Monday, March 20, 2023

MACKAY: Don't be afraid to have fun!

| May 23, 2021 1:00 AM

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. learned a valuable lesson at age 15 that shaped his life and may shape yours.

According to a story in Bits & Pieces, he spent a month working on an archaeological dig. At lunch one day, one of the archaeologists asked Vonnegut a bunch of questions to learn more about the young man. Vonnegut said he participated in theater and choir, enjoyed art and played the violin and piano.

The archaeologist was impressed, but Vonnegut then admitted that he wasn't "any good at any of them."

The archaeologist then gave Vonnegut the lesson that changed his life. He said: "I don't think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you've got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them."

Vonnegut then admitted he went from someone who hadn't been talented enough to excel at anything to someone who did things because he enjoyed them.

He said: "I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could 'win' at them."

Many of us have that mentality, and it prevents us from living up to our full potential. Consider this my permission to change your thinking and explore available options for new and exciting challenges.

This may seem contradictory in our society, which is built on being the best, doing the best you can and focusing on your strengths. The subtitle of one of my books is "Do what you love and love what you do." That's the bottom line.

So why not try as many things as you are able? You never know how you might enjoy an experience or when something might click. Never be afraid to take chances, try new things, make mistakes and learn from them and just have fun.

Unless you open yourself up to trying new things, you can't find what you love. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn't take. It's better to look back on life and say, "I can't believe I did that," rather than to look back and say: "I wish I did that."

I had several sales jobs growing up, from having a paper route to working in a men's clothing store to my first job out of college, being an envelope salesman. I knew I liked and enjoyed sales.

I also knew that I wanted to own my own factory and have people look up to me as I walked the plant floor. My envelope manufacturing company is still thriving many decades later, but I didn't put my name on the business until a couple years in, when I knew I was going to succeed.

Throughout my life, I've tried a variety of things. I've volunteered for many organizations, served on many for-profit and nonprofit boards, joined various organizations and written about many subjects in my books and nationally syndicated column.

My passion for sports led me to try many adventures including running 10 marathons, scuba diving and snorkeling, biking, bowling, pingpong, golf, dance, trapshooting, fly fishing and tennis, just to name a few.

Make a list of new things that you would like to try. Continue to experience the euphoria of trying new things.

You have a lifetime of experiences to explore. Learn to play a musical instrument or speak a new language, visit a place you've always wanted to see, attend a sporting event, plant a garden or help an aging neighbor. The opportunities are endless.

Here's another story to wrap things up: A father decided his daughter was old enough to learn about helping others, so he took her to help an older neighbor — raking the leaves, organizing his garage, putting the trash out and performing other small jobs around his house. The child had not really seen the elderly neighbor up close, but on this day she was going to meet him for the first time.

She asked him how old he was. The father was flabbergasted by his child's question and attempted to apologize. The neighbor laughed and said he was 92 years old.

The child had a look of disbelief and asked the neighbor, "Did you start at No. 1?"

Mackay's Moral: When was the last time you tried something for the first time?

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

Recent Headlines