Last summer I was listening to another podcast by Glennon Doyle and had another ah-ha moment worth sharing.

Before diving into the meat, let me start by explaining my values from a young age. I remember believing I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up (thanks, mom). I also remember thinking that working hard wasn’t supposed to be fun per se, but it was essential to creating success and financial stability (thanks, dad). And during my tour in management consulting, one of our favourite mantras was “work hard, play hard,” which we often chanted as we tapped cocktail glasses at an expensive restaurant after completing, yet again, another 14-hour workday.

So, as many of you know, I took the “work hard, play hard” mantra seriously, which ultimately led to a serious case of burnout. But I am pretty sure I won the “knows how to work the hardest and play the hardest” award that year. I often worked from 7 am to 7 pm or later and often skipped all healthy diet and exercise habits (because that didn’t sound like fun, and my clients had not assigned it). I spent way too many nights indulging in cocktails and excellent meals (because that kinda sounds like “playing hard” given the little energy I had left after a long work week).

As I recovered from burnout, I quickly realized that things that “give back emotional real estate,” like exercise or taking a walk, or reading a book—these things were never on my “work hard, play hard” to-do list. So one of the big ah-ha moments, as I wrote in Too Busy to Be Happy, was that these things give back energy and must be prioritized!

This brings me back to last week when I was listening to Glennon Doyle’s most recent podcast on the topic of fun. She discussed how she is known as a highly responsible person. Yet, in her forties, after starting a new relationship with a woman who lives a life full of fun, she realized that she genuinely doesn’t know how to have fun. Her realization got me thinking;

Do I know how to have fun? And sadly, the answer was pretty clear—a big loud resounding NO.

So, let me share a few ideas I used to re-think what fun means to me. If you’ve never tried to quantify what your fun factor would be, try these steps out.

  1. Identify your role models for FUN

Who do you know that is good at having fun? Who dances when they work? Who acts silly when you think they should be focused? Who do you know that owns a Disco Tiger speedo?

My Answer: Similar to Glennon, my partner lives to have fun. When we met, I appreciated this aspect of his personality, but my “work hard, play hard” persona used to see this “fun stuff” as a threat to accomplishing big things in our life. He’s the one who always rallies to purchase fun things (the latest of which we are the proud shared owners of three different kayaks). He always has time to take the kids out to buy more water balloons or explore using his adventure-based app du jour (check out Geocaching if you want one example). And don’t get me started on his eclectic collection of speedos; when you have a speedo you’ve named Disco Tiger, I’m not sure if you’ve mastered fun or simply have a screw loose. As much as I joke about having given birth to two kids, but having three kids at home, I live with a man who knows how to have fun.

  1. Catch yourself in the act

I think it’s funny how my first thoughts around fun are going for a run or sitting outside and enjoying a summer beverage with a book. But I had it all wrong; these things are relaxing—and yes—they might give back emotional real estate, but I realize now that there’s another element to consider. When I’m having “fun,” it’s more of a joy-filled moment, something that has no goal. It’s not something you need to make time for (which is hard for me because I sure love to schedule things)! Instead, it’s a way of infusing joy into a moment, such as singing at the top of your lungs in the car, jumping on the trampoline with the kids instead of supervising, or playing eye spy on your next road trip. I realize I’m much more likely to “supervise and manage” fun rather than engage in it myself.

  1. Make peace with the fun police

I realized during my ah-ha moment that my innate nature to be responsible and goal-oriented makes me perfect for the role of the always-on-duty fun police. I read more about what causes people to act like this, and I found that they usually have fears that make them feel they need more control. For me, those fears include kids getting hurt (I’m a mom, so until I can permanently bubble-wrap my children, this will always be a fear of mine). I also fear wasting time, although it takes just as much time to police the fun as it does to engage in it. And maybe, just maybe, I’m a bit worried that if I started to have too much fun, I would like it so much that I would neglect all of my responsibilities in life and become a jobless juggler who works on tips. Not fun. I am not sure how likely I am to become a juggler, but assessing fear can be quite a journey into the irrational mind.

So, with summer underway, I hope you think of me the next time fun is calling your name, but the fun police in your head are threatening to write you a ticket. See where you can add one more reason to laugh, one more cause for a case of the giggles, and one more reason to act more like a kid than a grown-up. Life is short, and I know I won’t leave the planet wishing I had “worked harder,” but I know I’ll be thankful that I learned how to have fun at some point in time.

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