I once worked with a leadership coach who asked me to write out a vivid description of my ideal life in the future. It was one of those visionary-exercise things which is supposed to force you to come to grips with your enormous potential for achieving super-sized goals in life.
I obediently wrote it all down, and upon reading it he simply said, “It all sounds very nice, but where’s the fun in this?”
“Fun?” I was thinking. “You didn’t say anything about fun! My future is serious business, man!”
He caught me.
Apparently, I was taking my career far too seriously. I had to go back and rewrite it with a greater emphasis on enjoying my life.
“How would you define fun?” I asked, before he left. (This was not a good sign.)
For some reason I tended to downplay the lighter side of life, spending far too much time thinking about all of my responsibilities, career goals, and the infinite number of chores and errands that must get done. Whenever I try to relax and take it easy, there’s always that abusive little voice in my head telling me what a slacker I am.
“You can’t leave work already! It’s only been 10 hours today!”
“Don’t even think about taking a nap! Do you honestly think Jack Welsh ever took a nap? Now there was a real leader!”
“Put down that book! You could be working on your next blog post!”
I’m not at all sure where this comes from. Perhaps it’s just the wet towel-snap of the good old Protestant work ethic. Or possibly it came from that ill-tempered swim coach I had when I was ten years old:
“I have a cramp, coach! Can I take a breather for a few minutes? Pl- ea-hea-hease?”
“Get back in the water and swim it off, you panty-waist! And give me another 500 yards, right now! I better see your scrawny butt in here again tomorrow morning at 6 am for double workout sessions, or else you’ll never make it to the Regionals!”
Or perhaps it could have been the 5-cent an hour slave wage that my father paid my siblings and I as children to help him with some peripheral office work. I was bound and determined to earn that five dollars to buy a new Three Dog Night album at Woolworths. I didn’t care how long it took! Weekends, evenings, before school, after school, I was going to earn it fair and square.
Or, maybe it’s a backlash of guilt from actually slacking off and avoiding all labor whatsover from the time I was 15 until I was 23.
In any case, I was sitting down with my wife the other day looking at the summer calendar. We were making sure we had all the obligations taken care of: the kids’ summer retreats and getaways; my older daughter’s college orientation; some extended family care concerns; a couple of church events planned; and, of course, our sacred one-week family vacation. But as I was looking at the entire summer unfolding before me in a scattering of scribbles over three calendar pages, I stopped short and said, “Where’s the fun in this? It’s summer, for goodness sake!”
It dawned on me, the sad truth: that unless I take some initiative to plan for fun activities, the whole summer will go by in a flash. Then I’ll find myself sitting there one day in the Autumn chill wondering where it all went.
So why not engineer my way to a more enjoyable summer? All I need to do is simply apply that same vigorous work ethic to the prospect of having more fun! I’ll show those damn Protestants.
I cracked open a clipboard and immediately went to work, polling each family member to ask what they would most like to do for fun this summer.
Here is our list so far:
An outdoor rock concert.
A “Do-Nothing” Day Off.
Scheduled Dinner dates with friends.
Sunday Brunch in New York City, followed by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A day at the beach.
There it is in writing: my ideal life. At least for the rest of the summer, anyway. I’m already beginning to have fun, just thinking about it.
Are you allowing yourself to have enough fun this summer?
Photo courtesy of Nancy Rosback.