A few months ago my husband and I went out to dinner with a nice couple we had just met. The conversation was the easy getting to know each other kind. Where are you from? Where do you work? What brought you to Pittsburgh? After about an hour we were asked, “So, what do you do?” Instinctively Adam started talking about his work again. I smiled and touched his arm.
“No honey, I think she means what do we do, you know, for fun?” I said. We looked at each other and the conversation came to an awkward pause. We had no idea how to answer the question. Somehow fun had become a completely foreign concept. As we drove home that night I thought about why it was so hard to answer the simple question, “What do you do?” I’m sure at some point in my life I did things, some thing, simply for fun right?
I have to look pretty far back into my childhood to find a time I was doing things purely for fun. In high school I was in the marching band and active in my church youth group, both of which had many fun moments but I didn’t necessarily participate in them “just for fun.” They both involved work and responsibility. I remember taking an after school drama class in middle school, but that came with a lot of pressure and anxiety so I’m not sure I even actually enjoyed it.
When I was in 5th grade we got an original Nintendo. My brother and I purchased it with our own money and our parents bought us two games that we chose together. One of the games we selected was Tetris. I still have it and believe it or not, I played it today. I love it, and unlike most other things in my life, I truly play it just for fun. Before that I remember My Little Ponies and Care Bears and Fisher Price Little People and dozens of stuffed elephants. I know they all brought me great joy over the years but of course, I had to grow up at some point.
Growing up meant working which, for the most part, I quite enjoyed. In high school I worked at Wendy’s and Sears. In college I worked, well, a lot of places. (I’m not implying seedy employment, there are just too many places to list!) However, my final “semester” of college ended up being a summer quarter at the University of Washington in Seattle. That summer, instead of working, I packed my car and drove across the country, stopping to see the sights along the way. I didn’t work, I stayed in the dorms, I studied just enough, and I made time for a little fun. I met new people, took guided tours of the city, walked around campus to enjoy the weather, went shopping downtown, learned how to “brunch,” and met Ben & Jerry. One Saturday I decided I needed to finally see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Without hesitation I drove the 2 plus hours to the coast just to walk on the beach for a few minutes. I don’t do that kind of thing anymore. It was a lovely day, during a wonderful summer, in a beautiful city.
Then I graduated. A few weeks later the twin towers fell. The country mourned and the economy crashed, taking my summer high along with it. The message swirling around my head was a constant drone of, “What are you going to do now? You’re not doing anything.” So, I immediately set about doing something. I found roommates in Seattle. I signed up with a temp agency there. I got a job working with children at the YMCA in the afternoons. I got another job working with homeless youth on the weekends. I worked at a local hospital in the mornings. Meanwhile, I went on more than 50 interviews over the course of a year in search of full-time work. You get a job with benefits, that’s what you do. I was 23 and I was exhausted.
And on it went until I finally, finally, found a full-time job. It didn’t matter that the work wasn’t remotely interesting or that it was in an industry unknown to me or that it was a job completely unrelated to my hard earned degree. It paid me and gave me benefits like health insurance. I found my own apartment. I bought a mattress and grown-up dishes. I got a promotion. Still, I felt like it wasn’t enough, I hadn’t “made it,” I needed to do more. So, I went back to school and got my Master’s degree while working full-time. Now I was 26 and exhausted.
Fast forward a decade and here I am trying to remember what fun is. Trying to convince myself that it’s ok to pursue a hobby or activity purely because it brings me joy. I don’t have to always be working or learning or contributing. I don’t have to constantly push myself professionally or prove that I am worthy. I can be ok with what I have and where I’m at in life. I can rest. It’s ok to do nothing. It’s ok to lose a Saturday watching Fixer Upper or reading the latest Jennifer Weiner book if it’s something I love. In my quest for balance in 2017 I am setting my work aside and putting something else in the forefront of my life – fun.
The next time I am asked the question, “What do you do?” I want to answer without hesitation. I want to say I blog, I travel, I run, I take pictures, I read, or whatever it is I choose to do for fun. I must not be alone in feeling this way because there is an entire WikiHow page on how to have fun. I don’t know if that makes me happy or sad. Happy, I choose happy.