Yesterday, I got to help out with two adorable little girls, who I know very well. At three years old, their imaginations are in full swing. If they’re playing Princess and need a wicked queen, they imagine her; if they need a forest, the corner by the door with one fake plant is it. They don’t care what they say, they don’t care how silly they may be acting; to them, this is very real. They’ve built the sets and hired extras all in their mind.
The more I see this, the more I wonder: What happened?
We all used to be like that; capable of imagining anything, of improvising, of reveling in a creation of our mind and not being embarrassed by how silly or odd we sounded/looked. As we get older, embarrassment slips in and suddenly, what once was so easy, becomes very difficult. When I was younger, I had an “out-of-control” imagination. I could make up a story about anything and whole-heartedly go along with it and encourage others to do the same. I loved the idea of the pool being an ocean equipped with a grotto and my friends and I playing rivaling species. I loved the idea of pretending that I was in a fancy restaurant when I was sitting at a Little Tikes table. I loved sitting at my Little Tikes desk and pretending I worked for a high-profile newspaper and that my deadline was an hour away.
The best part was, I didn’t care who heard me or saw me. Despite being ridiculously shy as a child, when I played pretend, I wasn’t me, so I wasn’t embarrassed. If anything, I was excited, entertained, and ready to entertain whoever was around. I would step out of my comfort level and just enjoy what I was doing.
Like many of us, if not all, as I have grown up, I struggle with not being self-conscious over the silliest of things, even playing pretend (unless we’re playing the Ikea Game). I first noticed it when I was at a Summer BBQ at an old friend’s house and the six year old pleaded that I come and sit with her in the playroom and play, to which I obliged. Once in the room, she asked me to come up with something for the dolls to do. As other people began to walk in the house, some finding their way into the playroom, I became frighteningly self-concious. God knows why, because it was perfectly normal. I was entertaining the six year old; it wasn’t that I believed any of this was going on in “real life.” I laughed it off, telling the little girl, “I really can’t think of anything. But I thought of a great project for you; make a play with these animals, and surprise me.” She, of course, loved the idea and sent me out of the room as fast as possible so she could come up with “the perfect story.”
To this day, I still don’t fully understand why I didn’t just go along with it. All I know is that my imagination has been a bit stifled by inhibitions; fear of judgement, social standards, et cetera. This is not to say that when a toddler hands me fake food and tells me they’ve made me a meal I don’t pretend to eat it; I do. Fake food still requires effort to a child. I still answer the toy phone when a child hands it to me, I still will act as the person who saves them from the forest or the wicked queen, but when handed a toy and told to “act it out,” I freeze up.
There are few things more terrifying (internally) than realizing that the thing you value most in yourself is slowly being locked up. For me, this is my creativity. It’s been my constant throughout life. No matter what phase I was going through, my creativity was strong and would burst through whatever walls were being put up.
I think once I realized this, I realized why I’ve had terrible writer’s block; why I’ve been feeling a bit stifled, et cetera. Now that I had identified the problem, I could solve it, or at least be on the way to solving it.
To me, allowing our full creativity to shine through, allowing ourselves to act silly, and letting ourselves go back to the fun of improvisation is a big part of finding our gumption. To do all of these things requires confidence and a self-assurance that can only be summarized as having gumption.
But the question still plagues me; does growing up make us change, or does it just lock up the parts of us that are capable of being boldly truthful, ridiculously creative, and/or unabashedly curious?