This is kind of a spur of the moment post, a quick reaction. My wife emailed me an article from No Meat Athlete a little while ago (I don’t read his site, but I’m familiar with the content since my wife talks about it sometimes and even has one of his shirts) and it got me thinking. If you’re not going to take a minute to click the link and read it, the article is a response to a conversation he had with the writer of ZEN Habits regarding living life without goals and how maybe that’s a better way to live.
The point (or at least a point) from ZEN Habits is that if something isn’t enjoyable at any point, why are you doing it? Is achieving a goal what’s really important if the process of getting there isn’t enjoyable? Shouldn’t you be trying to enjoy every moment of life instead? No Meat Athlete seems to have a hard time fully agreeing with this idea and I’m with him on it. His example is ultramarathons, but for me, it’s just plain old marathons (you know, the easy stuff). These long races are painful. Doing them physically hurts. A lot. And training for them isn’t really all that fun all the time either. I enjoy running, a lot, but there comes a certain point, usually by mile 10 or 12 where I’m not really having fun anymore. Sometimes, that point comes way earlier…like say mile 4 or 6, but for the most part, I enjoy running up to a certain point.
If pretty much no part of running a marathon is really fun, why do it? As No Meat Athlete points out, I don’t need to run excessively for the sake of exercising, I can run much less and supplement with other fun activities as well. So I don’t need to run long races and the fun parts of running could still exist in my life without having a goal and doing the hard stuff.
When I was running the Philly Marathon there was a spectator holding up a sign that said “it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.” Seeing that sign was a kind of weird moment. It just kind of clicked in a way for me, I knew exactly what was meant by that. I could really feel the sentiment behind that sign. That sentiment kind of carried itself with me through most of the race, even in the last few miles. I was in crazy amounts of pain and, by most definitions, I was not having fun, but yet, what I was doing was still fun to me as a whole and I knew it would be fun after crossing the finish line.
It was fun to know that I was pulling off something a relatively small portion of the population has done. It was fun to know that after just a little more pain, I’d have this for the rest of my life. No matter what, I could say “yup, I ran a marathon.” Nothing could take that away. And it’s not in an “I’m better than anyone who hasn’t run a marathon” kind of way. It was more in the vein of how we all have something that makes us stand out or some accomplishment that we can be proud of, and this was both of those things to me.
That was my first thought as I was reading, my justification for why I put myself through something that wasn’t fun for the majority of the time I was doing it. But there was a second thought that came after that about why most of us have to have goals.
If life was reduced to doing only the things that were the most fun at the moment, I wouldn’t leave the house. Ever.
As I’ve mentioned, I truly do enjoy running, but that doesn’t mean that when I come home from work the first thing I want to do is change and head out the door to run. Really, what I want to do is plop down on the couch, have food handed to me, watch TV, and at some point have sex with my wife (hey, we’re being honest here, right?). I don’t want to go run. On the weekends, when I don’t have plans, I want to move from the bed down to the couch and just watch TV. I don’t really want to go for a run.
If you’re keeping track, I really just want to hang out on the couch and watch TV. But the thing is, I don’t want to do that! After doing just that, I hate myself. I feel like I’ve wasted my time when I could have been doing something else. But doing something else that I enjoy would be more work, at least to start. That initial work, without some other motivation, a goal, if you will, isn’t fun. If we’re trying to maximize fun and only do things that are fun from start to finish, then anything that requires me to put on pants is going to lose to plopping down on the couch.
This gets us to the poing, having fun is the goal.
Much of the time, getting to the fun part isn’t fun itself, but without it, there wouldn’t be fun at all.
Like I said, I don’t want to go for a run when I get home, but once I’m out there and a mile in and all warmed up, I’m happy. I’m having fun and I’m glad that I didn’t take the immediate fun (i.e. the lazy fun). And on top of that, the fact that I chose the delayed fun for my run means that I’m working towards being a better runner and therefore having more fun running in the future.
I know I’ve been doing a lot of running talk here, but there are other examples. I hate having to book vacations. You can just ask my wife about booking our honeymoon, it was one of the worst and least fun experiences I’ve had in the last year. But, vacations–especially, that honeymoon–are fun! If I chose to only be doing things that are fun from start to finish, I wouldn’t have chosen to plan a vacation…and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to deal with TSA and the airport.
I have fun going to shows and seeing bands, but I generally abhor having to drive to Philly or, even worse, trek into New York City to actually get to the show.
I have fun going through my photos and discovering new favorites or realizing that a photo I didn’t think much of six months ago is actually really awesome. But I don’t have fun post-processing photos and tagging and organizing them so I can find them later. If I didn’t put in the not fun work, I wouldn’t be able to have the fun later.
I had a blast running the ZEN House and putting on shows in college, just thinking about the shows I did is fun. But doing the work to make it all happen wasn’t fun most of the time. In fact, it usually sucked.
Most of the time, you need to do things that are not fun in order to have fun. You have to choose the less fun option up front to have more fun in the end.
Having the sense of accomplishment from completing a long race or making a new personal record is fun. Getting there may not have been fun, but without doing the unfun stuff, I couldn’t have had this fun.
Having fun is the goal and to have the most fun, you must have a goal.