A few years ago I decided to test drive a question when I found myself in a social situation with people I didn’t know. Instead of asking “what do you do?” I asked “what do you do for fun?” And I did this for a time at cocktail parties, meetings, wedding showers – wherever there were new faces and friends to meet.
Some people were startled, and had to really think before they could answer. Fun? Do I actually have any fun in my life after I get through working, looking after the kids, getting in the groceries, and cleaning up after dinner? Rarely, some people simply had no answer – and there was a big, yawning, space of silence while they learned something really important about themselves and I struggled to redeem the awkward moment.
But mostly people would launch into a description of their garden, or their travels, or their secret poetry project. I found out the most amazing things about people! And they usually became quite animated in their responses because they were speaking about something they were passionate about. Someone had just been to a sensory deprivation tank, someone else had taken up woodworking, someone had been taking lessons in hanging from ribbons like the people in cirque du soleil.
And very often the discussion would turn to why I had asked that question and how refreshing it was to talk about and be defined by something other than work.
Some of this work identification is a North American phenomenon – in Europe new acquaintances will want to know about your family lineage. But it is particularly acute amongst lawyers. When we think of our identity: I am a woman, I am a mother…. I am a lawyer is usually pretty high up on the list.
And that in itself is not a bad thing. Several years ago I went to a retirement seminar that my friend was hosting – not because I was intending to retire, but because she needed “bums in the seats”. I remember we were asked: what does work give you besides money? I found that my list was pretty long: intellectual stimulation, social connections, status, new challenges. Her point in running the seminar was to help you think about what you would need to replace when you retire besides the money: will crossword puzzles be an adequate substitute for the intellectual stimulation?
We are privileged as lawyers to do work which is challenging, generally respected (despite bad lawyer jokes), interesting, and sometimes even verging on fascinating. But we know too well the dangers of overwork: when the focus of our life becomes so narrow that we have little time for much else, least of all for fun. Fun is kind of prevention: it can fill our cup, restore our balance.
We expect children to have fun, to play, to rejoice in “pointless” activity. When we run as children it is because the wind feels really good in our hair. When we run as adults it is because our Fitbit tells us we need 10,000 steps or because we are in week 8 of a 16 week half marathon training program. Did you ever watch a toddler with a bucket at the beach? A gaggle of 7 year olds playing in a school yard? Fun is a natural part of the human condition if we give it the space and time to emerge.
So here is my message for this day: Invite a little fun in. Start by doing something fun yourself. And then ask someone else about their fun. Learn something new, get some great ideas for your own “fun agenda”, and change up our discourse as adults.
We can change the world, one question at a time.
— Jennifer A. Cooper, Q.C.
Jennifer is family law Mediator, Arbitrator and Collaborative Lawyer. She maintains a practice in Victoria as Cooper Family Law and as a Partner at Deeley Fabbri Sellen in Winnipeg. She is on the Executive Board of the Canadian Bar Insurance Association and is the CBIA representative to the Legal Profession Assistance Conference. You will find her working hard in Winnipeg and Victoria, and sometimes fitting in a little fun.