The 3 Types of Fun

Jul 20, 2023

There are three types of fun.

Type 1 fun is great while it’s happening and enjoyable afterwards when you think back on it. It’s commonly referred to as fun: eating delicious food, going mountain biking, seeing a great movie. I love me some type 1 fun. However, it’s undeniable that type 1 is not nearly as fun afterwards as it is in the moment.

For instance, this summer I performed a keynote out in Salt Lake City, Utah at an educator’s conference. My wife and I decided to build a family vacation around this engagement. So after the conference, our family drove from Salt Lake City down to Moab and then across to Aspen. It was a classic family road trip, and my kids got to see some unbelievable sights across our country. The trip was mostly type 1 as we experienced the thrill of white-water rafting down the Colorado River, horseback riding to the Maroon Bells, and belting out Taylor Swift in the rental car.


But now a month removed from the trip, those aren't the things that stand out the most from this epic vacation. What stands out most is the hike through the Moab Desert, trudging our way up a sandstone mountain in the blistering heat, trying to conserve our water as we made our way to the Delicate Arch. My 7-year-old daughter lost her enthusiasm quickly for this part of the adventure and had to ride on her daddy's back through blowing sand and sharp cacti. When we finally made it to the top of the mountain, the hot wind was so strong that you had to get on your hands and knees for fear of getting blown off the summit.

This is Type 2 fun.

Type 2 is often difficult and even sometimes miserable in the moment, but really fun in retrospect. It’s running a marathon, getting up with your infant at night, running out of gas, and having to hitchhike to a gas station (luckily, I’ve only had to do that twice in my life…).

It’s looking fondly on your suffering. Of course, you don’t plan for activities to be type 2, and we usually plan to avoid it. I was not crazy about my decision to take my family several miles into the desert at 1:00 p.m. in the middle of June, especially during that last mile. But that is now a way better story than staying in the car. My little girl is a little more confident now, having summited that mountain. Our family is bound a little tighter together after that journey. The conflict and the overcoming of it are seared into our memories much more than the rafting adventure where everything went as planned.

Type 2 is what stories are made of.

And then there’s Type 3 fun.

Type 3 isn’t actually fun at all. It sucks during the moment, and it isn’t any fun to look back on either. Type 3 is commonly known as “not fun.”

I’m talking about speeding tickets.

Or proctoring the SAT, or when you’re out of energy and nothing seems to be working to manage your students. When you get chewed out by a parent or a principal, and you go home wondering if teaching is the job for you. We all know type 3, and we all want less of it.

Teaching is filled with all three types of fun.

But here’s something I’ve learned over time: we can learn from all three types of fun. When times are good and full of joy, replicate that! Find ways to do more of it. Sometimes it’s that type 1 fun that keeps teachers in the classroom. Of course, we want lessons or plans to go smoothly. We want to lower stress and increase satisfaction. Type 1 helps compensate for type 3.

And type 2, while not enjoyable in the moment, serves to remind us that difficult times make us stronger if we allow them to. It’s about mindset. We would never hope for Wi-Fi to go out in the middle of a lesson that requires Wi-Fi, but when it does, we adapt. We find ways to pivot in the midst of disruption, and in the process, become better at pivoting. In addition, we earn a new story to tell. We can talk about how we overcame adversity and still found success.

And type 3 fun reminds us that sometimes life is hard. Teaching is hard, and we don’t always enjoy it. But I’ve found over and over again in my own life that it’s sometimes the least enjoyable moments that teach me the most. It was listening to a parent yelling at me that I learned how to diffuse these types of situations and communicate with someone who is highly emotional. It was accidentally shaming a student in front of the whole class that I learned how to humbly apologize to my students. It was through proctoring 8-hour SATs that I developed thoughts on the need to change the education system a bit, and that I want to start being more vocal about it (leading to what I get to do now).

The hottest fire makes the hardest steel.

I’ve also learned that no matter how difficult something was for me, no matter how hopeless a situation seemed, here I am on the other side of it. I made it.

You are capable of far more than you sometimes give yourself credit for. Sometimes in life, you just have to reflect on where you are now despite what you’ve been through. So if you are just getting into teaching, know that there are going to be all types of fun, and one of them isn’t that much fun at all. But all of them are necessary.

And if you’ve been doing this a while, you already know this. And so I would challenge you to pay attention to what your experiences are trying to teach you. To see your life as a story and recognize that all challenges are a gift to help shape you into a stronger, more effective, joyful person, and teacher.

So if you are an educator on vacation right now, I hope you have lots of type 1 fun. Let it refuel and refresh you. And if some type 2 sneaks its way into your holiday, I hope you tell it as a story later on.

And if, God forbid, type 3 shows up, I hope it doesn’t last long (Even though Type 3 has a tendency to turn into Type 2 when we allow it 😊).

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