Today’s message will rattle a few cages and ruffle a number of feathers, including those of some friends who subscribe to what I call the “F-U-N Philosophy.”
Before I continue you may want to plant your feet on terra firma in order to consider my words more deeply.
Or you can turn on your favorite loud music, the television as well – and grab some rattles to shake as you read.
You might even experiment with both methods to see which one helps you retain the information better.
By the way, I guess I should forewarn you that this email will be a High-Test piece of copy.
High-Test, naturally, meaning high testosterone.
Here we go…
This morning I met with a client at 6:30 A.M. The first words I spoke to him were not, “Hi, hello, how are you? how’s it going?” or any reasonable facsimile thereof. Shown below is how I/We began:”
“Fred, let me ask you a question. Do you think the Great Wall of China was built by people having fun?”
“Uh, I don’t think so,” said Fred.
“How about the Golden Gate Bridge?”
“Negative on that one, as well, sir.”
“You were up early to play the piano, weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Do you play the piano because it’s fun.”
Fred hesitated then replied, “I play it because I want to get good at playing it.”
“How often do you think about how much fun it is to play piano?”
“I never think about the fun. I do it because I love it and enjoy getting better.”
“Are there days you’ve practiced that were not fun?” I questioned.
“Yes, of course, but I also realize those practices are important, so I stay with it. If I only practiced or trained when it was fun, I’d never get anywhere. Getting better takes work and sometimes work, quite frankly, sucks.”
As the session with Fred continued, I elaborated further on my theories about fun (as well as feelings). I’ll cover “feelings” in another email, but for now I choose to stay on point.
There are many well meaning teachers, coaches, parents and mentors who have, in my non-humble opinion, erroneous ideas about “FUN.” Everything is supposed to be fun – otherwise you shouldn’t be involved in it. If you’re involved in sports, music, dance, theater or computer software development, fun is IN – everything unenjoyable is out.
Yet, this is not how a successful career or moment in time is created. If you want to write a book, the fun part may be coming up with the idea – but the actual task of writing each day can be absolutely dreadful and laborious. And there’s no amount of marijuana, booze or pharmaceutical prescriptions that will belie this fact. Each and every day you will do battle with an enemy that Stephen Pressfield, author of The War of Art, calls “Resistance” – and yes, he uses the capital R.
Resistance is omniscient. It knows when you’re beginning to weaken and at that very moment encourages you to go easy, to be a slacker, to not give it everything you have, to give up.
This is when the Confucian ideal of “duty” is not such a bad idea. Instead of looking for “fun” – you think of what you want to do as a duty. You can figure out clever ways to make your duty more enjoyable, yes, even fun. At the same time, you don’t make fun the objective. Fun is a foregone conclusion for those truly doing what they love to do. There are many who will never say they do because it’s fun; it is their duty.
In the realm of athletics and other performance arts, coaches can be seen and heard admonishing their students to NOT be tight, to be free and loose. At this point they often advise to “just go out there and have fun.”
I am in agreement with this advice, IF the person is tight or tense. If he or she is already relaxed, if he’s focused and concentrated to begin with, why give any advice at all. Sit and enjoy the tranquility or an undisturbed mind. It’s a rare gift in this world – yet, I assure you the Shaolin Temple in China is filled with monks who live peaceful, enjoyable, austere lives without one iota of thought as to whether or not their existence is fun.
As I told Fred this morning, “Mastery isn’t about fun. It’s about getting better at something; then getting good at it; then very good; then absolutely phenomenal. Once you reach the apex of the mountain, you continue on the same course by adding another skill, another language, another attribute, another art. Always adding something else because this is what keeps you young, this is what keeps you vibrant – and in simple modern day neuroscience, it’s the key to brain longevity.”
Learn something new everyday. Most people stay with the familiar – and you don’t want to be similar to “most people” – do you?
If you do, then go out there and have fun. Do whatever you feel.
If you prefer mastery – or if you want to be at least decent at something, then don’t choose that which you abhor. Choose something you enjoy; something fun. Just don’t place an expectation of infinite fun on what you’re doing. Some days will not be fun. Some days you’ll strike out three or four times – and I don’t care how you want to couch that experience, it’s NOT FUN and neither should it be.
Failing, making mistakes, having setbacks is not a source of pride and joy. Yet, the faster you can transform these experiences into the seeds of equivalent or greater benefits, the faster you’ll get back to doing your duty – or having fun.
Fun isn’t really a dirty word – but it quickly becomes one when it’s the objective rather than a state of being.
Be it. Do it. Live it.
P.S. When you reach the mountaintop, that’s when you realize what a blast you’ve had along the way. You can have similar feelings at the start or during various stages as well – but you better pay more attention to your feet and your direction than your fun feelings if you want to make it all the way to the top.