Most of you wouldn’t take me for a biker. No, not a leather-jacket-wearing skull-and-cross-bones and tattoos biker, though if you knew me in college, I had a pierced nose and toured Rome on my uncle’s Harley. (I think he might be legally blind by the way). I haven’t seen him in years. If you happen to read this Uncle, I miss you.
I was the kid who rode her bicycle down a flight of stairs hands-free with her little sister strapped behind her. I crashed into walls. I fell into thorns. I landed in trees. I was always the first to arrive at school, and the last to leave the playground. I would carry my bike to the top of the slide and see how far I could fly it and land it into the sandpit below the slide. Then, I would run a hose down the slide, and see how running water changed the velocity of the bike and the density of the sand in the pit. This is what it means to be curious. This is what it means to learn.
Those were good times. Unforgettable times. Often someone would steal my bike, and I’d go steal it back. And usually, it was a kid I liked. That was pretty common where I grew up. You never saw a bike locked up, and you never saw one torn to shreds the way you see sometimes nowadays. But you did see someone else riding around on it if you weren’t careful, and they could change it, for better or worse. It could take weeks, even months, to figure out how to get it back. I always got it back eventually. That is how I learned strategy.
People sometimes passed judgment. My hair was one large knot masquerading as hair, and my mom struggled to make ends meet. Why was I left alone so often? Was I neglected? We were immigrants in a nation that hated us, but that accepted us anyway. Long after the dealmakers make their deals, we are still outlanders. Yet, I am (and was) as happy, proud, and inspired by my host country, my home, as I am today by own Persian ancestry.
My parents were smart. Fun was part of everyday life. They made something out of nothing. So I made something out of nothing. They left war in pursuit of education. They divorced. They suffered. They continued loving anyway. They bent their knees and bowed their heads to the space between humanity and the universe, and they fed it more love, even when humanity fed them more hate.
They served the collective consciousness—that heaping ball of cosmic energy that giveth and taketh away. My parents did not neglect. They did the opposite: they trusted me.
Because fun comes from pouring love into the life you have, not in some hokey, tripped-out, oblivious sort of way where you’re handing out flowers to strangers on the street. Of course, if that’s your thing, no disrespect intended. I’m talking about the kind of love that leads a kid to curiously ask, “what does it feel like to go cycling down these stairs? Maybe my sister wants to come. What happens when you run the hose? Let’s fly!” And then letting that kid go at it again and again until she understands the conditions that allow her to create the best experience with the tools she has until one day she has created an elating game that inspires all the other neighborhood kids, and they want to do the same thing, but better or different with tools of their own. That is productivity.
And this brings me to an open question I have about something I hear in Corporate America sometimes. Have you ever heard someone say, “I think he (or she) may be too much of a free spirit for this company,” like it’s a bad thing to have a free spirit, and that he or she should be rejected for it?
Do you think this is good? Is it actually true that being a free spirit is a bad thing?
I’ll tell you something: any company or person who wants to hire a caged spirit or wants to cage a free spirit is full of sh*t. Because freedom of spirit is the impetus for curiosity, and curiosity is the impetus for creativity, and creativity is the impetus for productivity, and productivity is what makes our world go round.
And as business owners, leaders, parents, educators, and members of society, we have a responsibility to fight for that spirit. We have a responsibility to create the conditions that allow ordinary people to make fun out of almost nothing, and not in that “fun is what you do after-hours” sort of way, or in that “fun is pizza and beer on-the-job” sort of way, but by getting off the smack that a free spirit is something to be afraid of. By getting off the smack that everyday playfulness is bad. By getting off the smack that hard work means working unhappily for long periods of time.
We need to create environments where people feel safe to explore; environments that reward individuals for their curiosities, regardless of how their curiosities come to fruition and how they pan out. We need to create environments where our differences are protected like treasures. We need to create frameworks that foster authenticity and acceptance. And we need to do it now.
Because pure fun is a byproduct of being your authentic self, and loving life is what makes people want to actually live their lives. That’s pretty important, don’t you think? The continuation of humanity.
And so I am told that the robots are coming. They will replace our jobs. It’s up to you to decide what makes sense, but I say, let’s go steal our bikes back.
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