Of all the freedoms that come with age, embracing who I am by doing what I love is the most fun. Not giving f*cks about what others think is right up there, entwined with the self-actualization, but the core of this particular joy is joy itself.
I didn’t even know I was on this journey while I moved through its steps over many years (decades), but the path is clear in hindsight.
Noticing when I was happy
This comes naturally to some people but never to me. Most of my life, I relied on external cues and analysis to decide if I liked something (or someone). Of all the odd roundabout ways I could learn to listen to my internal happiness, it was through Marie Kondo’s tidying up practice that I developed this skill. I remember being shocked and terrified at a Kondo-group post that suggested thinking of bad experiences to sense what those felt like physically in your body – the contrast being a way to find the Spark Joy feeling Kondo described. What … how … would I ever try to relive a bad experience?!? That led to step two.
Noticing when I was not happy
I did the exercise, I mean I wanted a tidy house after all, and my visceral reaction to even the suggestion of it seemed worth further exploration. I replayed a bad experience and noticed how it felt in my body. I also noticed that it stopped having any power over me. By closing off the negative, I’d kept it in me, never let go of it.
[Side note: I do recommend that if you’re going to have a field day, reliving all sorts of crummy things to get them out of your system, that you have a large bottle – make that one of those large boxes – of wine at hand. Gin for backup.]
Feeling no obligation to have a purpose
I like pens and markers. I like doing lettering with them. I don’t really care to make the lettering perfect, it’s the flow of ink and colour on the paper that soothes me. The first time (as an adult) I spent an afternoon just goofing around with pens and letters, I told myself it wasn’t wasted time, that I’d learned skills that I’d use again to do better next time, good enough to share with the world. Well, I didn’t do that. I tried other techniques and colours and “wasted” even more time. I tucked my amateurish work between flyers in the recycle bin, hiding my shame.
BUT. Back to the second point above. I’d learned to notice shame. And, Brené Brown (not my favourite person, but she has some great ideas) taught me that shame can’t stand the light, it can’t handle being shared. So I told people I liked playing with pens. Poof! went the shame and aha! went my brain.
I can play with pens just because I like playing with pens. I don’t need to have any purpose beyond that. I don’t have to get better at it, I don’t have to ‘monetize’ it (thank god), and isn’t it awesome that I have this activity I find happy and relaxing?
[Side note: The related “my worth is not tied to my productivity” concept took a bit longer to take root, but it’s STRONG and deep now. I highly recommend living this truth, no wine necessary.]
Not doing things just because I’m good at them
I excelled at school and have long lists of things I felt (or was told) I should do because I learned them quickly or showed a talent for them. We joked about this at my work a few years back, when I did very well on a project and suddenly found myself the expert in that area, loaded up with many more projects. I didn’t actually like the subject matter and realized I should’ve backed off a bit on my efforts with the first one. A colleague and I developed the motto Strive for Mediocrity, tongue-in-cheek to some degree, but … not really.
Working to get better at things I want to do well
I don’t care if my fancy calligraphy is good or not. But (having moved through the steps above) I did find things I liked doing and wished I did better. What fun it is to work hard and see improvement at one of those skills! That sense of accomplishment is addictive on its own – I find myself starting new things just to feel it, and sometimes have to take a step back and ask myself, am I truly having fun when I do this, or am I just buzzed by my improvements? No harm in that buzz, just no need to pursue the activity itself any further.
Learning a little bit about a lot of things can get in the way of becoming great at a few special ones. No judgement, everyone’s array of passions can be as broad or narrow as they like, but time is limited, I’m making the size of my array a conscious choice.
Doing ALL THE FUN THINGS!
Now I have this wonderful menu of activities I truly enjoy doing, some of them to get better at, some for no reason other than I enjoy them.
I have a feeling I wrote this entire post just to say how amazing I’m finding it to work in Adobe’s Creative Cloud apps. I’m Photoshopping and Illustrating and InDesigning with glee! I share the joy with my daughter who’s as giddy as I am when we have time to play with all the colours and shapes and textures and letters on the screen. Exploring how various software works was already a favourite way to spend time (and easily justified back in the days when I felt I needed to) and learning how to create stunning designs with it multiplies the joy. I’ll use some of the work for my freelance business, and if I didn’t have one, I think I’d start a business just so I could do all the branding work, lol. I have a long way to go, my fledgling design skills and knowledge will seem funny and cringeworthy in the future, and noticing that will be its own joy.