Embrace the person you truly are, not whom you’re supposed to be.

LITTLE KIDS don’t need much to be happy. As an English teacher in Osaka, Japan, watching how kids interact with the world makes me smile, laugh, think, question.

They move their hands across different surfaces, enamored by the texture: is the wooden table smooth as a river stone or rough as the skin of a shark?

In the kids’ classes, essentially carpeted play rooms, I watch as little gremlins jump into piles of cushions as if mounds of snow. Their jaws go agape at the sight of a sparkly sticker; their brows furrow at the sight of my flowing arm hair; they giggle with laughter at my mispronunciations.

Kids just want to have fun. Why don’t we?

Our seemingly mundane existence is so very strange, primitive, intensely beautiful. Yet we grow up, and we accustom to this world that can be the greatest fantasy if we allowed it to be. We forget what it means to be a kid.

I have a weekly class with four adorable and energetic six-and seven-year-olds.

The school director made a quick announcement in Japanese that I’d be taking over the class — smile and wave Vince, smile and wave. All the parents stayed in the small room, watching the lesson through the window.

For those first few moments, I felt the pressure of watching eyes.

The class became a stage.

Have fun with it, I told myself. These parents are just kids, too, aren’t they? Kids who have grown older, gotten jobs, had families and experiences, but at their core, at all of our core, aren’t we just little rugrats?

In whatever it is you’re doing, be you.

Don’t act like a clown if that’s not who you are. If you want to be silly and energetic, own it.

If you have to be something you’re not depending on the situation, perhaps the situation isn’t what you’re meant to do.

In The Ape That Understood the Universe, evolutionary psychologist Steve Stewart-Williams discusses how we tell kids (little primates) to sit in a chair and focus on a subject that they have literally zero interest in.

They want to be outside playing, talking, learning. When they fidget in their chair, yearning for some freedom, we say they have ADHD. Stewart-Williams cites a quote by writer and political activist Gloria Steinem:

“If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”

In this context, it means we’re trying to train all these little monkeys to enjoy school and when they don’t we say there’s something wrong with them, not the system, giving them pills to fit into a painful mold.

Kids want to play games, and so do I. If I can make these kids have fun while learning, that’s a success.

We’re human beings. We’re not robots. I’m not training the next spelling bee champion of Osaka. I’m here to learn, too.

I discovered that by being myself and having fun, the parents let their guards down, laughed, and seemed to enjoy the show.

I had the kids doing different gestures like playing air guitar, playing piano, cooking, painting, passing a ball around and drawing on the board.

These usually rowdy kids were silent, enthralled while drawing. When they did what interested them, they focused intently.

Little kids don’t know why they’re at the school; they aren’t thinking about their future or the meaning of life.

As we mature, these are concerns we take on.

Growing up doesn’t just give us the right to drive a car, fight for our nation and earn a wage. It gives us the opportunity to question why we do what we do, as individuals and as a planet, a culture, a people; growing up gives us the greatest opportunity of all, the capacity to chart our own path.

Mine — I feel it deeply — must come from digging, searching, questioning who I truly am and what we’re doing here.

I’m a kid with boundless love for this world.

I’m a kid, angered by the pain derived from doing what we’re supposed to do, allowing our souls to be drawn from us slowly, surely, living lives we’re not meant to live, shackled behind these masks.

Embrace your inner kid. The world needs it.

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