Peter Pan Syndromers As Overachievers
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.
In fact, many of the big kids I know are actually successful businesspeople who retain a childlike world view. A lot of the celebrities we see in the media are merely big kids who use their fame and fortune to attempt to live their childhood dreams. The ambition that comes from refusing to lead a standard, 9-5 life, has created many colorful characters. After all, it is impossible to underestimate a Peter Pan Syndromer’s fear of normalcy.
The self-imposed pressure Peter Pan overachievers bring upon themselves dates back to their first concepts of good and bad. As toddlers, they learned how to behave by gauging their parents’ reactions. Good actions garnered praise, giving them a positive and affirming feeling – so they kept trying to be good. But as the Peter Pan Syndromers became toddlers, their standards for good behavior changed. No longer was listening, eating your food, and going potty enough. The onset of school brought with it the notion of competition, and now, they had to do better than others. They were graded – albeit in areas like sharing, relating to peers, and respecting elders – but still graded. In later years, the competition got stronger. Classes became stratified by skill level, and tests separated kids into discrete intellectual categories. By the time high school and college came around, these individuals were so programmed to compete that finally, one day, a realization occurred – “What is all this hard work even for? Is it all going to lead to happiness somehow, or am I just trapped in a cycle of working towards endless theoretical goals? What happened to the good old days when people were proud of me just for being nice to others? Everything has gotten so complicated.”
This is the point at which a Peter Pan Syndromer learns that he has Peter Pan Syndrome: when the world seems to spin out of control with falsely alluring goals, and all he wants to do is return to the simplicity of childhood.
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.
Evan Bailyn is a serial entrepreneur, search engine and social media expert, celebrated author and child advocate. His company, First Page Sage, is a leader in search engine optimization and social media marketing - vastly increasing business for its clients through high SEO rankings, targeted Facebook advertising and viral videos. Evan is also the founder of the Evan Bailyn Foundation, a foundation dedicated to teaching emotional awareness to children and adults.