Doing Things for the Fun of It

I love this statement from Richard Feynman when reflecting upon his job offer from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study:

They expected me to be wonderful to offer me a job like this, and I wasn’t wonderful, and therefore I realized a new principle: “I’m not responsible for what other people think I am able to do. I don’t have to be good because they think I’m going to be good.” And somehow or another I could relax about this. I thought to myself, “I haven’t done anything important, and I’m never going to do anything important, but I used to enjoy physics and mathematical things. It was never very important, but I used to do things for the fun of it.” So, I decided I’m going to do things only for the fun of it.

This is a key insight. We don’t have to be great because companies or acquaintances expect us to be great. Instead, we should drop unnecessary external expectations and know that sustaining the mindset of having fun encourages consistency and curiosity in our work, eventually leading to excellence as a byproduct.

And this makes sense. I bet you can look back and say, fairly emphatically, that most things you’ve excelled at was a direct consequence of enjoying it so much that you didn’t even notice the time passing. While expectation may have worked in the short term, I believe you will have given up if you weren’t having fun, especially when the going got tough.

I’ve been reminding myself of this more and more lately as my goals have become more demanding, and I’m realizing how invaluable of a skill it is to be able to buffer, if not completely rid of, unnecessary pressure and expectation by adopting a mindset that encourages fun, exploration, and failure (i.e. learning) as opposed to work, constraint, and achievement.

And I know people who have embodied this mindset and are so far removed from this shallow motivation of expectation that they have seemingly stumbled upon mastery in their respective fields. I bet you know a few of these people, too.

Let go, and enjoy the ride.