The Art of Complacency: A Rat Race to Stay the Same

“Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up because they are looking for ideas.” –  Paula Poundstone, comedian.

As adults we have a penchant for asking kids cute questions for which the answers are irrelevant. An impossible number of events, factors, and changes of heart will happen between the age of “child” and deciding what “to be.” I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was in grade one and now the very word “science” produces hives. 

Perhaps there’s another reason we like to ask that question. As always, behind any joke is a foundation of truth. In this case, I’d argue it’s largely fear. 


Forget growing up. That’s a term we use to define others. Do we ever view ourselves as grown up? I’m willing to entertain definitions of what it means, exactly. Let’s focus on the “being.” Or rather the “am.” For the question “what do you want to be” implies a future arrival, the response “I am” describes the present. For many of us, that present is not one we envisioned in the past, keeping us longing for a future that may or may not remain a fantasy. 

Happiness and complacency seemingly have the same definition. It is their connotation that alters their meanings. Putting words down on the proverbial paper each morning makes me happy. Living in the same city for long periods of time or going to the same job day after day creates a feeling of complacency. 

In ingrained routines we find juxtapositions. 

In reality, the opposite of happiness is not sadness, but boredom. Does boredom make us comfortable? 

What prevents us from doing what we want? As children, we have a million different thoughts of what the future holds. Doctors. Astronauts. Athletes. Fancy cars. Chocolate mountains. Only eating the marshmallows out of the Lucky Charms. Our childhood decisions aren’t much different. Wanted to join the basketball team? We asked; Thought a tea party would be fun? It happened; Felt like giving your teddy bear a haircut? Maybe that was just me. 

Do the adult versions think differently? Certainly our tastes change as the years pass, but the act of wanting doesn’t. At least I hope not. Many of us enjoy recreational sports. Some like writing. Others, making music. And myriad more. The elephant in the room of course is that enjoying and doing are also not synonyms. 


The second elephant is that money changes things. We know why, but wish it weren’t true. Especially since money doesn’t actually exist – it is but a mere social myth we choose to believe in, as stated by Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens. I hope we won’t find anyone who argues that money also evolved from homo erectus. 

But money is also the scapegoat for our fears. We tell ourselves “if only I had more money,” as Tim Ferris says. If we had more money we’d join that weekend basketball team, write that novel, start playing that music. But many of us don’t. I’m guilty of this. 

The million dollar question is how much more money would we need in this scenario in order to start doing? To take that vacation? To take up the hobby without the preconception of income? How much do we need to listen to our own desires?  

Money talks, but all it ever says is goodbye. 

Professions are necessary to the extent of the world in which we live. We all require the three basic needs – food, shelter, clothing – and money is required to obtain and maintain those. But changing professions, or rather jobs, once they become stagnant doesn’t interfere with the premise. 

“It’s comfortable.” “It pays the bills.” “What else would I do?” These are other scapegoats perpetuated by fear. 

Opportunity is bound by decisions. And most of the time, what we wish we would start doing has nothing to do with earning income. Sports, music, writing. These have amateur status for the overwhelming majority. And we’re content to do them as pastimes, as learning opportunities, as creative and social outlets. As we should. These are what constitute a life, much more than the part that earns us money to pay for the things we can’t afford. 

As the calendars continue to turn, we sometimes question what we’ve done, but moresoe what we haven’t. We, too, sometimes ponder if we’re too “old” to start that thing we wanted to do when we were “younger.”

Silly rabbit, music’s for kids. 

One of my go-to videos from class asks Millennials to define what old means. They offer answers of between 40 and 60. They then meet people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who have physically-demanding hobbies – martial arts, dance – and perform them with ease. And with even more remaining aspirations, the takeaway is that “old” and “age” are also not synchronous. 

“When people start stopping, that’s when they start getting old,” offers the oldest member of the video. 

Adults probably like asking kids questions because we get honest answers. No falsities. No hedging. No understanding that something is unachievable. In our battles with complacency, take a moment today to ask a young person what they want to be when they are older. It’s really easy: just ask yourself. 

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