Mark Twain (1835-1910) believed that having fun is important if you want to be successful.
"The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation."
Mark Twain must have had fun as a writer. His sense of fun emerges in his writings. No wonder he lived to a good age for those days. He learned as a boy how to turn work into a vacation. I owe the following story about him to Alan Elliott and Josh Hinds.
In the 1830's Mark Twain disobeyed his mother by taking a dip in a swimming hole near his hometown in Missouri. His mother punished him by telling him to whitewash the thirty- foot-long fence.
Sam Clemens (Mark Twain before he chose a pen name) began to paint slowly. He was thinking of an excuse to get out of the work.
He had only just begun when his friend John showed up:
"I guess you can't go with me, 'cause you gotta work," said John.
"You call this work?" replied Sam. "A boy doesn't get to whitewash every day."
Sam continued painting, pretending he was enjoying this drudgery.
John watched for a minute, then said, "Let me have a go ." Sam told him that the job was skilled.
John offered Sam the core of his apple and Sam accepted pretending he was doing John a big favour.
All afternoon he conned boy after boy to pay for the privilege of whitewashing a portion of the fence. When the task was finished, Sam had collected several objects which delight the hearts of small boys.
Years later, Sam Clemens told this story again in his great book "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
The story symbolizes the inventiveness of the American spirit in making the best of a situation and in treating work as play.
Work can be unpleasant or fun, depending on the way you look at it or the spirit in which it is performed.
Adam Hollioake, the English cricketer, realised when his brother died unexpectedly that the most important things in life are 'being kind and having fun.'
Anyone who can be kind and have fun for much of their life is a success by this standard.
Joan Rivers is a New York comedienne who has spent 50 years in the entertainment business and is still going strong.
She has been a huge success and is still a success at 71.Joan Rivers has not always been kind to the victims of her jokes but she has had enormous fun and created fun for millions right up to her current age.
Not all comics have found their work fun. Quite a number have suffered from depression and more than their fair share of unfunny thoughts but Joan seems to enjoy her work. However, even she once considered suicide.
She was not speaking to her daughter and was out of work. She took out a gun and was ready to kill herself when her little dog crawled into her lap and she thought "Someone needs me".
I heard Joan recently on the Parkinson show on Oct 9th 2004 before starting her tour of the UK (ten cities in ten days). The interview was riveting.
Michael Parkinson introduced her as the Queen of comedy. "She has done for plastic surgeons what Mickey mouse has done for Walt Disney."
She told Michael that all her bookings had sold out except in Birmingham. "No one has bought a ticket in Birmingham." She pretended to spit. She has the gift of turning any problem into a laugh. I expect that, after the interview, Birmingham will soon be booked out.
Michael referred, somewhat unwisely, to her age and to plastic surgery. She replied at once: "I know I'm old but I don't see me so screw me. The only two good things about old age are: You lose your hearing so you can't hear the doctor say:"You're going to die" and you can get into the cinema at half price.
Joan went on to 'defend' plastic surgery. The only bad thing about plastic surgery is that I've spent so much money on it that I figured out it would have been cheaper to have my dna changed."
Michael asked: " Do you approve of men having plastic surgery?"
"Anything to get you through life; anything to get you through life. Life is tough and as you get older it gets tougher "
"You're 71 now aren't you?"
"I don't think we need to get into that. They brought up my cake and It took me a year to blow out my candles. I was 72 by then. When you get old you have no breath left. You lose your breath. At 40 you begin to lose your eyesight. At 50 the mind starts to go. At 60 you start to fart; it is just terrible. And you don't lose your sense of smell until 70. You are so alone."
The Parkinson audience roared with laughter. Earthy humour goes down well in the UK!
Michael probed further "You walk a tight rope with your humour. Where do you draw the line?"
"I don't. Things are so terrible some times that the only way you can relieve tension is to try a joke to get people to laugh .I lost four friends in the twin towers. That's serious big time. I made the first jokes about it because it was so horrible that, when people came to see I me, I did jokes to relieve the tension.
My husband committed suicide and I went on stage a week later and said: 'It was my fault because we were making love and I took the bag off my head. It makes the people relax"
Michael commented. "You make fun of old age but the one certain fact of the matter is, as far as you are concerned, you keep getting better and better as a stand up. You have a sense of confidence; you have a sense of experience; you have the timing which doesn't go...."
Joan interrupted with feeling: "And they've done it all to me. Do you know what I'm saying? I've been fired. I've been thrown out. I've been told I'm over. I've been told five times: "Forget about her "...so you keep coming back. So an audience doesn't like me. It makes you sad but I know there's a tomorrow and that makes a big difference I think that's why you come on the stage. You just want to have fun."
Joan Rivers is a survivor and a great success in her own way. She has helped people to laugh at old age, suicide, terrorism and death. She has helped the middle aged cope with their unflattering looks:
"Look in the mirror if you're over 50 and you have two choices - death or humour."
Joan believes in having fun. She is one of those who whistles while she works. People can endure the boring work so long as they can chat and have fun occasionally with their work mates. Even soccer stars who love the game often miss the banter in the changing room most when they retire.
My most successful lessons as a martial arts instructor have been when the lesson has been fun. Both young and old students enjoy drills which demand quick reactions but which do not end in pain.
Blocking and evasion skills, for example, can be taught by having one student throw boxing gloves at another. Even if the block fails the empty glove does not hurt.
I have just tried throwing a woolly hat at the cat to improve her evasion skills but she does not seem to enjoy this at all. She just turned her back on me in disgust. I think a dog might have a greater sense of fun! Before all the cat lovers complain, I do realize that many cats do enjoy play.
Every one loves to hit things especially things that don't hit back! Focus mitt and shield drills are fun. You can work very hard hitting them and having fun at the same time. You learn all kinds of kicking and striking skills while you enjoy yourself.
Working out to lively music is fun. Aerobics instructors have realised this from the start. It is no accident that their classes are full.
When I taught Religious Education, the pupils learned fastest when they were learning through games and quizzes where they could have fun at the same time. They learned a great deal without realising that they were working hard.
The seven dwarves in Disney's Snow White had the right idea. Even if you are doing boring work in the mines, whistle while you work and have some fun. The time will go a lot more quickly and you will still get the work done.
John Watson is an info publisher on the internet and a martial arts school owner. He taught Religious Studies and Life Skills to teenagers in London schools for about 33 years before retiring in 2000 A.D. His own e-books and those of the English multimillionaire, Stuart Goldsmith, can be found on his site at http://www.motivationtoday.com