All work and no play.

When dId I stop having fun?

Guest Contributor: Shawnna Downing

Enjoying Life | Provided by Shawnna Downing

Enjoying Life | Provided by Shawnna Downing

We have to follow our instincts and our talent and have the courage to sacrifice, to say no to the powerful to keep what we’re trying to do free and fun.
— Robert Altman

Long before finding ourselves working to pay the rent we were playing games and having fun in our spare time. Slowly over the course of our lives, our time spent playing games started turning into school work and preparing for the real world.

Growing up seems like a fascinating idea when you’re a child, adults seem to live these fantastic lives, staying up late, watching whatever TV show they like, not to mention the ability to drive. Everything looks cool and we can’t wait for the day when we are older and we too can do whatever we want. This seems to be the cycle; most of us as children looking up to the adults with adoring eyes wishing for the day when we can be one of them. And the adults looking back at the children longing for the days when they could just run around and play.

Time | Photo by Shawnna Downing

Time | Photo by Shawnna Downing

Now as grown adults we find ourselves working hard at jobs with the thought in mind that if we just work hard enough, perhaps one day we will be able to buy back some of our freedom ‐ the freedom to play and be ourselves, something we once had but somehow lost along the way. And when did we stop playing? When did we stop having fun? When I look around, most of us are caught up chasing an outcome that may or may not exist, with our minds convinced that when we get there everything will be better and we will finally be happy. And so we are still those same children looking up at something or someone with adoring eyes thinking one day we’ll get to be and do what we want. Here we sit, applying the same methods we always have, believing that if we work hard we will be successful and if we are successful we will be happy. But I’m not sure that’s true, at the very least it’s not true for every single one of us. That’s one method, one way of doing something, but is that one way working for you?

The other day after a shoot had wrapped (one that I had personally been dreaming about for some time) someone asked me if I was happy. My response ‐ “Yes! I had so much fun today!” and as I was cleaning up I thought to myself, “when did we stop having fun?”

It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in our successes and failures. We work so hard for recognition only for that same recognition to be short lived. Until recently I was heading towards burning out. I was focused on doing what I thought other people wanted me to do instead of focusing on myself and my art. I was waiting for someone else to tell me that I was good enough and that I was worthy.

Does this matter? | Provide by @ShawnnaDowning Instagram

Does this matter? | Provide by @ShawnnaDowning Instagram

There I was following the pattern, “work hard, be successful, and freedom, along with happiness, will follow suit”. But too often we define that success as a list of accomplishments and records of validation, when who we are is so much more than that. That list may look good on paper but how does it make us feel? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Do we enjoy it or find it fulfilling when we are compared to others? And if we do, does that feeling last?

I find that the validation we receive from the public does feel good, but only for a moment. It’s not sustaining. If anything it’s more like a drug – we’re constantly searching for our next fix. These short term, fleeting feelings that come and go no longer drive me.

Heart | Photo by Shawnna Downing

Heart | Photo by Shawnna Downing

My focus has switched from this validation, which may or may not come, to the enjoyment that does come from the freedom of being myself and having fun. I want to have fun. I want to enjoy what I’m doing with my time as much as humanly possible. This is what feels important, and more importantly, it is sustaining.

I am not so naive to think that it can be all fun and games. We will need to shift the focus away from productivity, or our addiction to success, and check in with ourselves and our inner artist. We will need to be honest and straightforward, and potentially say no from time to time if we are to learn to play again.

It can be difficult living a life in honesty, it can be scary and communication can be tricky. There will be times when being honest will not work out in our favor and we will have to accept that. There will be times where we will be wrong and we’ll have to accept that too. But this is the work. This is the work that I believe leads us to living a life that says we care about ourselves and what we do, that we are so much more than the words on a page and the validation that comes from the outside.

Are you dancing | Photo by Shawnna Downing

Are you dancing | Photo by Shawnna Downing

The work part will never cease but neither should the fun, we need both. Imagine learning the waltz and taking the time to learn all these beautiful steps ‐ is the point simply to get to the end as fast as we can? Do we do all that work just to get it over with? Does it always have to be about how good we are, or can we take the time to enjoy the dance before the music stops and we all go home?