I grew a mustache. It’s gnarly, and it came about as an act of sheer laziness. It was late, and I didn’t feel like spending the additional two minutes shaving the old Tom Musty. So, I put the razor down and went to bed and didn’t think another thought about it. (Surely, I’m not the first man to do this).
It came as a surprise then to see just how inspiring this particular mustache would be.
Sometimes I wake up with a sore back and don’t want to do the things I’m supposed to do. But I do them anyway. I put on my serious face, take a sip of my serious (black) coffee, and log in to the serious business of living my life. Around 11 a.m., I take a break. I take a walk around the neighborhood. But this is not just any walk: this is a serious walk. I am walking to relax. I’m walking to clear my head. I’m walking to practice the art of being present. I don’t have time to dilly-dally; I focus my attention and try to relax. You only have one life, Declan. Every action counts.
If you’re anything like me, you take life very seriously. Life is a serious business, and as such, it demands your best and most determined effort to heed its call and create something great. The key to personal growth is consistency—I know this, and that’s why I’m serious about my mid-morning walk.
But then, on this particular walk, after my late-night lazy shave debacle, I see myself in the reflection of a neighbor’s window, nothing but a white face and the dark smear of a mustache I forgot I had. I’m a time-traveler from the 1970s, a young Steve Jobs, a dimpled Australian skateboarder called Clive who lives out of his mom’s basement while he peddles used copies of Penthouse magazine to the neighborhood kids. By the time I get back to my apartment, my Australian accent is thicker than a cane toad in a leather jacket, and I’m having a whale of a time as Clive, the imaginary bugger from the world down under. It’s juvenile, I know, but hang with me. I have a point here, mate.
I sit back at my desk. I am happy. I tackle my tasks with a renewed sense of vigor. Clive is my muse. My musty is my prop. I look in the mirror and smile—how can I take myself seriously with this stache? I look ridiculous, but this is good. There’s magic here—I can feel it. But it wasn’t just the clump of hair underlining my nose that was making the magic. It wasn’t the just airhead Australian accent and the plethora of other characters that followed. I was enjoying myself. I was connecting to the theatrical part of me I usually keep tucked away for special occasions. I was playing silly buggers with my own company, and it felt a little bit like magic.
Human beings are wired to experience joy. At our very core, the thematic of playfulness flows through our veins, an aliveness that can’t help but express itself through laughter and smiling and ease of being. These symptoms of playful exploration do wonders for our levels of energy and inspiration. Somehow, if we can dance the rhythm of play that underscores all of life, we feel more alive, more connected to ourselves and more likely to live from our inherent inner brilliance.
For many years, I questioned if I was too serious, perhaps too much for people (even myself). And while I’ve had to learn about myself and how to best appropriate that intensity, I no longer attempt to pull it back or hide it or shame it. Instead, I’ve realized, as punctuated by my naffy mustache, that raising the level of playfulness in my life can tease inner authenticity out of its squared-off box and into the liveliness of my living.
When my four-year-old throws a deck of cards into the air and yells what he calls “card party!” he pays little to no thought of the cleanup operation that will follow. He doesn’t care. The four seconds of wonder are worth it. It’s mindless and excessive, and that’s precisely what makes it so wonderful. We need to play. We need excess just for the hay of it. We need some primitive cavorting to infuse the rigid structures of our psychology and breathe fresh life into our oh-so-serious living. Well, I do, anyway.
I don’t always like the conventional idea of life being ‘all about balance.’ When it comes to ‘balancing’ seriousness and playfulness, I find no exception. To me, the word ‘balance’ conjures up images of an old-fashioned weight scale where the two sides are jostling to find the right mix of being too much or too little. Balance implies limited resources. Balance, in some respect, suggests holding back or perhaps overweighting something to achieve parity or just the right proportion. A little more and the whole thing might topple over. A little less and it may burst into flames. Balance (in the context that I am using it) means limitation. I far prefer the idea of harmony. I’m more inclined to the idea of space to explore the range of my authenticity, even to excessiveness. (Often, something excessive can break us free from our internal patterns of fear or control, or at the very least highlight them). I don’t want to balance my serious side with my playful side—I don’t want to limit the potency of my expression for fear of it being too much. I want a dynamic relationship between seriousness and playfulness, something that feels like harmony—something that feels like music or magic.
Life will require all of your parts, the serious ones and the not-so-serious ones. Make room to explore both. Fully. Engage with them. Flow with them. But remember, the magic is not in the balancing act, but rather, the magic is in the harmony. Can you let all of your sides dance to the rhythm of life and listen well enough to hear that rhythm when it changes? Be serious about your life, but for goodness’ sake, have some bloody fun while you do it, you little ripper.