Have more fun

When you run your own business, there are a lot of little moving pieces, and it’s really common for one piece to be vitally important despite the fact that it looks totally superfluous.

Fortunately, I’ve never had a real job, so I’ve gotten used to this stuff.

So I know that when I write a blog post, it’s me talking to all of you, spreading my story, creating engagement, entertaining you so that you hopefully like me more, and so on.

I know that when I work on my goals and spend time dreaming about where I’m going with my life and business, it’s me getting clear on what I want to do so that when I start working on something, I’ll be more effective and efficient.

I know that when I talk to Baker on the phone like I did last week, it’s partially a strategy session that’s going to make me money. And I also know that the day I have planned to hang out with Baker in a few weeks will also be a kinda strategy session, and will also serve, in part, to make me money. (Just like my recent trip to Vegas, for Blogworld.)

I know that the Badass Project — though being developed for altruistic reasons (at a shockingly fast pace, BTW) — will have the rather nice side effect of raising my profile and ultimately bettering my business.

And I even know that when I sit at Borders and read William Gibson’s new book Zero History, that’s me recharging my batteries, becoming inspired to write my own stuff, getting in the fun mood required to do much of what I do in the “outwardly fun” way I do it.

I know all of the above things are essential parts of my business, and thing I really need to do. But still, I feel guilty when I do them. I often try to rush through them, so that I can them done… because really, I should… you know… “get back to work.”

Why do I feel that way despite knowing that all of those things are important?

The answer: Because I enjoy them. I feel that I shouldn’t be doing them specifically because they’re fun.

And I normally think of myself as a pretty smart guy, too.

Stupid Puritans

The Puritans were a group of people who came to America because they wanted the freedom to feel guilty for every moment they didn’t spend hauling rocks up the side of a mountain in the rain while shackled to a team of unconscious oxen. That, and they wanted to wear buckles on their hats.

Somehow, their credo — the so-called Puritan Work Ethic, commonly phrased as “Every moment thou spendest enjoying life buys you one more minute of afterlife Karaoke with Satan” — permeated far more than the Americas. Today, a hell of a lot of the world feels that they must work harder. And they must work harder. And oh sure, there are slackers out there, but those people are destined to a life of nothing. And sloth. And poverty. And destitution, and scorn.

Don’t be like those people, says the Puritan Work Ethic. Work harder.

If you’re having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

And you know what? That attitude sucks.

Fun is fucking awesome.

Our most fundamental, hardwired imperatives are to avoid pain and seek pleasure, which essentially means that it’s our natural state to want to enjoy ourselves and to want to avoid shitty, unfun situations.

You can see that raw humanity in kids. What do they want to do? They want to play, not work. They want to go to the playground, not go to school. And if they do want to go to school, it’s because they enjoy seeing their friends, learning new things, or whatever. It’s not because they feel it necessary to force themselves to learn fractions because they may need them down the road someday.

My son Austin loves science and art. He’s not so interested in the kindergarten staples of singing and practicing writing letters.

But what do we say? We say, “Well, he has to learn all of that stuff. He can’t just do what he likes all the time.”

He HAS to do those things he doesn’t want to do.

But is that really true? I mean, he writes really well. And I don’t think he’s planning a career on Broadway.

I’d like to formally challenge the belief that when you think you “have to” do something, that you actually have to or even should do it. I’d like to state for the record that I do NOT believe that if you’re having fun, you’re not doing anything important. I’d like to say, here in the presence of God and you fine people, that I believe having fun is an important part of life. That it is our birthright. That, in many ways, it’s what we were put here to do.

Take that, you stupid buckle-hats.

Look: I haven’t become a total hippie. I have cats in my house and we have garbage cans. I understand that if I don’t clean the kitty litter and don’t empty the garbage cans, it’s going to get really disgusting around here. I also concede that kitty litter and garbage duty are both chores I can’t stand, and that I’m eagerly awaiting the day when Austin is old enough for both so that they can become required chores that he can’t stand.

I understand that we must sometimes make short-term sacrifices for long-term gain.

I understand that we live in a society with laws, and that if I want my neighbor’s plasma TV, I should not go and take it off of his wall even if he’s a total, flaming asshole.

I understand that while I’d like to buy a tube of cookie dough today and eat it in front of the TV, I’m not going to because I don’t want to be fat, and that I will choose to go for a less-fun run instead.

I understand that negative events help us shape our own preferences. I’ve written repeatedly about how I am thankful for losing my ass in real estate because without those events, I wouldn’t have been driven enough to create the life I have today.

I get that everything can’t be flowers and perfume and chocolate and hedonism all the time.

But I don’t think it should all be hard labor and self-denial, either.

Because it’s in-brand, let’s Question some of these Rules

I was listening to Question the Rules again while running this weekend and it got me thinking about what we traditionally think of as life’s “have to’s” and “shoulds.” It got me thinking about analyzing assumptions instead of just blindly following them.

Austin doesn’t have homework in kindergarten, but if he did, and if he chose to draw Bakugan figures instead of doing that homework, most people would say that that’s shirking responsibility, and that that would be wrong.

But would it be, really? What is it that makes homework so special, that makes it more important than drawing? Think about that carefully, because the answer is that there is nothing fundamentally sacred about homework. It’s arbitrary. As kids, we did our homework because we were told to do it. Because teachers and parents commanded it. Because it was somehow important for a reason we didn’t totally understand.

What if Austin grows up and becomes an illustrator? In retrospect, would forcing him to stop drawing to do a history essay have made any sense at all?

I’m not saying that all homework or all school assignments are bad. I’m saying that it’s sensible to ask whether it’s important strictly based on the fact that it was assigned.

What’s more, this isn’t just stuff for kids. I do it too.

My most nuts-and-bolts work is building websites. I do those, I get paid. There’s nothing long-term about it; it’s a straight line between production and profit. But sometimes, I face the choice between finishing a site and creating more Storyselling material, and often this choice occurs well in advance of said sites being due back to the client. At that moment, it’s an arbitrary decision. In theory, either is an acceptable choice.

What’s more, sometimes option B isn’t even as obviously beneficial as creating course material. Sometimes it’s reading fiction, or taking a walk, or running errands — all to clear the mental clutter, to relax me enough to do my job, to make me feel better.

So the choice gets even more lopsided: Build the site, or sit down and read?

Or, how it actually looks: Work, or have fun?

And of course, most times I default to forcing myself to “do the work” and to “buckle down.” Or I’ll do the fun thing, but then feel guilty, or work late to get the work done so that the day isn’t “wasted.”

Why?

I’m thinking all of this while listening to Question the Rules this weekend.

Usually, if something has “practical value,” we think we should do it. We may not do it, but the burden of persuasion is on the “don’t do it” side.

And usually, if something would be fun, the burden of persuasion is on the other side of the coin. We may do the fun thing, but only after we justify it, make room for it in our schedules so that nothing “important” is neglected, and we possibly even feel compelled to demonstrate how it has some of that “practical value” as well.

So: let me ask an anarchical question.

How about doing things just because they’re fun?

How about, when something would be enjoyable, asking “is it harmful?” and only skipping it if the answer is yes instead of asking “is it absolutely necessary and justifiable?” and only proceeding in the presence of an immutable yes?

How about if we considered “because I will enjoy it” to be a good enough reason for doing something?

How about questioning the assumption that just because something is assigned to us as a chore (or to our kids as an assignment), that it’s somehow more worthy of time and effort than something of our choice that we find more fulfilling or enjoyable?

How about asking ourselves why play always has to be justified?

In the opening of this post, I explained why all of the things I enjoy in my business actually have practical purposes. Why did I feel compelled to do that?

Why do people shit on comic books, video games, and music?

Consider something for a moment.

If you tell someone that your teenager reads a lot of comic books, plays a lot of video games, listens to loud rock music, and is constantly playing the guitar, what are 99% of people going to assume? That he’s a loser, or a burnout, or a dropout, or a leech. But if you can just take off the blindfold for a second and think, you’ll notice that it’s possible to imagine a comic-book-reading, video-game-playing rock musician who’s an upstanding and intelligent person. Obvious, right? So why do people always go in the other direction?

I didn’t start meditating on of a lot of this until after I became a parent. Once we had Austin and he got old enough to verbalize his preferences, I noticed that my knee-jerk reaction was to say no to things for no good reason. I mean, there were things I should say no to, for sure… but many of my “no’s” were just stimulus/response, decided totally without logical thought.

And once I noticed that, I saw that I did it to myself, too.

Maybe I could do this fun thing today.

No. You had fun yesterday.

As if there’s only so much fun to go around. As if doing something enjoyable would hurt me somehow, or cause my family to starve, or club seals in Antarctica.

Entrepreneurs just want to have fun

If you read this blog, chances are you’re an entrepreneur, or trying to become an entrepreneur. You have a regular job, or have had one in the past, or are looking at the prospect of getting one in short order unless something big changes. So you know the difference between the “regular job” path and the “entrepreneur” path. If you want the latter, it’s almost certainly because you want more freedom to do what you want to do, when you want to do it.

And yet, most of you are programmed in the way I am. Even before your business starts thriving (if it ever does), you’ll have all the freedom in the world — and still you’ll force yourself to sit at a desk all day, every day, doing mainly things you don’t like doing.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t work hard, especially in the early days of your business. You do have to work hard. But do you have to flog yourself? Do you have to choke down the shit parts of your business constantly and exclude all of the the stuff you’d actually rather be doing?

Do you have to partition your duties into “enjoyable” and “important,” as if that’s a legitimate dichotomy?

If you’re a gregarious person, do you have to feel guilty when you spend time emailing with your customers instead of writing sales copy?

Or, if you’re a natural copywriter, do you have to feel guilty when you’re writing engaging copy instead of getting back to all of those pressing customer emails?

Two people could have two identical businesses. Each could enjoy doing one essential task more than another essential task, and the tasks they enjoy could be totally different. Yet, each person will feel guilty when doing the task they enjoy most. Why? Because they enjoy it. And because they “should” be working on that other thing — the thing they don’t like doing but that feels really important — instead of having a good time on the job.

If you won’t allow yourself to have any fun in your independent business, then for the love of God, go get a fucking job. You have chosen to take all of the negative aspects of working but none of the positive ones, like water cooler time and office shenanigans. And on top of that, you have chosen to take on a ton of uncertainty and risk. You did it in the name of freedom, and you’re in no way, shape, or form free.

I would not want that business. If I had that business, I’d go get a job at Applebee’s or Officemax. Those places at least offer health insurance to go with your misery.

We’re all entrepreneurs here, and we got into this thing because we wanted to be able to choose what we did and when we did it. So if you’re always choosing the least enjoyable thing out of some phantom sense of obligation — the thing you’d hate and would resent for a boss for assigning to you — think about if it’s truly more important than the good stuff. And if it’s not (which it probably isn’t), then knock it off.

If my business continues to grow, if I continue to make profits, and if I continue to gain customers and fans and friends, then I hereby refuse to feel guilty for any fun I may have in the process.

And what’s more, I don’t see any problem with my son drawing a lot, reading compulsively about Bakugans and Transformers, and staying up late in his room after we’ve declared it to be bedtime out in the living room.

Stop kicking yourselves. Please.

Claim your fun, ladies and gentlemen.


Comments

  1. Hey, I thought girls just wanted to have fun? But I guess since I’m both a girl and an entrepreneur, I’ll just nod and smile. 🙂

    Nod, and smile.

  2. Deciding for myself that the drawing (or reading) that the girls like doing is more important than the homework was fairly easy. Convincing the school of that is a different problem. Yes, I know that’s why you’re considering unschooling.

    Some of this stuff is so obvious, though. There was a recent study that concluded students scored better on reading comprehension when it was something they enjoyed reading. They needed a study to figure that out?

    My daughter gets a Lemony Snicket book, or Spiderwick Chronicles, and she can’t wait to read another chapter then tell me all about it. Give her two pages of deadly dull crap about someone moving to America in the 20s and she can’t remember a bit of it when she’s done.

    If they want kids to read, give them things that are fun to read, that someone would actually choose to read for fun. It’s amazing what happens. But of course the people choosing the curriculum have been programmed the same as the rest of us: If it’s fun, it must be a waste of time.

    Fucking puritans.

  3. Johnny says:

    Drew, school-required reading actually ruined a few books for me. They said, “You have to read this and write a report” and I was immediately not interested in complying. I did because I felt I had to, but I resented the assignment, the timing, and ultimately the book.

    Is there a chance I might like Dickens today if it weren’t given to me in such an unfun way? Maybe. It happened with Ayn Rand, quite by accident, many years later.

  4. Ryah says:

    A thought-provoking post and a topic I’ve been thinking about myself recently. I doubt I could have expressed it as well. 🙂

    I decided I’ll try the fun aspect for a week or two and see what effect it has on me, and on my business. I expect on the former it will make me feel better, and on the latter it certainly can’t make things any worse!

  5. Riin says:

    Bravo! The Puritans have been on my shit list for a LONG time.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about work/life balance, and how basically I don’t have it. I really enjoy most of my entrepreneurial tasks (dyeing yarn? Making cool stuff on my knitting machine? Yes! These things make me feel great!), and even the less creative stuff is not at all bad. But that doesn’t mean I have to do it 10-14 hours a day, 4.5 days a week (the other 2.5 days I go to my sucky boring day job that I just can’t stand doing). Day off? Relax in the evening? I don’t know how to do these things anymore. I am tired. I get a lot of migraines. I need to take time to relax.

    But I feel like I can’t. I need to get my business to the point where it brings in enough money to live on AND pay for health insurance before I quit the sucky boring day job that I just can’t stand doing. Neurologists are not cheap. But would I have fewer migraines if I didn’t have to spend 20 hours a week at a place I can’t stand and actually took some time to relax. Undoubtedly. But I’ve had migraines for as long as I can remember, so I don’t know if it would make enough of a difference on its own.

    In the meantime, if you know anyone wanting to buy really cool yarn, send them my way. I’m planning to be out of the day job by next May (two fiber shows that month, and a year since I went to half time), but I’m hoping I don’t drop dead from exhaustion before then.

  6. The Puritans weren’t all as… puritanical as they’ve been painted, but regardless, the thing you’re talking about is a real thing.

    I even find myself in the supermarket having an argument with myself over buying, for example, dried fruit. “It’s good for me,” I say. “I like it. And I can afford it.”

    Myself, fortunately, recognises the justice of this argument, shuts up and buys the fruit.

    There’s also some interesting research on motivation and how rewards distort it, specifically for kids. I posted about it today, as it happens.

  7. Thanks for posting this Johnny! I was writing about learning and trying to figure out this balance in my blog today.

    So thank you for your thoughts and the reminder.

    Keep it real bro.

    Allen

  8. Kelli Wise says:

    “If you won’t allow yourself to have any fun in your independent business, then for the love of God, go get a fucking job.”

    After leaving corporate america (after 20+ years), this was the hardest thing for me to adjust to: I could go buy groceries at 2 in the afternoon. Or I could go to the freaking movie matinee in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. It was really hard to adjust. So hard, that 4 years later, that sentence I quoted just gave me chills.

    I’m so busy trying to make things sustainable despite the poor economy and a loss of an insurance contract, that I’m forgetting why I struck out on my own in the first place. So I resolve to allow myself to have some damn fun. My option is to head back to the big paycheck, health insurance and soul sucking career I had before. That gives me the heebie jeebies. Thanks for the boot in the butt, Johnny!

  9. Jon Howard says:

    It’s funny on how often you see these kind of posts when you just need them, especially the stuff about not “ragging on the kids” for just wanting to be kids – now I’m gonna have an even harder time getting my eldest to finish his homework 😎

    Fun – 1 : Being a boring (miserable) asshole – 0

    Thanks for that Johnny,

  10. Nod and Smile, I have wanted to have fun my whole life but fell for the work hard stuff and was totally miserable! Thanks Johnny, you rock! Now that I am a entrepreneur I have to remember every day that I am one because I wanted to have fun!

  11. Jen Adams says:

    Johnny –

    Thanks for the great reminder that sometimes, the asshole boss nagging you to waste a perfectly awesome day slaving at the computer is YOUR OWN DAMN MIND. And that it’s okay not to work all the time. The sky will not fall down. Puritanical guilt can go with you to the supermarket in the afternoon, or for a long walk before a deadline, and heck, it might even have some fun right along with you. Who knows? All I know is that I didn’t quit the cube life to build my own box all over again.

    Jen

  12. Melanie says:

    This is my first time commenting on your site, but I had to do it because this post just knocked my socks off. I know it’s obvious, but holy heck! I need to rethink my schedule this week, because I’ve been going about things all wrong.

    It’s amazing how such a simple suggestion could take me from dreading my work to thinking “what can I replace with something FUN?”. Normally, that would make me feel instantly guilty, but your example with the “gregarious person” and the “copywriter” totally spoke to me.

    Thank you so much for writing this today!

  13. Joshua says:

    It’s amazing the things we learn from our children.

    Ever since I started working from home I feel like I’m fighting that battle of “Puritan work ethic vs the kid wanting to have fun” every day.

    I couldn’t have said this better myself.

    Analysis on point.

  14. Jeff says:

    hey, I can understand fighting the desire to eat a tube of cookie dough in front of (your neighbour’s plasma) TV.

    But what do you have against chocolate and hedonism?

    🙂

    Keep on rocking & rolling buddy,
    -jeff

  15. Terry Dunn says:

    You know what? You’re right. We should all be having a lot more fun. Trouble is, work is just never associated with fun. It’s a cultural condition. But it takes an article like this to wake us up. It’s inspired me to find the fun in what I do.

    Terry

  16. Erica says:

    “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”

    I’m in the middle of one long, rather painful life lesson that amounts to this:
    “If you’re /not/ having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”

    No fun = no passion, and no path to the top of the world. Damned puritans got it all wrong.

  17. Erica says:

    Oh, and also? I love that you listen to QTR when you’re out and about. I can’t think of a better reflection of its lasting value.

  18. I REALLY needed this today. Thanks.

  19. I wave my Puritan stick in your general direction Truant and flick my big long beardy beard at you too.

    How dare you suggest enjoying life might be an advisable and creative path. No pain, no gain!

    But really, your thoughts are spot on. I wouldn’t be the rock star, guitar playing, songwriting genius I am today if my folks hadn’t let me fall in love with Chuck Berry records.

    Recently I read “How To Be Free” (which I think is published in your United States as Freedom Manifesto) and is a radical musing on this exact topic.

    In an attempt to answer the question “I’ll do the fun thing, but then feel guilty, or work late to get the work done so that the day isn’t “wasted. Why?” I say it’s because the industrial age is pretty much still with us – factories, efficiency, assembly lines and the ghost of Mr. Ford.

    I would recommend How To Be Free, especially the chapter “Reject Career And All It’s Empty Promises”

    Pass me my buckled hat for it was probably us Scots that started it all. Sorry.

  20. Life is all about having fun and enjoying the freedom we have to make things happen, working hard and maybe going to the playground is a part of this journey…

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  21. Johnny says:

    Good stuff, everyone… glad this hit the spot. I’ve found myself thinking about this post and this concept a lot lately. It seems to have all sorts of implications to what I do, what my kids do… etc.

    It’s amazing how often we’ll run across something fun… and although nothing is harmed by doing it, the knee-jerk reaction is still to feel guilty. What crap.

  22. Rock on, Johnny!

    I have been working on retraining my brain too (shifting from “I should do X” to “Why the hell not do Y?”). I must say that it takes regular practice. It’s not a one-time-only event. Your post is a good reminder to loosen up, enjoy the journey, and recharge the ol’ batteries as you go. Not just once. Regularly. When I remember to do this, I have amazing new experiences that creates positive situations in my work life.

    I find the same concept applies when it comes to money.

    When I hold so tightly to the money have with a closed fist (“I should save, not spend”), that same closed fist prevents more money from flowing in. But when I remember to open my fist, spend a little and have some fun, then more money flows back in my direction. Fun works the same way: have a little, get more in return. After all, shouldn’t enjoy this life we’ve got?

    These lessons are so contrary to how most of us were raised. It’s time to tell our children a different story.

    Awesome post!
    Jennifer

  23. I am an expert on the Tudors because I read a historical fiction book called “The Other Boleyn Girl”. The following Hollywood version sucked, but the UK-made TV series called “The Tudors” were visually fascinating. I was so into the whole thing I did extra research. Googled the topic, was all over Wikipedia.

    School-required reading would have ruined it for me. Because I had to write two boring essays on “The Grapes of Wrath”, I hated the book at the time. And I still can’t bring myself to pick it up for reading pleasure, even though it’s supposed to be one of the best American novels of the time.

    No textbook made me remember the key events of the Civi War like seeing them through the eyes of Scarlett O’Hara.

    Doing something purely for fun, whether it’s ice-skating, cooking, or graphic design, whether it cost a bit of an investment of time or money or not, always seems like a frivolous indulgence to most “responsible” adults. “Hey, I’m six, going on seven! I’d like to keep that sense of wonder!” doesn’t go over well with those who want you to settle down and get serious already. It’s as if people stop being multi-dimensional once they turn 21 or something.

  24. Johnny says:

    Yeah, agreed. There’s this perception that we have to “suffer” through real education, and that if it’s entertaining, it must be frivolous and inaccurate because real knowledge is “serious.”

    What a destructive load of bullshit.

  25. Colin Wright says:

    A-freakin-men.

    I can’t tell you how frequently I have people tell me I shouldn’t work so much.

    Work? Getting to do what I do all day every day from wherever I want is work?

    I think we need a new definition.

Trackbacks

  1. […] are some pieces of advice that are always good, and I think have more fun is one of […]

  2. […] nasty, so insidious, it’s everywhere in our culture. And it pisses me off because it’s so freakin’ Puritan. Oh, of course something beautiful comes from pain. Something beautiful couldn’t come from […]