The enjoyment that employment brings can be just as present in strategic periods of funemployment, where one is pursuing fun and function.
The Gallup World Poll released World Happiness data in 2017 that showed that work satisfaction was strongly correlated to overall happiness.
A Harvard Business Review essay on this data highlights that “surprisingly, much of the picture remains similar even once [adjusted] to take into account differences in income and education as well as a number of other demographic variables like age, gender, and marital status.” This means that people of all ages with thriving families and even finances can be miserable if they do not have work that they enjoy.
From my experience working with young people in a career rut or those who are unemployed, I would even venture to say that work dissatisfaction, if festered long enough can gradually destroy other sources of happiness like marriages and over time can even ruin financial potential. With this much at stake it is okay to take some time to identify what you want to do, especially when you know clearly what you do not want to spend 40 hours a week doing.
The enjoyment that employment brings can be just as present in strategic periods of funemployment, where one is pursuing fun and function. Functional employment or “Funemployment” is really about finding your fun and then marrying it to utility- being funemployed is not a holiday, but when done well, it will be fun.
If you are reading this in the early days of your unemployment, I suspect there are already many worries cluttering your mind. You can start to list them down on a piece of paper that you should swiftly proceed to ignore. The concerns are valid but thinking about them is not going to help maximize the season you are currently in and is unlikely to usher you into the next season. I can hear some of the questions already…What will I do next? Why did I leave my last job? What if the next one is worse? How long will it be before the next job? What will I do when I run out of savings? I suspect most of these thoughts and concerns are about the future or the past and very few are about the present gift before you now. There is something unique about this period that is yours for the taking and no it is not just the downtime you may now have
Funemployment can, in fact, be one of the most productive and busy seasons of your career and it all depends on how quickly and well you answer three questions: What is your fun?, How does it function?, and How can you leverage it?
Fun might seem like a trivial word to put at the heart of one’s professional career but I believe that it is the perfect bedrock for identifying professional goals. What people find fun is often easy to convince them to do and they can do it well or with relative ease. If you have a strong conviction to do something and can do it easily, you are likely to do it better than other activities
A helpful mental exercise to define your fun is to think about what you would do if nothing was mandatory. If you had enough financial resources, human resources and time on your hands to cover every other priority in your life, what would you wake up each morning to do?
There are some people, particularly those who are presently overworked, who would say that they would wake up in the morning and do nothing at all. However, I have come to understand that what people who say they would do “nothing” mean to say is they would do “nothing of value”. If you are one of these individuals who would do “nothing of value” with a carte blanche of time, do not panic- you still could be enroute to greatness.
Nothing of value is still something and defining value is in itself the start of a critical exercise. I have worked with many individuals who at the start of this exercise have said I would just watch Netflix, eat, sleep and wake up to do it all over again. I have yet to meet one who truly means it. After the assignment of doing nothing of value, they return more miserable than they imagined. So over time, the answer to the question shifts from wanting to doing nothing of value to defining value for you.
Most people, given the space and time to do anything, would really only do fun things. That is okay- in fact, that is a great place to start.
The word fun is loaded and for many fun must come with variety. A professor of mine would often say “chocolate is fun but drowning in it is torture”. For others fun carries along with it other important words such as community, fulfilment, and even accomplishment. While we have unique definitions of fun, the things in our lives that we call fun are in their simplest forms quite common amongst all of us. In fact, for many people, their bouquet of fun activities have not evolved immensely since they were children and the activities are rather FUNdamental.
For many, fun is writing and reading, watching and listening, creating and learning, exploring and moving, and talking and learning. There are few activities that people consider fun that do not fall into these categories. Scuba diving in the Caribbean is exploring, laughing over dinner and drinks with friends is talking and so the list of things we consider fun continues. Identifying the thing that you consider most fun is important to launch your journey in funemployment. The great dancer, Alvin Ailey would tell his classes that dance ought to be “the thing you lose track of time doing”
When you have found your fun- look at it squarely. Examine it- the trappings that bring the most exhilaration that is within your control and those facets of your fun that are in the control of others. When you know your fun, it is time to marry it to function. Note that this does not simply mean trying to find ways to monetize what you enjoy doing. That sentiment is a good one but remember that the skillset of a writer and a bookseller are rarely the same. I cannot promise that you can monetize your fun but understanding its core tenets is the beginning of engaging fun in work.
Understanding how your fun functions goes beyond just understanding how people make money from it. It involves understanding the ecosystem that supports it. Why do you enjoy it? What aspects of it make it most fun? Who does it best? What does it combine well with? Where is the most and least value in the fun value chain? Where is the greatest cost concentrated? And indeed how people make money, how much they make and when they make it, is a part of this analysis.
As you continue this exercise you will already begin to identify the ways in which your fun can make you money. Along with it, you will see glaring roadblocks that can prevent you from monetizing fun- write those down on a different sheet of paper- this sheet you should not ignore- this sheet is critical for your career in funemployment. The activity of rigorously understanding these obstacles is your first task in investing your professional toolkit in yourself, hiring yourself to solve a problem that you are facing and working for the revenue generating company called you.
PS: Next edition, I will share more about how we pursue fun in this incredibly precarious job market and we’ll get into some more employment economics.
About the Column
The ‘Business of Employment’ is a new column by contributor Vivian Ojo who is an avid and honest writer with several years of experience in the “education for employment” sector. The objective of the column is to educate young Nigerians on the employment market and the basic macroeconomic principles that underpin it, while also providing honest and helpful insights on how young Nigerians can find and create opportunities to make both money and impact.
Vivian has consulted with some of the largest international development, educational and corporate organizations across the world and with several African Governments focusing on people and capability building. She has worked on business strategy and job placements with McKinsey and Company, MasterCard Foundation and African Leadership Academy.
She is a board member of United World Colleges Nigeria and a member of Umsizi Fund’s peer learning network that convenes over 30 employment placement organizations from around the world including Harambee, Generation and Education for Employment.
She has a longstanding passion for transforming the African education to employment landscape and has done work on this as part of her Masters in Public Policy from Oxford University and has been published on the topic in the Harvard Africa Policy Journal among other organizations. Follow @thewritewritingcoach on Instagram and check out www.thewritewritingcoach.com for more questions.