I first encountered the term when I was backpacking in Australia, just outside of the town of 1770 myself and 2 friends were at a Sunday’s farmers market. It turned out to be a handful of vendors in a green field on a quiet country road. We had anticipated a larger event, as we seemed to be one of the few who stopped by to scour goods for sale. Purchasing some fruit and homemade jam for breakfast, it was then before we were leaving that I became interested in one particular table. It was full of children’s books, the little square cardboard covers of the gold-leaf series. As a kid I had read, and had many read to me, it was inspiring to see these same books on the other side of the world. It was then as I fingered through the titles that Peter Pan flipped over. It was then that I realized that this simple short story was definitive of my experiences at the time. The land I was exploring was my neverland, and I was the child who was afraid of growing up, hoping my days of adventure would last forever… We left that day with our goods, and one 25 cent Peter Pan book tucked into my backpack.
Later I had read about Peter Pan syndrome a fair bit, and I stumbled across a web site; Never Grow Up: a tribute to peter pan syndrome. As I scrolled through the words of essays written by the author and visitors, I found the contents of a particular essay quite intriguing. It was entitled “Peter Pan Syndromers as Over Achievers”. In it, Evan Bailyn writes:
“Peter Pan Syndromers are usually painted as grown-ups who cling to their childhood due to a fear of adult responsibility. But emotionally stunted underachievers make up only a small percentage of the Peter Pan population. Dan Kiley, author of the Peter Pan Syndrome concept, never accounted for Peter Pan overachievers: eternal children whose competitive instincts compel them to achieve high standing in the very society that they secretly shun. These people learn how to game the adult world by conforming to its conventions, all the while secretly plotting to escape as soon as they have attained the resources to do so.”
How fascinating, as I read the last sentence I quickly found the similarities in my own life. Some of us out there fit right into the model quite well, others are only there as a means to escape. We obviously all carry aspirations of achieving something better in life. But many fall all too well into enjoying minute freedoms within the daily grind, while forgetting all the things they dreamed about as a child, the things they told themselves they would do, the people they would be.
After paying some utility bills, I exchanged emails with my sister, wondering how we had grown old so fast, gone were the days of rubber boots, catching frogs, filling our bellies with fresh peas from the garden on hot summer days. My sister; now pregnant, and now both of us homeowners. Things most certainly have changed. The timing of another friend sending me a song by an artist from Sweden singing about the ongoing train of our lives, and how we can’t stop it, only seemed too perfect for these last couple days.
The hands of time will always tick past us, and we can’t change that. But we can ensure we live for each of those moments, in a conscious mind. If we spend a moment each day thinking about the past, and what we wanted to achieve when we were older, then you’ll be more inclined to question where you are right now. Are you headed in the right direction? Are you happy? Are you unsure of what you’re doing?
That little kid inside is always there, whether you’ve trained yourself to quiet them or not. The naivety and innocence of a child untainted by those around themselves is a truly magnificent thing, and can offer some helpful guidance in any adult’s life. Some of us are still listening to them, you may be living it, you may have forgotten it, while others of us hear them all too well. We still let the manifestations of its words slip out into our daily lives from time to time, but secretly we chug along at our jobs, our lives, with the ever mindful idea of becoming free once again….
“Yet few others understand. Society runs like a well-oiled machine. The media enforces its ethics and people become intoxicated with normalcy. Meanwhile, the stubborn Peter Pan Syndromer is wondering what is going on around him. Why is everyone walking the same way, wearing the same clothing, using the same expressions, believing in the same philosophies? He feels the need to find someone like him, another eternal child with whom he can run away, back to the simple land of laughter and imagination. To do so he must escape from the land of taxes, bills, and bosses. So he works hard. He pretends to be normal, playing by all the rules. And he makes money. One day, he will use that money to emancipate himself from the rigid limitations of the world. Even if he has to wait until he is old, he will eventually become a kid again.
In every large company and organization, there is at least one Peter Pan Syndromer. He’s dressed like a drone but he wishes he weren’t. He wants to be free. And he will be – someday.”