C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, famously said the following (building on a passage from Corinthians): “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” It’s to our disservice as adults that we often fail to do the same when we enter adulthood.
Indeed, fearing mockery and wanting to be taken seriously, we commonly cast aside our simple curiosity in an effort to fit in with everyone else. We do this in many areas of our lives, but particularly when it comes to business — the combination of social fear and high financial stakes conditions us to keep our heads down and hope to skate by.
But if you want to do more than just get along (if you want to flourish and excel and achieve your dreams) then you shouldn’t be learning from how the next level up the managerial ladder works — you should be learning from how children approach activities. In this piece, we’re going to aim for just that, considering what kids in play do that you should do as well. Let’s begin.
Kids fight extensively and creatively. They’re emotionally charged, readily get into spats, and will generally be incredibly childish (oddly enough!). Yet despite the cliques that tend to form at schools, and the divisions they create, younger kids in particular don’t try to protect those social barriers. When a diverting activity arrives at playtime, children get far too busy engaging with them to think too much about who their friends or enemies are, or what those labels even mean.
Adults in business are much, much worse at working or even socializing with people they have grown to dislike for whatever reason. They’re stubborn, trapped by a fear of being ostracized by their allies for associating with their rivals and a reluctance to back down from some perceived conflict. An adult can get into a situation where they have every reason to like someone but make an active choice to dislike them instead because they want to hold on to spite.
You may not like your coworkers — you may even hate them, whether it’s justified or down to something fairly trivial — but it’s essential that you learn to work with them with no open malice. Set the enmity aside, focus on the task at hand, and you’ll get things done properly. You may even find in the process that they’re actually not so bad!
Pursue your interests
Children get bored very, very easily. They’ll pick something up, lose interest within minutes, put it down, and move on to something else. They’re on the path of discovery in an unfamiliar world, and to find their place in it, they need to learn about themselves — what they value, what they enjoy, and what they’re good at. You can tell them not to pursue something but they’ll most likely ignore you.
Unfortunately, entering the working world has the power to of turn us into primarily-practical creatures of habit. If we know that the things we’re doing right now are working well enough and aren’t completely intolerable, we’re reluctant to put them down, even if they no longer interest us. We worry about what other people think and how society views certain jobs and pursuits.
While it isn’t feasible to become totally indifferent to how others perceive your life choices (even if you’re self-employed, you don’t operate in isolation), you should make an effort to think less about what other people will think of your business choices. Do you want to change career? Move to a new position in your company? Let people know — consult your boss if you have one. And don’t base everything on practicality. If you’re truly passionate about a job, it’ll shine through in your performance and lead to success.
Keep trying new things
Give each of ten children a creative task and you might end up with ten different approaches. As blank slates in a lot of ways, they’re not burdened with broad knowledge of how things are “supposed” to be done — they get to look at challenges with fresh eyes. Very often, what they lack in understanding of conventional methods, they make up in innovation that allows them to see options that others wouldn’t think to look for.
As adults, we get used to following set routines that have been vetted by people in positions of authority over us. We follow them because we know that they’ll work adequately well and because we feel out of our depth when we leave our comfort zones. But we have to leave our comfort zones to grow as individuals and to develop as business people, and to do that we need to try completely new things whenever possible. When was the last time you meaningfully changed your usual schedule?
Most people intend to do new things like starting their own businesses or learning new skills, but they keep finding excuses not to do them — but the internet has changed everything. As an ecommerce advocate, I know that wherever you go in the world, there are options for entrepreneurs to create or purchase businesses (through marketplaces or brokers). If you’re a parent in the Los Angeles area, for instance, you can find LA businesses on Exchange that you can buy and make your own with very little effort. You don’t need an office and a staff to run a business — you just need a laptop and a willingness to try.
Never fear failure
There’s an inspiring resilience to kids. They fall over, hurt themselves, burst into tears, and then go right back to whatever they were doing beforehand. They have to be adaptable — they wouldn’t learn to walk otherwise! They don’t dwell on mistakes or disastrous failures. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and carry on.
As we get older and experience some major failures, we can become somewhat traumatized by them, allowing them to haunt us for the rest of our lives if we don’t address those issues. We become extremely reluctant to take risks on new projects and greater responsibilities because we envision the worst-case scenarios. We tense up at the thought of what might go wrong instead of being driven by what might go right.
In the end, to quote Samuel Beckett, becoming a success in business is mainly a matter of learning to ”fail better”, just as children do. We all encounter setbacks in our careers — some big, some small — and we must all refused to be cowed into submission. Just make sure that you learn something from every failure, and each time you shoot for the stars, you’ll get a fraction closer to your goal.
About the author Patrick Foster: He is a writer and