Looking for Fun in All the Wrong Places?

I’m hearing the word “fun” more than ever before.

As in, “I’m not having any fun anymore.”

I heard it from three friends this week. One, a successful 45-year-old entrepreneur, is now managing the business he built rather than continuing to expand it.  His primary value to his company has been as the visionary — aggressively seeking investment, opening new locations, differentiating from competition, and finding a profitable niche.  But the recession has forced him to drop into a vacant operational role that he can’t afford to fill right now.  He is learning to be the General Manager his business needs — finding every dollar of cost savings, managing the people issues.

He’s doing fine, but he’s not having any fun.

The other two are business people who are nearing 60. Both have built successful businesses. Both have been hit hard by the recession. Both fondly remember the “good old days” — not the 70’s or 80’s, but 2005-2008.

In the dark cloud of the stagnant economy arises a silver lining: the possibility of a new definition of fun.

All three of these folks — like so many others — are wondering if things will ever be as good as they were in the “good old days.”  All three are experiencing a jarring disconnect with their image of themselves as business builders. Things that used to work so well don’t anymore. They are downsizing, trying to stay out of debt, recalibrating their retirement plans — and trying to find a new definition of fun.

And right there — in the middle of this dark cloud, arises the offer of a silver lining:  the opportunity for a new definition of fun.

All three of my friends this week expressed gratitude for their health, their successful relationships, and the simpler things of life.  What I’m beginning to sense in them is a shift in values. Like so many other business people, these friends of mine are thinking less about someday getting their name on the side of a building, and more about what they’ll say about their lives when they’re all done.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to find fun in other places. I’ve been greatly emphasizing my musical life lately, practicing piano for 1½-2 hours every day and planning a recital for friends and family in May. My music has put me in touch with an energizing identity as something other than a business person. And, it’s fun.

Despite the business challenges it has brought, the bad economy hasn’t made us failures. But perhaps it can make us different — more self-aware, more connected to our values, more fully alive.

YOUR PATH FORWARD: Carve out 15 minutes to reflect — and then another 15 minutes to dialogue with your partners in life and in business — on the journey of the past few years. How can we individually and collectively find new meaning and new fun in our work and our lives? How can we “recalibrate” in a world which may not again in our lifetimes offer us the promise of riches we once thought possible?

About the Author

Jim Hessler
Jim Hessler bootstrapped his way from retail work into a successful career as salesman, sales manager, Fortune 500 executive, and corporate turnaround engineer. Along the way, he developed The Leadership Platform, a proven model for training managers to become sustainably better leaders. It became the basis of his leadership primer, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guild to Building Your Leadership Platform. Jim is the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development Services.

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