Did you used to be fun?
Next time you look in the mirror, I challenge you to ask the question, “Would I want to hang out with me?”
I know a lot of people who label themselves as “un-fun,” wishing it weren’t so but resigned to a monotonous stream of grown-up responsibilities, obligations, and commitments.
If that describes you, take heart. I refuse to believe that you’re the boring, stick-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy you (or your favorite teenager) feel like you are sometimes. That fun-having expert with a PhD in Play is still there. The problem might simply be that you don’t have any margin for fun.
Margin for fun?
Yes. You’ve probably heard of “margin of error,” so let’s start there. A margin of error can be defined as how many mistakes you can make and still be able to achieve something. If you’re an Olympic athlete, one misstep can take you out of medal contention. It’s usually stressful when your margin of error is too small. Maybe you’re not an Olympic athlete, but if you’ve ever had too much month at the end of your paycheck and the transmission went out in your car, you know what I’m talking about.
Likewise, life is harder and less enjoyable if you don’t have enough margin for fun.
What causes this? How does our margin for fun get so narrow?
It could be a result of doling out too many yeses. The more projects you’re juggling, the more activities your kids are in, the more committees you sit on, the less your margin for fun. One thing going wrong in your day becomes a grenade chucked into your fully-stocked china shop of a schedule. Not fun.
You can also limit your margin for fun by worrying too much about stuff that doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. You’re gonna have to do your own reality check on this one, but demanding anything close to perfection from, say, the cleanliness of your house, your kids’ report cards, or your own self is usually an effective way to dramatically decrease your margin for fun.
And sometimes we are afraid to indulge in fun because we think it will make us look silly. And it’s true; it might. Taking a selfie with a statue could draw some sideways glances. You will almost certainly look ridiculous ice skating for the first time (or the first time in a long time). But, as comedian Amy Pohler reminds us, “There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.” Giving too much weight to what other people think of us is a pulverizer of fun.
This idea originated from a mom named Sara, who heard me speak at a conference in Arizona. She wrote:
“I am a full-time teacher, mom of FOUR (15, 13, 10, and 8), and my husband and I serve on the boards, manage the teams, etc. My kids are busy with school, sports, and technology. After hearing your keynote, I want to increase my margin for fun.”
When you have no margin for fun, Adultitis is primed to take over.
So, how does one increase their margin for fun?
First, try dialing back on the yeses. Limit commitments, reclaim a Sabbath, or even one night a week. A tightly-packed schedule suffocates fun. Give your calendar some room to breathe, increasing the opportunity to embrace spontaneity, linger for one more hour, or take the long way home. Fun needs room to run and likes to hide off the beaten path.
Secondly, let go of perfection and lower expectations. I’m not talking about letting everything go to hell. I’m not talking about not caring, trying hard, or doing a good job. I’m talking about getting really honest with yourself to make sure the standard you’re setting for yourself isn’t just a way of proving your worth or patching over some pain by trying to achieve some Pinterest-fueled fantasy. If something doesn’t go according to your perfect plan, what’s really the worst that will happen? Saying the answer out loud is a great way to expose the impotence of this lingering fear. Lowering your expectations a smidge gives fun permission to emerge from the shadow and make some magic.
And finally, give yourself permission to look silly. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that the inability to feel embarrassment is a superpower. I have a friend who has a personal rule to always enter swimming pools via cannonball. It’s the least invisible entry method, but it’s undeniably the most fun.
Why bother with any of this? Why work on increasing your margin of fun?
Because you only get one life, friend. This is it. Yes, it can be hard, but can also be amazing. And it’s way too short to be so serious all the time. At the risk of stating the obvious, a fun life is a BETTER life. A HAPPIER life. A LESS STRESSFUL life.
They say the only certainty is death and taxes. That’s because the fun is up to you.
And it’s closer than you think; you just need to make some room for it on the Ferris wheel.
I encourage you, I beg you, I beseech you…increase your margin for fun.