

Did you ever see the movie Big? In this film, Tom Hanks portrays Josh Baskin, a kid who magically transforms into a 30 year old. And through a series of fortunate events, he winds up as an executive at a major toy company, where his 13 year old insight proves itself invaluable to a stiff and stodgy development department that has lost sight of what truly appeals to its customers: fun.

The film highlights the value of the free-flowing enthusiasm of youth. As kids we are filled with ideas, and well, idealism. We create on a grand scale; nothing is too great for our imagination to overcome. We have yet to be burdened by the pressures and responsibilities of adult life, and as such, a world of infinite possibility lies before us.

Our tragedy is that many of us lose our youthful optimism and enthusiasm. Most often our youthful spirit isn’t gone entirely, as noted in the film when Josh coerces a fellow exec to let down her guard and join him on a trampoline. Most often it is just hidden, tucked out of sight, until something allows it to return to the surface. The moment it returns our lives are instantly transformed and we find ourselves wondering why we ever lost our way.

Often a life-altering event like an illness or catastrophe will force us into a contemplative zone where we reassess what our life is all about. In these moments, as the cliché goes, few of us find ourselves wishing we had spent more time at the office. Most often, we lament opportunities lost: times we didn’t take chances, didn’t live adventures, didn’t express our feelings to someone we care about. We realize the value of life’s playful and sincere moments, and we decide to readjust accordingly. 

But we don’t need to wait for something dramatic to occur: we can choose to reconnect with our youthful spirit at any point. We can let go of the misconception that indulging our playful nature is childish, a behavior to be left behind. By choosing to affirm our youthful, expressive nature, we empower ourselves to connect in new ways, and on new levels. Doing so won’t just empower our personal lives; it will empower the lives of those around us. Because the less stifled we are, the more we free those around to be less stifled as well, a point well illustrated in the film as the infectious energy of Josh sweeps over those he works with. In fact it is this energy that propels him to rise through the corporate ranks very quickly, a point perhaps lost to those amongst us who view towing the established line as the most secure route through life.

While the film focuses on a toy company, the point is not limited to all things kid related. Our wide-eyed youthful enthusiasm forms the base of all creative energy, and empowering it allows us to better address problems of any magnitude. There is something to be said for letting down our guard, releasing ourselves from the fear of judgment, and basking in the freedom of an open exchange of energy and ideas. Because after all, that is life at its very core: an exchange of energy with those around us. 

Until recently, rigidity has been a staple of adulthood, especially in business. However, with the relatively recent emergence of the tech sector, a shift is slowly underway. Technology companies world wide are awakening to the value of youthful, creative energy, and are designing workplaces to foster just such unfettered environments. Truly, there has never been a better time to be a grown up kid.

The film concludes with Josh deciding to return to his life as a 13 year old. He has lived a great adventure, but the pressures of adult life are more than he is ready to endure. His decision reflects the true reward of youth, for the value of his childlike insight isn’t the productivity he displays: rather, the reward is a life of freedom. The freedom of a child, to be unencumbered by the many, often unnecessary, burdens placed upon us as adults. We all have to grow up at some point, but doing so doesn’t mean burying the child within us. Rather, we need to enhance that child, for this energy and enthusiasm forms our very foundation. Expressing that energy is one of the greatest gifts we can give, both to ourselves, and those around us. The world will thank us for it, so then…

... why don’t we start recovering the child we left behind?