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I’m not asking because I want to encourage the sort of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” revelry that some of us were warned about in church. I ask because I want to remind you that you’re not going to be on this big rotating sphere of craziness that long.
I don’t think I’m having a bona fide midlife crisis yet, but recently I’ve been thinking a lot about why I do some things—or why I do them the way I do. Maybe it’s because of how I was raised. Maybe it’s because I was the middle child of a very strict father. Or maybe it’s some complicated mix of biological, environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural factors. But, for whatever reason, I grew up to be a pretty reserved guy who thinks things out and errs on the side of caution, safety, and protecting myself from harm, criticism, or other negative ramifications.
On the whole, I wouldn’t say that has worked out badly, but I’ll admit my reserved, sometimes over-analytical nature has had its drawbacks. It has kept me from going for it in various pursuits—even sometimes in music—because I was inordinately worried about consequences or what people might think. It has also been misinterpreted as standoffishness or lack of enthusiasm. But I only realized this after taking an honest look at my life, observing other people’s behavior, and being willing to admit there’s room for improvement.
I think a lot of us are like this in some way or another. Whether it’s because of social mores, supposed morality, or something else, many of us take certain things far too seriously. Even if you’re that guy at work or the party (or in the band) who seems jovial and lighthearted, there’s a good chance you take some things more seriously than you should. Even if you grew up in a very permissive and lax family, Western society teaches you to get serious once you’ve gotten out of school—and drab economic realities like the one we face now tend to ratchet that requirement up several more notches.
Hell, even when it comes to music—which is supposed to be a source of joy and catharsis— many of us refuse to have fun because we aren’t satisfied with our tone for longer than a few weeks or months after acquiring a sweet new guitar or amp. And even though the average person may hear us play and think, “Man, that guy’s really good,” we’re always thinking about that screw-up in the last song (y’know, the one we alerted everyone to by making a weird face).
Certainly this restless seriousness can be good when it drives us to a healthy pursuit of self-improvement. But if you never step back and look at yourself— really probe your behaviors and motivations—you might not realize you’ve crossed the line from healthy to detrimental and wasteful until it’s too late.
The biggest trap is that we’re constantly telling ourselves we’ll live it up once we get that raise, or get a job we find more interesting, or get a better house, or can afford a boat or a custom-shop axe. Only every time we cross something off our list, we forget that we were supposed to be having more fun and instead start obsessing about the next thing.
But none of us are going to get all the things on our lists. Even the precious few who luck out and keep getting the things on their list will never stop adding bigger, “better,” less attainable things to it. We’re junkies that way.
So here are some more questions: Even if your job is pretty mundane, do you take an interest in others and try to laugh and make the best of it? When you get home from work, do you wrestle your kids to the floor and tickle them so hard that, as they writhe around laughing hysterically, they kick you in the crotch or another sensitive body part? Do you grab your significant other, plant a huge smooch on her/his lips, and drag them out to do some crazy-ass thing you haven’t done in ages—or that you’ve never done? When you jam with your band, do you throw in stupid, inappropriate licks that make your bandmates laugh and lighten up? When you gig, do you make eye contact with people in the crowd and nod or smile or wink or something? Do you ever withhold judgment of popular new songs long enough to see that maybe they’re huge because they’re fun and make people happy—and then glean something from them to make your music more fun?
I can’t say I’m great at all these things yet, but I’m working on them. Decades of habit can’t be detangled easily from the experiences and thought patterns that engrained them in the first place. But now I know—the purpose of life is to have fun and nurture meaningful relationships. And as they used to say at the end of those god-awful G.I. Joe cartoons in the ’80s, “Knowing is half the battle.”