Find more success in work and in life than you ever dreamed possible—by pursuing fun.
The demands of work and the breakneck pace of technological change wear heavily on all of us, whether we are employees at a large company, solo workers in the gig economy, or entrepreneurs launching a new venture. The “hustle-and-grind” lifestyle that we’ve been told is essential to success actually leads to physical ailments, emotional burnout, and a darkness in the soul. But Joel Comm has found a better way.
In The Fun Formula, Comm reveals that the best path to success—in work and in life—is to focus on our passions, curiosity, and the things that bring us great pleasure. Doing this leads not only to more dramatic results in whatever we do, but also to a more fulfilling life. Using entertaining stories and illuminating anecdotes from Comm’s own life and those of others, famous and not, The Fun Formula lays out a plan for making the subtle changes to our thinking and routines that will enable us to design the life we truly desire: one of significance and joy.
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About the Author
Joel Comm is the New York Times best-selling author of thirteen books, including The AdSense Code, Click Here to Order, KaChing, and Twitter Power 3.0. He has appeared in the New York Times, on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, on CNN online, on Fox News, and many other places. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
We all come to a point in our lives when we look back and think, How did I get here?
For Kenyon Salo, that question is particularly difficult to answer. A motivational speaker, he's also an adventure athlete who has made more than five thousand sky dives and four hundred base jumps. He's one of the six members of the Denver Broncos Thunderstorm Skydive Team. Each week that the Broncos play at home, he takes a plane into the skies over Denver, jumps out, then flies at sixty miles per hour into Sports Authority Field to land on his toes on the ten-yard line. He's watched the Broncos play many games, but he's never once had to buy a ticket or stand in line at the turnstile.
For most of us, standing at the open door of an airplane a few thousand feet above a stadium and preparing to jump would prompt a very different question. We'd be less likely to ask how we got there than, What the heck am I doing here?!
For Kenyon Salo, the answer to that question would be simple. It would be, "I'm doing exactly what I've always wanted to do."
Few people are fortunate enough to say that about their work. Few of us knew when we were kids exactly what we wanted from life. Some kids know. They're the ones who study the right topics, get the right grades, and hey presto, twenty years later they're holding a wrench and floating around the space station fixing air leaks. Or jumping out of planes above stadiums.
But that's not usually how life goes. We might start by dreaming of becoming a secret agent or a test pilot or a fashion designer or a rock star. But once we accept that those exciting things are pretty unlikely, we struggle to find something to replace them with, so that by the time we leave school and even by the time we leave college, many of us are still pretty directionless. In one study of 1,025 teens aged fourteen to eighteen, 15 percent said they didn't know what they wanted to do in life. Fourteen percent indicated that they wanted to do "something in the arts," and 9 percent were hoping to work in sports. Just 12 percent said they wanted to be entrepreneurs.
And yet, we all get somewhere!
It might not be what we intended. It might not be anything we would have once considered. But by the time we hit middle age, we've traveled half our journey. We've done it without a map, and we are where we are, intended or not.
So what propelled us? How did we find our way? And what did we learn about ourselves during that journey?
HARD WORK FUELS THE TRIP
We are given a mind-set by our parents, our peers, our teachers, and society. It's a Western, American work ethic that says if you want to succeed in life, you have to work hard.
We've had that drummed into us so much that it's gospel: work hard to achieve what you want. Even the Bible talks about the value of hard work: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10).
We embrace without question the idea that working hard is good in itself, because we see our parents go to work. We go to school where we study hard so that we can become something. We remind kids of the result of hard work each time we ask them what they want to be when they grow up or what major they want to study in college. We reward the achievements that come from hard work.
Everything is based on a notion of performance, and that performance seeps into our attitude about how people see us: if we work hard, we achieve; and if we achieve, we are accepted.
This mind-set was ingrained in me as it was most likely ingrained in you. We automatically accept it as truth. This is what we are supposed to do. Throughout our childhood, we're graded and rated.
None of this is done with malicious intent. One of the benefits of this work ethic is that we are encouraged to try — and try again when we don't win. I mostly taught myself how to play the piano, and I entirely taught myself how to play the drums. It took time and practice. To learn how to play the drums I had to sit down, put the headphones on with the music I wanted to play, and keep at it until I could hold the rhythm. It never just happened (as I'm sure my neighbors will be happy to tell you). Sure, some people are naturally gifted in some things, but that only means they have to work hard to reach excellence while the rest of us have to work even harder to reach competence. For all of those hours spent beating away at the drum kit, I'm never going to supply backing rhythms for Imagine Dragons.
There are some things that no amount of hard work can fix. In high school I hated chemistry. I don't know if it was the teacher or the smell of the lab, but it just never clicked with me. To this day I can't balance a chemistry equation and I wouldn't want to try. I got a D in chemistry, which was a big thing at the time. It was the only D I ever got. Today, it makes no difference to me at all. I don't need to know the molecular structure of sodium chloride when I'm putting together a talk for a Fortune 500 company.
Everyone needs to have certain basic skills, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, but for the rest, we put everybody into the same mixer and say everybody needs to have this blend of science, history, social studies, home economics, and so forth. We expect everybody to learn on the same level and share a passion to learn things that they just have no interest in.
In my family we homeschooled our kids when they were young so that we could best serve their individual needs. Some teachers see individual children and work with them on their specific talents, but in general, education is a system, and when you combine that system with the Protestant work ethic, you get confusion.
We put a great deal of effort into some topics and get nowhere (that was my experience with chemistry). We put the same effort into other topics and get somewhere. It might not be very far, but it's a start and the journey is fun (that was my experience with drumming). But there are some topics that feel effortless because we enjoy them so much. That's when we go the farthest.
The enjoyment you felt by working hard on these kinds of subjects is the fuel that's driven you to where you are now. You discovered, through trial and error probably, the activities that gave you the greatest rewards for the least amount of work. Not necessarily the least amount of effort, because you still put in the hours, but it didn't feel like work because it was so much fun. You enjoyed it. That's what we should be encouraging people to do: be willing to play.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines play as "to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose." No practical purpose? Someone needs to remind Oxford what play is all about.
Play is how I ended up where I am. I'm in my midfifties now, and I don't ever want to lose the ability to think, That sounds fun. I want to try that! I want to go there. I want to meet this person. I want to have this experience.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I still say, "I play." I don't say, "I am ..." in the way that people say, "I'm a lawyer" or "I'm a doctor." They find an identity in the task they accomplish rather than in who they are as a human being.
What I want to do is inspire people to be human first and let the passions that come from their humanity lead them to do the things that interest them the most. That's where the magic happens. That's where movement happens without hard work. (I hope you highlighted this last bit. It's important.) It's not as though life is a straight line. It's rare that our plans go according to blueprint. You might have planned on being a doctor and even gone through medical school only to discover that your real passion is helping people select a life insurance plan. A change in relationship status or the addition of a newborn (surprise, it's a girl!) can have the same effect. The point is, we often can't anticipate what we'll discover about ourselves or the circumstances that will dramatically affect our lives. Regardless of how the pivots and 180-degree turnarounds occur, it usually takes recognizing that we are lost in order to reorient and find our way.
GETTING LOST ALONG THE WAY
In 2015 the American Gap Association, an organization that helps students take a gap year before heading off to college, gave out some $2.8 million in scholarships and grants. Since 2010, attendance at gap year fairs has risen nearly threefold. Asked why they were looking to take a gap year, 92 percent of students said they wanted to gain life experience or grow personally. Eighty-five percent said they wanted to travel and experience other cultures. Fewer than half said they were taking a gap year to explore career options. (And when it came to the most significant experiences they had during a gap year, partying was one of the least cited.)
No one criticizes young people when they take that year off. In fact, nearly one gap year student in three said that their parents and peers actually encouraged them to do it. But for people in their thirties, forties, or fifties, it's not okay by society's standards to head off the road and try a different path for a while. I've had many conversations with people in which they say, "I am interested in this. I like this, but I don't know how to make anything of it."
People should find a way to make something of it, whatever "it" is. In your twenties, you're ready to take on the world. You want to take all the knowledge you think you have and change everything. In your thirties, you might start to feel a little disillusioned. This is when you start to think that this isn't going exactly as you thought it would. In your forties you think, I don't know what the heck I'm doing, and in your fifties you think, Not only don't I know what the heck I'm doing, but I don't care because I'm just going to do it anyhow. This makes me wonder what I'll be thinking in my sixties and seventies!
We all experience being lost in some phases of our lives. Whether it's personal, business, or spiritual, there are moments when you have to stop and look for a landmark. Those are the moments that cause us to seek and learn and grow. If you think you know where you are all the time, it's because you're too busy looking down at the path instead of looking around you. Life is dynamic. The scenery changes. Just when you think you've got it figured out, you meet a big obstacle. Or you come to the end of the road and you have to turn around and go back the way you came.
Sometimes it's sudden. Marriages that look good suddenly break. Buyers you've trusted tell you they can't pay their bills, killing your cash flow and bringing down the business. Things happen. Sometimes you could have seen the signs if you had paid attention. Other times there's nothing you can do but pick yourself up and change direction.
In time you come to learn that something is always coming. No road ever runs straight. So we have to be able to adapt and shift and recognize that what is right now is not necessarily forever, whether that's a business model or even a relationship. Even if everything continues, it will change, and you have to be willing to adapt to those changes.
Fear is what keeps people from seeing those changes. We don't want to look at them, and we don't want to think about the challenge of adapting. It's understandable. Change can be tough, even when it takes you where you want to go. Kenyon Salo now has one of the best jobs in the world, but what brought him to that job was some effort, of course. He became a pro snowboarder first by snowboarding all day while working nights for a property maintenance company in Colorado. He became a professional parachutist by doing what he loved in his spare time.
"There are times when you have to buckle down and do what needs to be done," he says. Even if that means doing two or even three things at the same time. "During the day you're doing your nine-to-five job, then you come home and you're doing that other thing. And you keep focusing on that until twelve or two in the morning, or whatever it is."
"Eventually," he says, "you're able to make the leap from one to the other."
TRAVELING AS A GROUP
Kenyon Salo isn't just unusual for being able to jump out of planes for a living. He's also unusual in that he was able to strike out on his own path. Plenty of people probably told him that he was crazy for trying to do what he wanted to do.
Those messages have an effect. We are easily shamed. Without a strong sense of self, we tend to go with the flow of what our peer group wants to do. Our own dreams and hopes and desires get squashed. We find ourselves thinking: Well, if they say this is stupid, it must be stupid. Or I must be stupid because I must be missing something. If I was normal I would do what they want me to do.
Peer pressure affects us so much more than pressure from our parents or from our teachers. We often value what our peers think — the people that we meet in school or at work — more than the opinion of anybody else. We want to fit in, but fitting in isn't all it's cracked up to be. The people who are the most fulfilled are often the ones who have truly learned to not care what other people think.
It's hard to do that. I still catch myself, even at half a century old, caring about what somebody is going to think of me. But I'm aware of it, and that helps. Once we are aware of not only what we are thinking but why we are thinking it, we can take action and change our thinking. We can tell ourselves: I don't have to live like that. I don't have to put up with that. Who made these rules for me, and when did I decide that I was going to abide by these rules?
Pressure happens within families but in a subtler way. If you grew up in a family where your father was imposing and a doctor, then you might feel pressure to be a doctor or maybe a lawyer. You are going to go to school and become a professional because you are living somebody else's dream. Your own dream to run a carpentry store or become a dancer or whatever gets left behind. You lose yourself.
I've known people who fell into that trap. They became professionals and for decades built successful but unfulfilling careers that they couldn't leave because of the money they were making. They had financial commitments, a mortgage, a certain lifestyle, and they couldn't see a way out. They were told that was the choice they'd made and that they had to live with it. And that is not the case.
There's always a way out: sell the house, stop buying stuff, scale down, quit your job, and do something else. You always have to be responsible, of course. There are times in our lives when we have to do things we don't want to do. Kenyon Salo kept working for that property maintenance company even when he was building his snowboarding skills. You might have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, but that doesn't mean you can't dream while you are working. It doesn't mean you can't start thinking, listening to your heart, and asking yourself questions.
Everything has its season; it's not all sunshine and rainbows. But the hardest parts of the journey don't last forever.
REGRET FOR THE PATH NOT TAKEN
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent a number of years helping people in the last twelve weeks of their lives. As she cared for them, she asked them about their lives and how they felt as they approached the end. She put their answers together in a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Some of those regrets were predictable. Men in particular wished that they had worked less and spent more time with their families. Everyone wished that they had invested more in friendships and stayed in touch with old friends. People wished that they had expressed their feelings more; some even felt that their illnesses were a result of the resentment and bitterness that they had allowed to build.
But two regrets stood out. People wished that they had allowed themselves to be happier, and they wished that they'd had the courage to live a life that was true to themselves and not the life that others expected of them.
It might be inevitable. When we reach the end of the journey, we will always be able to look back and see the trailheads we didn't take, the paths we didn't choose. Maybe at the end there should even be a curiosity about what lay down those paths. But ultimately are you going to look back at your life and say, "I'm glad I succumbed to peer pressure and didn't follow my passion or my dreams or my desires"? Or are you going to say, "I'm glad I did what I wanted to do regardless of what anybody else thought"? You might wish that you had stayed in closer contact with your friends as your life progressed, but you won't remember the people who put pressure on you to walk with them instead of forging your own path.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Fun Formula"
Copyright © 2018 Joel Comm.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: From Fear to Fun, xiii,
CHAPTER 1: How Did We Get Here?, 1,
CHAPTER 2: A New Approach to Life, 14,
CHAPTER 3: What Does Fun Even Mean?, 27,
CHAPTER 4: Who Am I?, 35,
CHAPTER 5: Working Hard Versus Working Smart, 46,
CHAPTER 6: Keeping It Real, 57,
CHAPTER 7: Say Yes to Serendipity, 74,
CHAPTER 8: Work and Play Are Made to Go Together, 81,
CHAPTER 9: Hobbies Can Become Careers — and Often Do, 96,
CHAPTER 10: Choose Your Friends Wisely, 104,
CHAPTER 11: Hooray for Failure, 118,
CHAPTER 12: Be Willing to Shift, 124,
CHAPTER 13: The Importance of Showing Up, 136,