In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, the eponymous hero sighs to himself, “Grown-ups are certainly very strange.”
The line recurs as the little prince journeys from one planet to another, each time encountering a sole occupant: a king, a drunkard, and a businessman, to name a few. In each conversation, our hero finds himself frustrated by his interlocutors’ self-absorbed and illogical reasoning. The king insists that he rules the universe although he cannot control its motion. The drunkard drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking. The businessman counts the stars in a futile attempt to “own” them.
Wrapped in their complexities, Saint-Exupéry’s grown-ups stand in sharp contrast to the little prince, who stumps them with his simple questions. It is not their age that has made them strange to him—for, as the reader later finds, the little prince is perfectly able to befriend the pilot who narrates the story. Rather, what makes these particular grown-ups bizarre are the disturbing qualities they have acquired as they have aged. They have abandoned humility, simplicity, and wonder in their furious conviction that such qualities are not “serious.” As a result, their lives have become lonesome.
Now, the truth stands that children do need to learn things. The world cannot run on imagination alone, and real adult duties, including government and business transactions, must be fulfilled. Nevertheless, as The Little Prince suggests, the signature qualities of a child remain essential for happiness. Therefore, we must learn how to maintain them, regardless of our age.
As a recent college graduate, I am far from mastering this skill. Still, being in the working world and talking with wiser people have shown me a few insights that I find helpful as I hike this new terrain called adulthood. They may also come in handy to you freshmen who are still finding your footing, or to you seniors who face the daunting thesis or job hunt. Regardless, I hope they help us all avoid the fate of sad, strange grown-ups.
The first realization I’d like to share is that we will always be in a state of learning. It sounds simple but remember: Childlike perspective matters. My grandfather used to say, “Life is a series of plateaus,” meaning that after we reach a high point in life (such as senior year of high school or college), we often find ourselves at the bottom of the next stage (such as freshman year of college or an entry-level job).
The beauty of this image lies in the encouragement it provides: When you feel like you’re at the bottom, start climbing, and before long you’ll have reached a higher level than you’d ever been. There is always an opportunity to grow—but it requires humility. We must acknowledge our place at the bottom and our mission to keep climbing.
So how do we do that? Well, once we have embraced the need for humility, we will recognize that we do not have all the answers. We need to ask questions. Go to office hours, call your parents regularly, have lunch with mentors at work, and make time to pray. The endless string of questions that children fire away might strike us as obnoxious, but without their persistent inquiry, those children would learn neither what interests them most nor what matters most. The little prince politely yet persistently asks a lot of questions. We would do well to imitate him.
Second realization: You won’t always feel like it. Again, obvious (how many of us really wanted to study for that test?), but bear with me. No matter how stellar the class, no matter how prestigious the job, there will be days when the task is unpleasant, when others’ comments annoy us, or when the motivation just isn’t there.
This is a hard reality that we can easily sweep under the rug. In a culture that discourages any kind of inconvenience, we might be tempted to expect a university, major, or job that we will love and get excited about every day. Unfortunately, humanity is just too imperfect to make that possible. But this does not mean that our lives must be inevitably bleak. In fact, if we know we won’t always feel enthusiastic about our work, we will be able to search for (and are much more likely to find) a deeper, more lasting motivation that will sustain us regardless of how we feel. The little prince’s journey is motivated not by a hunger for power or riches but by his desire to return home to his rose, whom he loves and wishes to protect.
What are we journeying for?
If we make the daily effort to keep climbing, questioning, and learning out of love, then I dare say we have the hope of being happy. We will be well on our way to growing into truly mature adults—that is, ones who have the wisdom of children.
Sophia Buono, Class of 2018, is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard. She is of the opinion that sushi is among the superior foods, although certain Notre Dame gentlemen might vehemently disagree. Contact Sophia at email@example.com.