The topic of fun and how it intersects with our work keeps coming up lately. It must be time to write about it. It makes me smile to think I get to write about fun for my work today!
Typically when people say “It feels like work,” they mean it feels like drudgery. That’s a terrible connection for work. And a false one. Let’s rethink this.
I believe something is off if work feels like drudgery. I believe it can feel enjoyable, fulfilling, and even playful and fun. In fact, it’s quite natural to enjoy creating or solving something (a form of “work”), and thus it’s the opposite of something we dread.
Notice how kids are often playing by doing something like creative “work.” It’s natural to blend work and fun. We enjoy making, creating, accomplishing, and figuring things out like a good puzzle.
Let me define Fun (oddly misunderstood).
I’m not just talking here about “fun” as in vacations, telling jokes, or extroverted parties.
I’m defining “fun” in a broader way, because fun can also be a quiet experience of something that makes you smile inside. It can include times with a sense of flow. It can feel like play, even while accomplishing something at the same time.
I think our extrovert-dominant culture has defined fun too narrowly, as if it’s boisterous. And then introverts might not think of it as “fun” when happily knitting at home, and yet it might be someone’s version of fun.
Another description of what I mean about fun at work comes from this well-respected researcher and expert on flow:
The best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (an expert on “Flow”) in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
The origin and problem with equating “work” as drudgery
The current dominant systems for work (assembly lines, cubicle offices based on assembly line mentality, inhumane expectations, bad meetings, toxic workplace energy…) have pushed us away from the idea that our work can be joyful. (Don’t get me started on the Protestant Work Ethic, from the 1500s, which ended up justifying these drudgery conditions.)
Those broken structures are not the true origin of work which was about creating something useful and feeling empowered by that. Think cobbler, baker, candlestick maker.
I believe that our continued equating “work” with drudgery is detrimental. It lulls us into accepting a burnout path, or inhumane labor conditions. Your true and best work will feel like fun or flow or play, not unlike building that sand castle, or solving a gripping puzzle.
I believe rethinking this broken view of work is important to finding your best career or business fit. Further, I believe that no one needs to do inhumane work for life to keep going.
Why Work *Should* Be Fun
Off the cuff, these are some reasons I think work should be fun. I’m not one to use the word “should” lightly because it’s usually used to take away the fun. So bear with me here.
- Fun is a sign you’re on your best career path, or “best use of you.” 😊
The best outcomes flow from you when it feels like, well, a sense of flow for you. Flow is Fun. (There’s lots of research about flow to back this up, but I’m not into listing research today. You can find it in the book quoted above.)
- Lack of enjoyment is a bad sign. 😣
Without some enjoyment at work, there’s often stress, and your best work does not flow under too much stress.
- Humans are built to be creative, which brings joy and connection. (See kid photo ☝️)
Being creative is fun and restorative. Creativity can happen in many ways, from how you organize yourself to clean the rooms at a hotel, to creating a new offer for your business.
- Even in some imperfect work situations, humor and levity can go a long way to making life better and the work flow better. 🙃
You can bring back the creative spirit and a spirit of connection and meaning to many situations. It takes practice but there are ways to bring more joy and fun to work, and at the same time foster connection and productivity. (More on this later.)
- Play is essential for creativity and fresh ideas. 🌟
In the book, Essentialism, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to the essential nature of play. Who knew play would make the cut in a list of what’s essential? The author noted that Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, and many others were basically playing when their big ideas came.
Follow the Fun for Your Best Work!
I often find myself saying to my clients when talking about all kinds of work decisions — from career path decisions or business marketing decisions, to who to talk to:
“Follow the Fun. Your heart knows the way and it’s speaking to you when something makes you smile inside.” ~Val Nelson
So much good can flow from there.
The opposite would be forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do, and that just gets you more of that. For instance, forcing yourself to have a networking conversation with someone you don’t like will rarely lead to anything good, and could lead to something bad.
For another example, if you’re trying to write that perfect email at work and it feels stuck or yuck (been there!), take a pause, step away. Go connect with nature or something fun.
More authentic and effective words can start to flow after a nourishing break — perhaps because you’re more connected to your heart, not just the more heady productivity goal. Maybe you’ll even let your playful side show in your words. It just works better like this:
More fun ➔ more flow ➔ more impact.
Choosing better work that has that fun feeling
Next time you hear yourself say, “Oh no, it feels like work,” notice the assumption built in there. Today’s workplaces can indeed feel like drudgery, that’s true. But let’s not equate the concept of work itself with how that negative workplace energy feels.
When you find work that brings a smile or that feeling of fun, that’s where the gold is, for your best work — for happiness, for your well-being, and for the best use of you.
In the meantime, there might be ways to add more humor and fun into your current work. I’ll write about that in a new post soon.
- No more equating work with drudgery. If it feels that way, something’s off and needs to change.
- Fun (flow, playfulness, enjoyment) is a sign of your best work in the world. There are ways to find your way there. It pays off in so many practical and joyful ways.