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.
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.”
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.