Are We a Nation of Perpetual Children?



Lately, I’ve been thinking about a word that I believe we avoid to describe our actions - immature.

The word makes many of us feel bad when we see it or hear it applied to our behavior.  We fought so hard against it when we were young.  We told our parents we were mature and ready to go out and make our own way.  There's no way that word could still be applied to us as adults, right? 

If you were like me as a teenager, then you saw your parents as essentially fools.  They had no idea what was going on in the real world while they were hiding inside their own home. 

As the years passed, though, my parents grew smarter.

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
– Mark Twain

However, as the years passed and my parent’s intelligence grew, I didn’t really mature.  I was still behaving as a petulant teenager.  I took responsibility for some of my actions, pretending I would be rich someday and then acted indignant when none of my hopes materialized. defines Immature as

a :  lacking complete growth, differentiation, or development. immature fruits;
b :  having the potential capacity to attain a definitive form or state : crude, unfinished.  a vigorous but immature school of art;
c :  exhibiting less than an expected degree of maturity.  emotionally immature adults.

I Was Immature Until I Was in My Forties

There was funny movie with Steve Carrell called The 40 Year-Old Virgin.  In it, Carrell played an emotionally immature man who collected toys and comic books.  His house was filled with those items.  He spent his days playing with his friends and generally had a nice time.

There is nothing wrong with how Carrell’s character lived his life.  He was happy.  Good for him.

However, I also bought all sorts of toys and comics throughout my 20s and 30s, using credit cards for most of them and later paying cash.  During this entire time, I never planned for my retirement, invested for the long-term, or thought ahead.

I acted immature.

That immaturity didn’t stop with comics and toys.  I bought all sorts of stupid things - video game systems, pinball machines, DVDs, CDs, vintage computers.  You name it.  If I wanted it, I bought it.

I walked around like a petulant child thinking “I want” and pulled out my credit card to buy whatever I was focused on.

Even when I got on the Dave Ramsey program for a short period of time, the only thing that held me in check was the envelope system.  However, I banged into the ceiling of those envelopes every month.

What’s interesting is that on the outside, I looked like a fully functioning adult.  I had a family, house, and cars.  Everything appeared normal, except inside me was a child.

Immaturity Isn’t Only Measured by $$$

When I was a younger man, I had a temper. 

I would get angry at things I couldn’t figure out.  It’s embarrassing to reflect on that now, but I would get very upset if I couldn’t fix something.  You see, my dad always seemed to be a natural “Mr. Fix It.”  He could see a broken something-or-other, mechanical or structural, figure out how to jimmy rig a repair and then move on.  I am Mister Thumbs and would determine a fix, spend several hours making it worse and then meltdown in an embarrassing mess. 

I’m not perfect now, by any stretch.  I more fume than meltdown, because I expect perfection from myself, which is still a bit immature, but at least I understand my problem.

When I realized I couldn’t fix everything and that I didn’t have to be the guy my dad is, it eased a lot of pressure off my shoulders.  Now, I often will look at a problem, immediately ascertain if it’s above my pay grade and call in the appropriate help. 

If I believe I am able to do the work, I will spend some time researching how to fix it properly (YouTube is great for this) and then take plenty of time doing it.

My girlfriend is a master at changing locks and I’m horrible at it.  Guess who changes locks for us?  I’ve reached a point in my life where mission is more important than ego.

There are a lot of things I can’t do and many I can.  That’s how life is.  We all can’t do everything.  We must embrace the things we can do and move on.  It’s part of growing up.

Society is Tolerating the Perpetual Child

I’ve learned that if I’m experiencing something, someone else has, too.  Therefore, if I was experiencing this adult level immaturity others were as well.  Then I started paying attention and looking around for the perpetual child.  Some were way more obvious than me.

- It’s the thirty-something in pajamas at midday walking into Walmart to shop;
- It’s the forty-something dropping f-bombs with his grade-school-aged kid at your favorite restaurant;
- It’s the twenty-something living in her parent’s house because she doesn’t feel like getting a job;
- It’s the thirty-something couple covered in tattoos using their welfare card to buy groceries.

Our society has made it okay to be immature.  However, we don’t call it immaturity because that would make us feel bad.  We use other names to cover it up. 

- He’s an individual;
- She’s pursuing her dream;
- He’s creative;
- She still hasn’t found her purpose yet.

All of that’s complete and utter crap.

We’ve made feelings the number one priority in our society.  Feelings matter more in this reality which is upside-down, Bizarro World thinking.  We can’t tell someone what they’re doing is wrong, because that invalidates them as a person.  We treat them like they are children so we don’t hurt their self-esteem.

We're protecting immaturity at the cost of doing what's right.  What the hell?

Our society is even glorifying immaturity in the media.

- Emotional immaturity?  Teen Mom
- Behavioral immaturity?  The Real House Wives of You Name the County
- Financial immaturity?  Every rock/hip-hop video ever made
- General immaturity?  Keeping Up with You-Know-Who

Is it any wonder our political situation is as messed up as it is?  Have we gotten what we deserve by acting spectacularly immature as a nation?  Our president calls the people he doesn't like rotten names and a third of the country cheers it like it's normal.  Yet, if someone did the same thing to them, they would say it wasn't nice and whine that their feelings were hurt.  How does any of this make sense?  

Do Successful People Mature Earlier?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
– 1st Corinthians 13:11

I’m fortunate to be in an industry where I work around high net worth individuals.  Some of them I work for and some of them are fellow brokers.  There are a few who have had their wealth handed to them, but they are hardly mature and, just because they have money, I wouldn’t call them successful. 

I’m talking specifically amount the men and women who have earned their way from humble beginnings.  They have many of the qualities I’ve read about in books like Rich Habits and Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

However, the one thing that none of these books address is when you actually start to mature.  At what age do you take full responsibility for yourself and put away childish things?

What I believe now is that the earlier someone accepts full responsibility for their actions, both personal and financial, the quicker they will reach financial success.

If we only accept one area of responsibility, whether personal or financial, it’s unlikely we will reach financial success.  Personal responsibility is the foundation of financial success.  If that’s shaky then no matter how much money we make and save, it will eventually crumble.  The personal and financial behaviors must mirror one another.

This isn’t a secret.  The Millionaire Next Door talks a lot about the connectivity between these two worlds.

Yet, it doesn’t talk about how early a person willingly matures.  In other words, when does someone step up in life and say they are done with childish things? 

Saying No to Yourself

It wasn’t until I got into my forties when I realized the real power in life is saying “no” to myself.  I couldn’t build something and become a better person, if the answer was more often “yes” to ever impulse.  When I modified that behavior, things quickly changed.

- No, I wouldn’t spend my money like a ding-dong anymore;
- No, I wouldn’t lose my temper like a spoiled child any further.

You see where I’m going with this.  There is a lot of power in the word ‘no.’

I once read that, “If everything is special, nothing is special.”  That really stuck with me.

If we say yes to everything then nothing will have the opportunity to stand-out.

However, we’re always encouraged to say yes to ourselves.  We have to say yes or we’ll look weird and we won’t fit in with the cool kids.

Facebook compares us to our friends and HGTV likens our homes to those of others.  The media shows our favorite celebrities living all sorts of extravagant lifestyles.

Shouldn’t we have outgrown trying to fit in with a clique back in high school?  Aren’t we trying to do that today by impressing our friends with the things we buy or the places we visit?  Is our life just an adult version of The Breakfast Club – an angst ridden drama full of immaturity?*

Before we learn to say “no” to ourselves, we are often told “no” by other means. 

- There’s no money in the checking account. – No!  You can’t use this account;
- You’re credit card is maxed out – No!  You can’t use this card;
- Your car is out of gas and mom won’t loan you money – No!  You’re not driving today.

If we had told ourselves “no” earlier, we might have avoided the above scenarios.

It appears easy and more fun to say ‘yes’ to ourselves.  However, we will often find ourselves mired in a quicksand that is made up of poor decisions.  As we struggle to get out, we become more weighted down with debt.

If you’re a person who has trouble saying “no” to yourself, realize what an immense power is contained within that small word.  It’s the difference between a child and an adult.

A child never says no to themself.

An adult must say it for them.

Are you saying no to yourself or is someone saying it for you?

*I love The Breakfast Club, by the way.  Anyone who came through the '80s and doesn’t love that movie is a complete drone.