Introducing ADRA

My youngest grandchildren (twins, Madison and Robert) will be four in May. They’re in constant motion. Trying, testing, challenging, asserting themselves. I have no problem giving them full permission to learn and explore.

Great 6-year-olds don’t start at 5. If they are lucky – and with assistance from all of us – they have been on the Developmental Runway since birth.

My oldest grandchild, Laura, will be 16 in May. She is an astounding young woman. Bright, articulate, artistic, scientific, athletic, opinionated. I took her and her four younger siblings and cousin – ages 5 to 12 – to a movie/dinner/ice cream parlor of their choice during a recent visit.

The movie they chose was “Big Hero Six.” They had all seen it but wanted me to see it, too. At the end of the movie Laura looked me in the eye, crossed her arms, and said, “What did you really think of the movie, Poppa? We know when you’re just humoring us.” I have no problem giving Laura full permission to learn, explore and challenge me.

Great 16-year-olds don’t start at 15. If they are lucky – and with assistance from all of us – they’re still cruising on the Developmental Runway.

The Developmental Runway seems to continue, straight and true, until somewhere around 40. Before then it isn’t that hard to give “kids” the benefit of the doubt at home and in the workplace. Around 40, however, things seen to harden. That’s about the time we subtly withdraw permission to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them.

“You should know by now” is a recurring silent (and sometimes not so silent) judgment, whether we’re talking about personal relationships, workplace behavior or debt. It’s as if the Developmental Runway runs out of tarmac at the same time we run out of tolerance.

Fast forward to age 65. By then, the use of the Developmental Runway has long been cordoned off for individuals, employers, and society in general. Not only do we ourselves think we should already know what to do and how to do it, but people in our support systems think we should we already have all the answers for everything, too.

Whoa! Just a minute here. Let’s have a show of hands.

Hold up your hand if you already know all there is to know and have all the skills you need to grow old gracefully and competently from now to 95. What? No hands? Let’s try it again. Hold up you hand if you know who you are going to be and how (and where and with whom) you will be spending most of your time 20 years from now. What? No hands again?

That’s because we don’t treat ourselves as well as we treat our grandchildren. We allow others to treat us the same way: rigidly. It’s time to stand up and demand our right to experiment, try, fail, make decisions, change our minds, and learn as we go.

We’ve lost one of the biggest gifts we had when we were younger: the grace, dignity, and opportunity the Developmental Runway had given us. It’s time to wrest it back, and accelerate hard.

I’m considering starting the American Developmental Runway Association 50+ (ADRA50+) and marching to demand that our rights have at least as much runway permission as our grandkids.

Who shall we march on first? Probably ourselves.

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