I still won't grow up!

I just came back from a visit to Boulder, CO, and I was blown away by a couple of things:
  1. About 53,000 people think that running a 10K (the Bolder-Boulder) at 5400' elevation is a great idea.
  2. A whole community of passionate people has gathered there to build cool software and have fun doing it.

I thought that idealists like this died out in the Great Technology Ice Age of 2001, when it suddenly became uncool (or maybe just unprofitable) to enjoy your work. I guess a few survived, or maybe these folks are just too young to remember those dark days.

Well, thinking about this on the plane ride back reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years ago. Since I'm probably the only person who ever read it, I figured I'd bring it out of cold storage and share it again.

I Won't Grow Up!

I have to say, I am so grateful for the grownups in the business world. They have taught me so much and helped me to mend my foolish, childish ways. You see, I used to actually think that people were supposed to enjoy their work: imagine that! What did I think this was, college? As it turns out, to be a successful, mature company, you must put such silly notions out of your head and realize what business is really all about: obligations, responsibility, and the burden of respectability.

Young companies and entrepreneurs are allowed to play for a while, but the grownups demand their due in the end. Eventually, the press and the other experienced business leaders start saying the things that all grownups say to young adults: "You can't keep playing around like this forever, you know. Eventually, you'll have to start recognizing your responsibilities. You have a duty to the board, to your shareholders, and to the market that must be shouldered. There are bills to pay, reports to deliver, five-year plans to assemble. You've had your fun, but now it's time to start acting like an adult."

Adulthood, according to our wise gray mentors, is a collection of obligations: to family, to country, to employer. There is no room for fun, because that implies that we have some energy left to spend on ourselves. Grownups live a life of dull daily sacrifice, and are glad, in their gray way, to do it. They protect what they have, risk little, and ensure that their obligations will always be met. If they have a little extra time, they pull weeds.

If this is adulthood, then I'm with Peter Pan:

I won't grow up,
I don't want to wear a tie.
And a serious expression
In the middle of July.

And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,

I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

Here's my childish manifesto:

I will cling to the belief that work can be fun, fulfilling, and profitable, all at the same time. I will refuse to accept that a happy employee is an inefficient one, or that money spent on quality of work life is wasted. I will continue to expect that, if I challenge people to rise beyond what they have done before, to push their boundaries and to push each other, they will rise to the challenge and smile while doing so.

I will not accept the belief that in order to get the most out of people you must beat them down first. I will never allow the frowning grownups with their clucking about "obligation" to convince me that life is only meant to be survived.

I may have to spend the rest of my life as an adult, but I refuse to spend it as a grownup! And,

If growing up means
It would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

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