Someone asked me recently on social media what my definition of success is. I replied, "Enjoying life!". I'm not sure what words I'd have chosen a dozen years ago, but I'm sure they'd have had something to do with 'external' factors. Probably items from the 10-year vision board I created not long before turning 40. I'd created one of those 10-year vision boards not long before turning 30 too. When I looked at the vision board for my 30s, a load of those things I wished for, happened. More international work. A cool car. Amazing holidays in picture-perfect locations. A bigger house. Even the picture of the house on that vision board looked a lot like the house I bought and moved into when I was 33! And yet, my 30s were not happy. I was not enjoying life. I had a few episodes of depression. A proper breakdown. 18 months of insomnia. I spend half that decade on anti-depressants, mood stabilisers and regular trips to various therapists.
The penny hadn't yet dropped. So, as I said, just before turning 40, I created a vision board for the next 10 years of my life. It needed to be a better vision board. More ambitious. More colourful. More everything. Because the previous one hadn't delivered me the life I wanted, despite the 'stuff' on it being met, so my vision board must have been 'wrong'.
I didn't know at the time that feelings do not come from things, despite the countless clues that had slapped me in the face over and over again. One of these happened in the summer of 2011, as I drove home from delivering a corporate training session.
"I enjoyed that," I said aloud to myself in the car. The sun was beaming through the windscreen in the late afternoon in early July. My car, along with all those in front and to the side of me were not moving, stuck in an everlasting bottleneck on a stretch of the M25 south of London. From the radio came the sound of the latest news from Britain and around the world above the hum of my idling engine. Speckles of dust on the dashboard caught the angle of the sunlight in front of me. A crane fly was on the outside of the windscreen, directly in front of the eye line of the empty passenger seat.
"Huh?" I said to myself, or to the cranefly. I had been grumpy about me delivering that particular training program for a few months. I was one of a team of 5 facilitators retained to train a company's 1,200 employees across the UK, Europe and Asia in 3 distinct skills. 2 of those skills were fun to teach. One was not. Of the 5 of us, I was the only one with direct experience in the 'not fun' skill. So, that's the one I was given. It was good work, so I only complained to myself. I wasn't so entitled to whinge outwardly nor ungrateful to turn the opportunity down. I did whinge to myself though. More than I'd want to admit.
Still, I went and delivered the workshop many times. But it wasn't fun. So when I heard myself say "I enjoyed that" on my car journey home, I was confused. It took a few years for that confusion to become clarified.
What I did know at the time, and long before, was that when I was 'all in' on helping each person in the group to do a better job, make their work easier, and for them to enjoy it more; I would enjoy delivering the training workshop. It was that simple. When my attention was on the audience, I enjoyed it more. And of course, so did the workshop participants. They would always get more value when I was focussing on them, not on me. Nothing earth-shattering there!
What I did not know at the time was that any topic or 'thing to do' was fun by its very nature.
Some people find accounting fun. Some find cleaning the house fun. Some find fixing car engines fun.
I thought that was about each person's ingrained 'different strokes for different folks' traits. That one of life's secrets was to 'find your fun', 'find your passion', and 'find your purpose' (and I see a lot in the world about 'finding your purpose' – more of that in a future article).
But here's the thing. The degree to which I enjoy what I like is variable. The degree to which I dislike what I don't enjoy is also variable.
My favourite coffee is a specific type from Teifi Coffee, a small roastery in Southwest Wales. I love opening a delivery from them, knowing that I have another month of great coffee to enjoy.
My favourite music album of 2023 is the latest one by Paramore. I've played it over and over again on my phone when travelling, and in my office via my smart speaker.
My favourite bird to see from all the species that come to the bird feeder in my garden is the great spotted woodpecker.
Then, there are times when I'm sipping my Teifi coffee and I'm oblivious to its taste.
There are times Paramore's album is playing and I'm oblivious to the sound.
There are times the great spotted woodpecker is feeding straight in front of my eyes, and I start right through it. Oblivious to it.
And there are times I enjoy scrubbing the inside of my tea mugs to get the green-tea stains out of them. When a lot of the time I could only muster enough bother to rinse them before using them again.
An enlightened man called Sydney Banks saw the missing link between everything in the 'stuff of life' and our experience of it in every moment was Thought. Brought to life by Consciousness. That all exists via the miracle of Mind.
The little I see of that, it has made sense of the varying levels of my enjoyment of some things, the varying levels of my distaste in others and my lapses into no awareness at all of the things that are happing right now on my taste buds, in my ears and in front of my eyes.
About a month ago, I was having a session with a client towards the end of our six months together. The notion of enjoyment came up as she was noticing a lack of enjoyment towards her work that she'd previously enjoyed and had built an excellent career around.
"I used to think it was fun, but I don't anymore," she said as her face dropped on the computer screen in front of me. Over the next 30 minutes, we explored the nature of fun together. What its source might be and what can get in its way. I shared my observations of that training back in 2011 that I caught myself enjoying. And shared my preferences in coffee, music and bird species; along with how variable my enjoyment and even awareness of them I had.
"Wait!" she said. "Are you saying I could make my work fun again?"
"That's one way of looking at it, but I think there's something simpler to see here. It looks to me that it's possible that everything might be fun by nature, and the only thing that gets in the way of fun is the thinking and awareness I have about it at that moment" I said.
We both paused and got reflective.
"So…" I went on to say, "I think it's more a case of let it be fun."
Again, we both paused and began to smile simultaneously.
I saw more for myself in this conversation about fun and enjoyment.
I mean, here I am, a collection of random, sub-atomic particles. Brought together into atoms, formed into molecules. Molecules that then over millions of years came together into something that could have life. Then over billions of years to become a more sophisticated life form that has even become aware of its own existence. And I get to experience being alive. To have feelings. To taste, to see, to hear, to dream, to play. At that level, how could anything not be fun?
And as I write this, I'm remembering people close to me going through some significant life challenges with their health, with their ability to make ends meet, and dealing with loss and heartbreak. And how trite and "Easy for you to say Wyn!" this all might seem. And I get it. There will be many more times in my life ahead if I read this back to myself and think I'm full of it. And then there will be times of clarity when I hope to remember the truth of it.
I wish you a good month.