The Fun Project

A mid-life rediscovery of the art of having fun

Fun Project Podcast – Episode 1

Why am I doing this, exactly?

I’m starting this – the Fun Project – because it’s dawning on me that I’ve forgotten to have fun. 

Oof.  It’s a hard thing to admit since to my ear it sounds like a weakness. I’ve spent the past year saying to “I need to have more fun,” and now I’m determined to do something about that. I’m fortunate to have health, time, access to resources, friends and many other gifts I don’t deserve. If anybody has the chance to do this right, I do – now’s the time to get on it. 

I believe that what I’m lacking is tactical. It’s about opportunity and regularity. I know what fun is. I know how I want to feel, but I’m challenged to find regular chances to get there.  Regular is the key – I know that if I can pull off a dinner with friends that it will be fun. But that’s not something I’m going to have in my calendar every Tuesday night. It can take weeks and sometimes months to get a date that will work. It’s what I’m doing during these scheduling windows that is the challenge.

I consider myself a fun person and I do know how to create fun, but when anyone asks me “what do you do for fun?” I get stuck. Mainly, I’m good at activity. I can go on about my interests as I’m a curious and relatively open person.  All that being true, I am very comfortable telling you what I am working on. Ask me what is giving me joy and I’m likely going to have to think about that for a bit. Then, I’d explain fun in ways that sound like effort –  exercise, complicated cooking or other things that, if I’m honest, feel burdensome. They’re fun in a way but not playful and are actually just tasks or efforts at self-improvement.

I’ve passed 50. I know I’m not the first to express this, but things really do start to change for women my age. We are getting older, and we need to know that our natural knees and shoulders and brains won’t be performing at this level forever. Our work and family situations are shifting. Work may or may not be fulfilling – I think the trend is toward the latter, unfortunately. Our households are emptier or at least more disinterested in us as our kids move on with their own lives. 

Another challenge is the pandemic and its effects. I know I’m not alone with the struggle to get back to life. It’s been three years of this and many of our situations have changed permanently. We have lost people we loved. Many business places or experiences we used to enjoy have closed. We might feel more awkward socially since we’ve lacked practice. Our work environments are definitely less social. We’ve gained weight or made choices that have changed our lives. All of this chips away at fun. 

But it’s not all because of the pandemic. 

In my 20s and 30s, I was among people who were doing a lot of different things. Either because I was invited to join or through osmosis, I had all sorts of ways to have fun.  The kids’ lives and the combination of motherhood and a demanding job did a bit to wring that out of me. I do not self-define as a type-A – my work was demanding, but when I was home I was home. I took vacations and didn’t work at night or nearly at all over the weekends, but my entire focus was what was happening in this house, with my parents and with work. This is normal for that stage of life – fun was through daily or weekly activities and whatever the kids had going on. It was great in its own way. 

Now, barring special circumstances, our families need us less. The days on the sidelines or theatre seats are over and the time is now ours. It’s true whether your kids were activity-driven or not – if all goes well, they have moved on and you can’t expect them to fill your Saturday with fun. And, if things are not going well, you need to escape to fun more than any of us. 

The answer can’t be travel. In my definition, I need fun that’s  available on any given Tuesday, not only because I’m able to get away. 

Practically and emotionally, my recipe for fun involves being among other people and doing things that I enjoy. This can prove challenging. 

I recently threw away my tennis racquet from 1986. It was my only tennis racquet, which I know is absurd. It was a black Prince Pro – on old-timer that because I’m practical I had held onto – and even brought to Florida in the last 10 years – but in my current stage I could never get a regular game going with another woman or women. In my area you’re on your own – no local tennis association to save the day. Between work and the challenge of finding a good skill match (my serve is not reliable), I wasn’t able to pull it off. So,  those tennis courts within walking distance of my house were never the fun space I wanted them to be – at least, not yet. I remain hopeful and willing to buy a new racquet. I even tried to think about how to work around the lack of a partner. I considered getting a ball machine to practice. But that’s about skill development and endorphins and you have to pick up a 100 balls all the time. But, really, it would have meant reserving more time alone. Not good.  

Another shorter example is when I bought one paddleboard. I didn’t understand that one paddleboard meant being out there solo. I need to turn the dial the other way. 

The culture of whatever I’m deciding to do also matters a lot to me. It’s important that people I’m with aren’t taking themselves seriously. I want to have a laugh within reach in almost any situation. Fun shouldn’t feel like a job. I think your performance shouldn’t matter to anyone other than yourself.    

My limited experiences with pickleball have been a bit challenging for me in that way – It’s an inherently silly game with a dumb name. When I’m trying to hit a whiffle ball on a miniature court and looking to stay out of the kitchen, I’m not in a serious frame of mind. But, people have found a way to make it not fun. Too serious, too intense – I don’t get it. Well, I do get it – people look for meaning and definition wherever they can. I just would rather laugh. 

The laughing part is important because women, and me in particular, tend to get heavy. These have been and are rough years. We’re dealing with real stuff no matter what our circumstance.  My circle is largely professional and often sandwiched. Their kids might be launched or at least not at home, but parents require more and more. They’re not silly on any regular basis. They’re like me – not exactly tortured (at least not all the time) but not feeling great. At this stage of life, the burdens are real and aren’t going away. 

There is a difference between fun and joy. Joy is the work of daily life. While I can feel challenged to do so, I know it is a mindset you can create and that joy is now and not someday. It is not situational. I’m able to talk about the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness practices, and how I work to take things slowly and find the beauty and gifts in people and things around me. I have a faith life. I have a lot of pictures of flowers and the beach on my phone. I’m glad to have incorporated these practices into my life as something I can lean on as I age, but I do see joy and fun as partners – they should be working together.  

So, my goal is to find my way and ideally help us all navigate how to find fun. It’s true that activities and hobbies are not the definition of fun. But, I’d argue that they’re a necessary structure for fun and access to others. I seek spontaneous fun wherever possible, but by definition you can’t count on spontaneity. Just like in order to eat you have to go the grocery store – you have to go to the source.

The people piece of fun is highly individualistic and pretty obvious. Positive, generous, interesting people are going to be more fun. Toxic and boring or uncommitted is not fun. You’re going to have to manage that piece yourself. Activities feel more universal and and are something more people can explore along with me. 

I want to help answer, qualify, clarify what it means to have fun in a variety of different ways. You may be more free-spirited than I am, but I like to know what I’m getting into financially, physically and the size of the commitment I’d be making. I want to know that I’m wearing the right shoes and whether I’ll need an extra layer.

I hope you might find this interesting if you’re a woman in between 50 and 65.  I’ll leave it to someone else to talk with the men about this topic. Please know that I live in the Northeast. For those of you from friendlier, more open cultures or better weather conditions my viewpoint and experiences might reflect where I live.  I’m going to start here but intend to branch out to wider perspectives if you all find this interesting enough to stick around.  I really hope you will. 

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