Type II Fun

September 4, 2014

As a teenager, I found myself with 16 others on the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine in a 30-foot pulling boat with 12-foot swells and no tiller or rudder. The seas were getting rougher and the sky was crackling with lightning and thunder. We were scared, wet, and tired. We were unprotected from the elements, and the elements looked like they were preparing to swallow us up. No one other than a sociopath would describe this experience as fun. And yet I look back at that Outward Bound experience with joy and pleasure. It was fun…or, maybe more accurately, it is fun to consider in retrospect.

When growing our business, Rick Diamond and I faced a number of hair-raising challenges. One day our customer, one of the largest long distance carriers, was slow to pay us. We were hours away from a payroll withdrawal that exceeded what Rick and I could personally cover. All we’d worked for, all the long hours and labor, was at risk. We were sunk, it seemed, but we persevered. And today Rick and I will meet up for lunch and reminisce about the fun we had during those days.

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

I recently received a letter from my daughter, who is now 21 days out in her 30-day NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) sojourn in Alaska. She had never camped a day in her life until the first night at base camp in Alaska. In the letter, she recounts the pulling-boat-esque adventures she’s been experiencing. She describes these gut-wrenching challenges as “Type II fun.” With Type II fun, you would rather break your leg and be airlifted out than to move forward. It’s only later, after you realize that the only direction you can move is forward and you accomplish the unimaginable, that you would even think to call it fun.

Based upon my daughter’s definition of “Type II fun,” I came up with the following Fun chart:

“There is more to be learned in one day of discomfort, poverty, and anxiety than in a lifetime of apparent happiness, security, and riches and power.” – Anonymous

Outward Bound experiences are challenging and perhaps even life-threatening, but they mainly lead toward Type II Fun. Entrepreneurs can face similar (or worse) “discomfort, poverty, and anxiety” and for much longer than 30 days. Their careers and businesses can be at stake and, with them, the lives and well-being of others, too.

These entrepreneurs and business leaders often seek me out as a coach when their fear and frustration becomes too great. Sometimes they’re afraid of the risks facing them, and sometimes they’re afraid of not taking the right risk with their careers or business. They feel stuck. They feel like they can’t move forward even one more step. Some wish they could figuratively break their leg and be airlifted out.

Outward Bound teaches the importance of preparedness and planning, as well as the need to keep moving in the right direction. The experience is rarely fun at the time, but it certainly is fun to reminisce about later. And a lot is learned in that “one day of discomfort, poverty, and anxiety.”

With enough strength and conviction they’re moving in the right direction, entrepreneurs can experience Type III Fun. This fun will course through them for the rest of their lives, in part because their calculated risks vastly improved not only their own life, but also the lives of others. Steve Jobs, Fred Smith, and Charles Schwab are among those who have experienced Type III fun. They learned from their discomfort poverty, and anxiety, and they didn’t give up, not even after the tide had turned in their direction.

What type of Fun are you having? Do you know how to move from the comfort of Type I to the discomfort of Type II Fun? Might it be worth pressing yourself to move to Type III Fun?

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