Our culture provides no bridge into responsible adulthood

Do you know the story of Peter Pan? I think everyone has at least heard of him, this wild and cheeky little guy who will never grow up. I like the story very much and of course I also love the figure of Pan – at least in parts. What we admire so much, is the freedom in which he lives, footloose, which gives him the opportunity to do whatever he wants. We also love his non-linearity, and his rebellion against the establishment. He is surrounded by a bunch of loyal guys also determined not to grow up. And he can fly – anywhere he want’s!

And yet I am always very sad about the hidden tragedy of the story, because my heart feels entirely clear what Peter misses by his decision not to grow up. He lives in a fantasy world – while the real world out there remains a mystery for him.

Our culture makes us believe, that we have grown up at the age of 18 – just like that – from one day to the next. Almost overnight we go through a miraculous transformation from adolescence into adulthood. We are allowed to drive a car, buy alcoholics and see movies for adults. But let’s be honest, are these the attributes that make a human being an adult? Growing up and being an adult in our society is also not at all popular. It is often considered as: boring, stuffy, adapted. A row house in the suburbs with a garden, a dog, two children and a station wagon in the garage. This is our general picture of adulthood. When you grow up, the fun is over! Therefore we rather go back to Neverland and join the Lost Boys – the gang of Peter Pan.

So most of us probably did not yet grow up. How could we – without a rite of passage, a conscious transformation from adolescence to adulthood? And I mean not only those who deliberately follow the example of Peter Pan and do everything for not growing up! But also those who seem to have grown up, who adapted, who try to fit into the system and follow the pre-treaded path because they think, that’s what it means to be adult and provides them with the most security. All the while they dream of Neverland. So the population of modern western society largely consists not of responsible adults, but of adolescents: the Peter Pans and those who dream of living the life of Peter Pan.

This is neither good, nor bad. Nevertheless it leads to certain results, which are represented by the state of our planet and the state of our personal lives:

  • We do not know what to do with our lives, what contribution we could make for the community – we do not even know the talents, strengths and abilities, we have to give.
  • Instead of taking the risk, to live our calling in an inspired way, we suffer for years doing jobs, we hate, where we have to deny our inner truth, just to have some security. All the while we are dreaming of the next vacation and of the time when we retire, finally free to do, what we want (= Neverland).
  • We trust Uncle Sam and the health insurance to pay for us when we are unable to work.
  • We prefer to stay in dead relationships, where there is no real intimacy, connection and closeness
  • anymore, rather than to take the risk to change something or to be alone for a while.
  • We blindly follow the given rituals (e.g. the way Christmas has to be celebrated), the media, the fashion, etc. without consciously thinking about what we really want and what really suits us.
  • We try to get a glimpse of freedom once a while, e.g. in the form of a nice Porsche, expensive stuff we buy, gambling or a vacation in a faraway land – all inclusive of course …
  • We are not able to make boundaries, to say ‘No’ when we mean no, and to say ‘Yes’ when we mean yes
  • We consume our planet’s resources as if there were no tomorrow.
  • etc.

Or we do exactly the opposite – we say NO to everything and rebel against everything that is mainstream – we do everything, just not to be normal.

We deeply believe that responsibility and adulthood is the opposite of freedom. And with this conviction, we are trapped – just like Peter Pan! Because just like Neverland is a fantasy world, the belief that we can avoid responsibility, is a childish illusion. Like the Lost Boys we sit in front of empty plates and pretend as if there is the most delicious food – and meanwhile we starve, because it’s just a beautiful illusion.

Freedom and responsibility or responsible adulthood are linked together. Only by taking full responsibility, we can be free. When we stop blaming others, stop looking for justifications, stop waiting for the prince with the white horse or the safety of a warm office chair in a company where we sell our soul. So if we want to achieve different results in our lives, it is necessary to go through a transformation process into responsible adulthood. Because the things we truly long for, real love, leading a meaningful life, being in relationship, making a contribution, etc. we can only experience in the real world, when we take responsibility to create these things.

Unfortunately our modern culture and education do not provide this transition into responsible adulthood. What it takes are modern ways of conscious transformation that fit in our time and in our culture. What it also takes is some courage and a deep longing, to be the creator of my own life, rather than to be a victim of my own circumstances.

There is also another version of Peter Pan, a movie starring Robin Williams, entitled ,Hook’. In this version, Peter Pan has decided to grow up. Because let’s face it: there may be a part of us that does not want to grow up, but would any adult woman in the world like to marry Peter Pan? And would any adult man want to live with a little girl? And would any adult citizen want to have an irresponsible adolescent to govern the country?
So, it’s time to grow up, Peter Pan!


Useful questions:

  • What is your opinion regarding adulthood?
  • Are freedom and responsibility still opposites for you?
  • Where do you sell your inner truth, to feel safe? In your work? In your relationship?
  • Where are you waiting for the prince, the savior, happiness from the outside? Do you still have dreams of having a good pension or winning the lottery?

The Possibility Manager Program offers the possibility of a modern rite of passage into responsible adulthood. See more at www.follow-your-calling.org or www.nextculture.org