Courtney Ball

Don’t Forget: Life Is Here to Enjoy

Group selfie taken by my friend Hannah at a Jazz Fest last summer.

I sensed Hannah was holding something back. She was present and engaged in the meeting, but I could also tell my friend was politely walking around something she wanted to say. I knew that if I waited long enough, she would eventually speak her mind.

Hannah is one of the most talented people I know, and she has volunteered to help me with Corridor Characters, a photo/storytelling project that celebrates the diversity of Eastern Iowa. I asked her to be involved for a number of reasons. First, she’s a friend, and I trust her. Second, she’s a skilled photographer who also has a great eye for design. Third, she has a natural business sense that I do not.

For me, thinking about ways to earn money is a chore. I mean, like anyone else I have fantasies about easy ways get rich and then spend my money. But when it comes to devising practical methods of generating consistent revenue by selling products or services for which people will actually spend their hard-earned money, well that’s another story. And then there’s the whole next level of managing money for sustained operations rather than simply spending it.

My brain doesn’t like to think about these things. When I start reading or talking about business, it tries to change the subject. It might direct me to the kitchen to grab a pint of premium ice cream. Or a travel website to dream about a vacation I can’t afford. “There, there.” says my brain. “You don’t need to bother yourself with such concerns. Look at the palm trees. Wouldn’t you like to eat your ice cream next to palm trees like that?”

I’ve learned over time that if I’m going to think about business or other subject matters I find tedious, I have to give my brain a specific set of tasks to follow and then stand behind it with a club in order to ensure compliance. “Oh, yes, brain. We will do this planning worksheet together. You will not leave this cell until the budget is complete.”

It also helps if I can rope other people into the process, so my brain isn’t left to its own devices. This is what I did recently with my Corridor Characters team. We met with a small business development coach and he talked us through a business mapping activity. It was definitely valuable, but I wouldn’t call it fun. I wanted to stick with it, though, because after a year of writing lots of stuff for very little money, I’ve realized that an income isn’t going to happen all by itself.

Here’s another thing about my brain. It can be incredibly obsessive. If it gets locked on to an idea or a project, it can go days without thinking much about anything else. The rest of life becomes background. Sometimes this single-mindedness can be really helpful, like when it enables me to push through unpleasant tasks toward a desired goal. Like developing business models.

It’s not so great for the people who have to spend time with me, though. You can imagine how much my wife and daughters enjoy feeling like they’re in the background of my life. This obsessiveness can also leave me blind to things most others would see as obvious.

This is what Hannah was waiting to point out in our meeting. Finally, she said it. “You know, it’s good to think about this business stuff, but I feel like maybe we also need to step back from it and remember to focus on our content too. Things have gotten kind of stale lately.”

She reminded us of some great ideas we had talked about early on that had been ignored lately while I focused our attention on business models and marketing. She also pointed out that none of us started the project in order to make money. We created Corridor Characters because we thought it would be fun. We hadn’t been having as much fun lately.

Hannah was right, and it was incredibly freeing to hear her speak the truth. Yeah, I thought. That’s right. This is supposed to be fun! When did I forget that? Just because we had to do some thinking about money didn’t mean we had to be miserable and forget to enjoy ourselves.

Forgetting joy is an easy thing to do. Like so many people, I get caught up in managing responsibilities, working toward goals or deadlines, and somewhere in there life becomes a series of burdens. I get preoccupied with preparing for the next burden instead of being present to the possibility of joy. And you know, that’s just a shitty way to live.

In that same meeting, Hannah invited my wife and I to join her, her husband Greg, and some other friends for happy hour at a local brewery. “I don’t know,” I told her. “Aidyn [our daughter] has to be up early in the morning. She’s taking a trip with her friend, and we need to make sure we’re ready for that. I also want to make sure she gets enough sleep tonight before she goes.”

She rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, just come and have a beer with us!”

So, we did. We had a few, along with some really tasty food. It was a kid-friendly place, so we took the girls with us and relaxed with our friends at the end of the week like people should. We weren’t there all night. There was still plenty of time to get Aidyn ready for her trip. But it was a great start to the weekend.

I’m thankful for friends like Hannah–and for my family–who know me well enough to cut through my worrisome preoccupied tunnel vision and remind me of the big picture. Life is here to enjoy. It’s a gift. And if, like me, you forget that sometimes, please let this be your reminder!

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Courtney Ball

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