Turning 40 and Designing a Life You Don’t Need a Break From
Mike Montague has discovered the fountain of youth. After realizing that he had done a lot of things on the “adult checklist” Mike wondered if retirement was the only thing he had to look forward to – after 25 more years of Groundhog Days. He didn’t want to sacrifice and grind and hope that it would pay off someday. Instead, he wanted to enjoy the present. After some introspection and a little research, Mike realized that play and being in a playful state is how we can find sustainable happiness and motivation. So why did we stop taking recess after grade school?
Mike Montague is the Director of Community Engagement at Sandler. He is also a game show host, public speaker, podcaster, and writer at Playful Humans. He has been a radio DJ, karaoke host, virtual game show host, MC, and DJ for live events including opening for Billy Idol, Frankie Valli, and MC-ed at Toby Keith’s Bar & Grill. Playful Humans is a community designed to help the burned-out and bored get re-energized and engaged with life. His mission is to help adults discover the power of playing for a living and how to avoid a midlife crisis. Find out more at www.playfulhumans.com.
Mike Montague’s current project is called Playful Humans and playfulness is something he’s working to cultivate in his life. He believes that most people who are trying to live an authentic life are usually trying to solve a problem for other people that they face themselves. For Mike, he needed to be more playful, so he decided to try to help others with that as well.
Mike thinks the getting-older process sucks. He says it’s a lot like going bald. It’s cool if you’re bald, it’s cool if you have hair, but it’s the “-ding” that gets you in trouble. Bald-ing is not cool for anybody, says Mike who started shaving his head when he was 30.
He feels similar about turning 40. The getting older part kind of sucks because you realize “Yesterday I could sneeze without hurting myself. What happened? I hurt myself sleeping. I woke up with a crick in my neck. This is not cool!”
Just before he turned 40, Mike had a kidney stone that got stuck and found out that he had a weird, genetic kidney condition that usually affects children. He ended up in the hospital with a stint in his ureter. He had to cancel a business trip to London and make a presentation virtually, instead of in person. All of which woke him up to the fact that he had to start taking care of himself better than he had as a younger man.
Between his kidney stone, a 40th birthday dinner that wasn’t well attended and the pandemic, Mike feels like it all came together as a midlife crisis of sorts. Even before the pandemic, though, he had started feeling like things weren’t working very well. He climbed enough of the corporate ladder to know that the only thing left was more ladder, and that it wasn’t leaning on anything solid. He came away thinking there wasn’t anything interesting up there.
If you like the continuous pursuit and stress of trying to earn more and make more and get more power and move up in the world, Mike says there is enough for you for the rest of your life.
As a kid, Mike played a lot of competitive sports and it was fun because the game ended or the season ended and you won or you lost. There was an end to it. But as an adult, that striving, competing is non-stop. There is no end to the game or season. There is no final exam or summer break as there is in school. When he realized that, he started to reevaluate, to think about sustainability, to wonder when there was time to be happy. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life doing sprints and burning himself out.
It was during that thought process that he came across research about playing and a lightbulb went off.
Mike has always been playful and creative. He likes to geek out on things, to make things and perform and all of that has always felt sustainable to him. Playing with friends is sustainable. It creates energy rather than sapping it.
Part of the midlife introspection for Mike was realizing that he had done a lot of things on the “adult checklist” – get a job, build a career, get married, buy a house. And he wondered what was next. The only thing he could see was retirement in another 25 years and he didn’t want to just hit repeat for those 25 years. That’s when he realized that he could design a life however he wanted. And he wondered if what “people” say is best for you is really what’s in their own best interest.
Retirement was created in Nazi Germany around 1900. The average life expectancy at the time was 67 and retirement age was 65. Their goal was to create more jobs for younger people to move into. Maybe that doesn’t make as much sense in 2022.
Closer to home, in the 1900s, we had an industrial economy. We needed people to sit in the Ford plant and do the same thing over and over again. The companies figured out that people could do that for about eight hours a day before they start making mistakes and costing the company money. They created three, eight hour shifts, which is how the eight hour workday came about.
Once that was set, schools were created to train people to work these factory jobs. They made sure that you can follow instructions, that you can check A, B and C, that you can fill out your TPS report. They weren’t developed to foster happiness or fulfillment.
Then these ideals were co-opted by capitalism, which sells us a dream that we can buy with the money we make when we work, but it’s never ending.
This is what got Mike thinking about the concept of lifestyle design. So it’s by design that Mike has always had two jobs so that he’s never fully dependent on any one company. He thinks of it as diversifying his security. Mike says that if he were going to rebuild his life and career in 2022, he would make different decisions than what our culture set out as the ideal in the 1950s.
Mike thinks that as we reevaluate these cultural mores, we might find that the opposite of what we currently do would actually be better. If you take gap years when you’re young and you explore and find yourself and travel the world, you will find out what you like and what you want to do for the rest of your life. And if you treat your twenties like your retirement, then maybe you have to work in your seventies. But, guess when you need a reason to get out of bed? Mike says working In your seventies and eighties could be good for keeping our minds and bodies active and engaged and giving us reasons to get out of the house.
If that were the case, maybe we could play throughout our lives and not sacrifice and grind and hope that it pays off someday. Instead, we could enjoy the present. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Maybe it could be both.
The other thing “they” don’t tell you is that the downside of doing your own thing isn’t quite as down as they say and the upside of working for corporations isn’t always as rosy as they promised. If following the prescribed path and working that corporate job are what make you feel safe and secure, then keep following that path. But for those people who’ve always wanted to try something different, why not try it?
Mike says people don’t try things because they think failure is a big deal and they’re afraid to fail if they try something.
Mike found that play and being in a playful state really is the answer to how to find sustainable happiness and motivation in your life.
Mike says most people think in terms of carrot or stick, because that’s what corporations and other unhealthy environments have trained us. You either work hard for money or experience the stress of “I have to survive. So I gotta panic and grind and I gotta make sure I don’t end up in a van down by the river and I’m gonna work really hard for that.”
But there’s a third way that people don’t really talk about called eustress. It’s a healthy kind of stress and euphoria where people are happy for the present moment. When you’ve had a really great time with your family or friends and you’re out having drinks and dancing, and you’re fully in that moment, it feels like flow and it feels good. You’re not thinking about tomorrow. You’re not dancing because somebody’s gonna punish you if you don’t. You’re doing it because you are authentically in the present moment being you. Mike says that’s what being in a playful state is about and he wants as much of that in his life around as possible.
And while your physical body may get tired – especially over 40, your feet, quads and hamstrings will let you know when you’re done dancing! – it is a rechargeable resource. What causes burnout is when people use future-looking stress to get really focused and grind, and think “tomorrow it’s gonna pay off.” At that point, we really don’t even care about that reward. We celebrate the reward for all our work for like a microsecond compared to all the effort that we put in to achieve it.
If you keep chasing that rabbit, it’s just gonna keep burning you out and making you sick and causing a lot of stress. But if you do things that are playful, that are fun for you, that you enjoy doing, and that give you energy, you can keep doing that and you could be the best version of yourself for the rest of your life. It doesn’t get old.
Along the way you might find other things that you prefer to do instead, but you can work in a healthy zone that doesn’t lead to burnout.
The Forty Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire Marketing/Communications
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Stephanie: Hi, Mike, how are you doing?
Mike: I am doing well. I'm so happy to be here.
Stephanie: I am so happy to have you here. I am very interested to hear your stories. In our email communications you've been quite playful, and silly, which I love in a person. So I'm really excited to get to know you a little bit better.
Mike: That is my thing. My project is Playful Humans, if I can't be playful, then I have a problem. I feel like that is to live their authentic self is usually trying to solve the problem for other people that they have for themselves, So, you know, I needed to
Mike: more playful, especially after 40. So I'm excited to, to talk about it.
Stephanie: We're gonna dig back into that in a minute. That was sort of low key profound, the way you turned that corner. Tell me about turning 40.
Mike: Turning 40 to me was interesting. I have kind of two memories. One was before I turned 40. So like the getting older process I have a shaved head it's very much like going bald, that bald is cool. If you shave your head, it's fine, it's cool if you're bald, it's cool if you have hair. But it's the -ding that gets you in trouble. The bald-ing part is not cool for anybody. so I shaved my head when I was like 30. but I feel like the same thing is true about 40. When you're young, it's cool, you can make mistakes, you can break bones, you can heal. When you're old, it's like "Smoke 'em if you got 'em." grandma goes out 'cause she flipped her and was drinking, you're like, that's impressive." know, but if you do that at 40 you're just an asshole.
Stephanie: Right. Let's cheer.
Mike: So, I feel like getting old-er part sucks because you're like, "Yesterday I could sneeze without hurting myself. What happened? I hurt myself sleeping. I woke up with the crank neck. This is not cool." And that's really, I think my experiences of turning
Stephanie: Yeah. I had a kidney stone. I found out I had a weird, genetic kidney disease that usually affects children, I had a kidney stone, like 27, then another one at 35. And then the one at like 39 is the one that stuck. I was supposed to go to England and do this huge presentation in London for two days. I'm a public speaker and do sales training and stuff. I was supposed to do give a big presentation, up in the hospital with a stint in my ureter and, not having much fun, had to do the thing virtually. So that kind of really woke me up to like, "Oh I better take care of myself now." I know it's called 40 drinks, I did make myself a drink, but it's a Cherry Limeade 'cause I can't do alcohol anymore because of the kidney problems. I feel like I should reserve all the healthy cells down there that I can.
Stephanie: Absolutely. To sort of bring you up to speed, I also do not drink anywhere near as much as I used to. I reserve my, occasional for a really nice glass of wine. There's no cheap wine out at restaurants anymore. Who cares for the $9 glass of house wine. I'll just have a glass of water, thank you. But when I get home and have a nice bottle of wine, I'll open that up occasionally.
Mike: Every like maybe once a year or so, I think, I could use a drink. Like on vacation I just want a margarita or a piña colada or something. And, it does not do well, I've never done well with alcohol, I think because of this, kidney thing. But, I still try every once in a while. I'm just not very good at it. other story I wanted to tell
Mike: 40 was my wife and I have the exact same birthday. she's four years older, our birthday's August 15th. When she turned 40, we had this huge party in a field I'm it was a farm party. We were doing bags and washers tournaments, everybody came out. She ended up in the hospital 'cause she also has health issues and stuff the next day. So it was not a good birthday for her. four years later when I turned 40, half of our parents showed up to dinner. My dad was working and her mom was out of town. So I had her stepdad, my mom and my sister there, with my wife. And I was like, I don't think I got the same 40 year old birthday treatment as my wife. And I'm not bitter, but she owes me one.
Stephanie: It sounds like both of those are dubious distinctions. I mean, she may have had the party, but she ended up in the hospital.
Mike: Yeah, for like three days after that.
Stephanie: That's ridiculous. What put her in the hospital?
Mike: She has Crohn's and colitis, think she was fighting it off to not miss
Mike: but after that, she was like, "Yeah, I'm not gonna make it."
Stephanie: Yep. And she probably wanted to enjoy herself at her party, so she ate something she might not have normally if she was being careful. Oh my goodness. You guys, so 40, has been a mixed bag for you and your wife.
Mike: It has. I feel like there's a little bit of a psychological barrier there, but there may also be something to the the physical barrier. I don't know. I was gonna ask you about this because you've had plenty of these conversations. How much of it is your actual age? How much of it is like your generation? And then how much of it is just cultural because I feel like we're close enough in age that kind of grew up with technology, right, and so I for like the good old days of the flip phones pagers and stuff and, all the, the great things that we had growing up. But I feel like everybody who turns 40 says that no matter what era they were born in, they think it was cooler when they were a kid. That's actually some research I found in, my work with Playful Humans is that when people talk about the glory days, they always talk about when they were 10 to 12 years old, because you weren't an adult, you didn't have any responsibilities,
Mike: You weren't really caring about what girls or guys think yet. It was really like that time where you're, you have your own personality, but you don't have responsibilities and stress of, being an adult yet. And I feel like some of that's true, but also I just feel like we do continue to get more and more bonkers in our culture as we go along. And so now I find myself, like, "I don't wanna learn TikTok." I wrote a book on LinkedIn, seven years ago. I was on the radio. I had 10,000 connections on Myspace, man. I was crushing it back in the day. Now like, can't even do it. I have no interest in TikTok.
Stephanie: Yeah. I don't know if it's research or just sort of anecdotal, but I've also heard that, that age of sort of 10 to 15, no matter how old you are, that's the best music. You think that's the best music, whatever was out between when you were 10 and 15, you know, lifelong you'll, you'll think that was the best music, which is why I think the seventies and the eighties station are really high priority in my car on Sirius.
Mike: I used to be a DJ on the radio and I was on the retro station for five years. So was on E 1 0 5 "playing music from retro to right now" and we had like the "All Request Memorial Day Weekend parties" and it was a a super blast. I got to open for Billy idol and Frankie Valli as a DJ and had a ton of fun doing that. So I was already kind of retro nostalgic but this was also in the two thousands. So I agree with you. I think everybody's childhood music is their thing, unless you were born in the aughts. The two thousands were terrible. That was all like Britney Spears and boy bands, and, not very good music. Paris Hilton had a hit record in the two thousands. It was not a great, great time.
Stephanie: I challenge you though. Eddie Murphy had a hit record in the eighties.
Stephanie: So, there was junk no matter when you were, when you were a kid.
Stephanie: I feel like, there's a line from Princess Bride coming up in my head " Never go to war with a Sicilian when death is on the line." I feel like you never wanna talk music when you're talking to a DJ. I mean, that's, that's just bad news, right? I'm always gonna come out on the bottom on that one.
Mike: Unless you go current because yeah, I retired from music and radio about 10 years ago when I got married and and have been doing the public speaking and motivational and team building stuff. So, yeah, if you bring up, Dua Lipa or something, then I'm
Mike: I, appreciate it, but I I'm
Stephanie: I know of Lizzo because she was on Dave Letterman's show. It's that bad. Although I will admit here, because we're recording this in the middle of the summer, and we're talking about music that, at this time of year, my number one thing, hands down is Yacht Rock. And I will fight you.
Mike: Yeah, I'll do that. Toto, Styx, REO Speedwagon. I'm in for all of that. We play the Yacht Rock channel a lot.
Stephanie: Michael McDonald in every form.
Mike: Yeah, my friend and I used to have a, a game where we would sing any song as Michael McDonald And, it's hilarious. I don't even know if I can do it now. I'm gonna have to think about it.
Stephanie: If you come up with it just bust out with it.
Stephanie: You asked you asked me whether based on my conversations with other folks, whether it was an age thing or a culture thing, or I forget what the third dimension,
Mike: Or like a generational thing. thing. Like Gen-Xers. We've always kind of been rebels. I'm a Cusper, you might consider yourself an old millenial.
Stephanie: Oh no, no. I'm a little older than you, I'm full Gen-X. Brat Pack all the way.
Mike: I, I feel like, we've always been rebels and in things and kind of pushing the other way. So I do think there's a mix of all three. What do you think?
Stephanie: Based on the conversations I've had with folks, I'm putting lots of the pieces together. One of the things that, a friend of mine said, or that we sort of came up with while we were talking, was that the cultures and traditions of his parents' generation hadn't really fallen apart by the time he was coming up through his teens and twenties. So that even though his parents, want the best for him, and there's so many more opportunities than there were when they were kids. And, and I felt the same thing myself. When I was coming up, computers were brand new we had a TRS 80, the Radio Shack computer at my house in the eighties.
Mike: Yeah. I had an Apple II c my mom won in a radio station contest.
Stephanie: The point is that no matter how old you are, whether you're 30, 40, 50, it's like the generation above you, the parents' generation, wants the best for you, and yet they're holding you to the standards of their generation. In the last 20, 30 years, things are changing faster and faster so it's difficult. I think for an adult generation to look at their kids and certainly want the best, but maybe not understand some of the opportunities or some of the things. Can you imagine now having a 20 old come to you and say, "I wanna be a content creator," you know, most parents, what are you doing? And just like you said, at the beginning, you've said, I don't wanna learn tikTok. I'm the exact same way. I don't wanna learn TikTok. I'm barely hanging on with Instagram. So, and if I could go back to Tom in Myspace, I would as well. Maybe we should, it's still there. Maybe we should just go, let everyone follow us.
Mike: I know, well, they should like market that to Gen-Xers, because I really did feel like that was when, I could do social media. I didn't like Facebook when it came out,
Mike: I think, of that. I was a web designer and I've said I've done a lot of things. I've never had less than two jobs for my whole adult life. So, when I was on the radio, I was also making websites. And when I was DJ'ing doing karaoke shows, I was also a sales trainer. I host game shows. I do sales training. I feel like Myspace, you had like your top eight friends and you could design your whole page so you could put bling on it, and as a web designer, I had like the coolest Myspace page and Facebook was all dumb and just white and blue, and it didn't make any sense. So I was already kind of fighting it then, but now I feel like they keep splintering off little pieces of things it's very much like our content too. It's like, I don't want to susbcribe to Peacock and Disney Plus and Paramount Plus I don't need eight channels. Just give me one package and one subscritpion.
Mike: I feel like social media is that way, too. It's like, you need Twitter and TikTok and Instagram for your photos and Facebook for your relatives and, LinkedIn for business and it's just it's way too much work. It was much easier when there was one.
Stephanie: I liked Facebook a lot when I first got on it, which was in I don't know, '06, '07, '08, something like that. But I think that the algorithm has become so perverted now that you can't do what you actually want to do on it, you can't see things.
Mike: It's on all of 'em. You can't actually see anything or connect with your own fans and family that follow you. They don't see any of your stuff and you don't see any of theirs unless you pay Facebook to promote it, which is dumb.
Stephanie: Right, Yeah. Yeah. So it's interesting. At some point I wonder if this is all gonna crumble.
Mike: One of the things I'm trying to do with Playful Humans is I think we're gonna have to build our own communities that are sort of open sourced and you can set the rules however you want, because there's something to be said for curation and that Google searches all the websites that exist in the world and they show you the top 10 or these days they show you two, and eight of their promoted results. But they show you the kind of top things that that are out there. There's something to be said for that algorithm, because it is doing some work of curating that you're not. But I think there's also to be something said for private communities of local groups, where we used to gather at city or at, at the church, or, know, in concerts and experience something together and it wasn't curated that you were discovering new stuff outside of, your current connections and your current knowledge base. I do think people still yearn for that, they want to explore, and they need that diversity of thought and people and connections.
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, that's interesting. This is definitely the age of private communities sort of burgeoning and, popping up all over and around different topics and interest areas. You can go find people who are interested in things that you're interested in. I wanna talk a little bit about midlife crisis. Do you feel like you experienced anything like a midlife crisis between your late thirties and your early forties?
Mike: Yeah, I think for me, it was a little bit of the kidney stone, it was a little bit of the 40 year old birthday and it was a little bit of the, well, a lot of, bit of the pandemic, as well because I'm an outgoing person and I always
Mike: love to do public speaking and those events went away and, networking functions and even fun things that we would do with friends getting together, that was kind of the final nail on the coffin for me, but even pre-pandemic. I was starting to get the idea that this isn't working. And I, when I say this, I try not to brag or act like I know it all or anything, but I always tell people I didn't climb the entire corporate ladder, but I got high enough to see that all there really is, is more ladder, and that ladder's not leaning against anything. There's nothing interesting up there. Not that there's anything really wrong with it, if you like the continuous pursuit and stress of trying to earn more and make more and get more power and, and move up. If you wanna do that, there is enough for you for the rest of your life. I mean, look at these guys like Bezos and Musk and Gates. We have billionaire fights now where they're all trying to have more power and make more money than the other person. And, you know, Trump and some Mexican millionaire, I think, were fighting over ranking in Forbes of how many billions and hundreds of billions they have. That's always gonna be there, but for me, that's never really what it's been about.
Mike: Ever since I was a kid, I was really into sports and played a lot of competitive sports I feel like it's a little bit different that way, because there was an end to it, you know, the season's over you won,or you lost, or the game's over, you won,or you lost. And so that competing was fun because it stopped. Once I became, an adult out in the real world, and I think a lot of people struggle with that as you know, you're getting grades all the way through school and then guess what? There's no more grades. There's no more final exam. There's no summer break. You just have to do this for the rest of your life that I started reevaluating. Well, what would be sustainable then? I can't just in sprints and burn myself out forever. I can't just keep going for more. That sounds dumb, when am I gonna be happy?
Mike: Then I found this play research and all of the cool stuff I've been doing with Playful Humans and it was like a light bulb went off because I've always been playful, I was calling myself a creative nerd. I like to geek out on things. I like to hang out with other people. I like to make stuff and, perform and it's like, oh, okay, well that was always sustainable to me. Playing with your friends in the backyard or at the pool, or, you know, pick up games of sports or even, you know, board games with your family and stuff, that is something that is sustainable. It's like an infinite game. James Carse and, other Simon Sinek, recently wrote a book about it as well. That it's a different type of game, it's something that's more sustainable, it gives me energy I'm not gonna burn out doing that. If I focus on enjoying my life, my family, making a bunch of connections, creating more than I consume in media, I'm really gonna be able to enjoy at least my life in the way that that I wanna live it.
Stephanie: And when did that start bubbling up for you? When did those things start coalescing for you?
Mike: It's tough to say, I think there was some career stuff that happened for me. I think marriage also had, something to do with it. And then also as you get older, just the longevity of your career. I changed high school two years in, in college I switched two years in, took a gap year and, switched. And in radio, there's a lot of turmoil like there were seven different stations I worked for in seven years, got different paychecks from stuff, even if I was on the same channel, the channel changed. So I kind of been in my sales job for years. It's been 11 now in the sales training job. I've been married for 11 now as well, where it kind of gets to like, well, we did the sprint and I think it's kind of that checklist too, where, okay, you want get a job, have a career, you want to get married, my wife and I, because our health issues decided not to have children. So children weren't there. We got the, the house and then it's like, well, what's the next thing on the list? A retirement 25 years from now? There's not anything more here in what everybody else said is the checklist. I've moved up, I've done this, and I don't wanna just hit repeat for another 25 years, and I think that was really the catalyst for me of, "Oh, I can shake this up and I can design this life however I wanted. maybe what people say is best is what's in the best interest for them." Have you ever looked into this, Stephanie? Retirement was created in Nazi Germany around 1900. Those are who we should be modeling, right?
Mike: But the average life expectancy in Germany at the time was 67. So they set the retirement age at 65. That would be like us setting it at like 98. Yeah, anybody that's 98 should probably stop working, just take care of themselves. And in their communist/socialist culture, they wanted to change over and get younger people working. And they needed to create more jobs and stuff. So it kind of made sense then, but in 2022, maybe not so much. The second thing that happened was, corporations in America and capitalism figured out about this. And in the 19 hundreds, we were an industrial economy. We needed people to be machines because we didn't have robots and computers. So we needed somebody to sit in the Ford plant and do the same thing over and over again. And they figured out, well, they can do that for about eight hours a day before they burn out and, start making mistakes. And it cost the company money. So they created three, eight hour shifts. And, that's how the eight hour workday came in. And then we created schools around the same time and schools were training people to work factory jobs, to be robots. So they wanna know that you can follow instructions, that you can check A, B and C that you can, fill out your TPS report. Not that you can be happy in anything that you're doing and that all kind of got co-opted by capitalism and they were like, oh, well, if we sell this dream, we can get people to buy more, we know people aren't gonna save for their retirement anyway.
Mike: So we're basically putting this dream out there that people are never gonna reach. Just to keep them on this gerbil wheel of moving and consuming and spending and working for the capitalist system. I'm not anti-American or anti-capitalism but I think you have to think about lifestyle design. I'm big in small business. And I mentioned, I've always had two jobs so that I'm never dependent on one and I don't have to get all my needs met in one. I diversify my security. If I get fired from one, I just do more of the other, and I can kind of only lose, you know, 40 to 60% of my income at any given time, even in the pandemic. So for me, all of that stuff came together to just say like, there's probably a better way. If we were gonna rebuild, at least for me, what my life and career looks like in 2022, I would make different decisions than what our culture set out as the ideal in the 1950s, you know, with the white picket fence and the, Brady Bunch family.
Stephanie: I think you nailed it with a word there, you said life design. I think for a lot of people, they don't know that that's a thing they can do. They don't know that's available to them. They just get on the moving walkway and just keep following and it's, it's easier to just follow the path. It takes less thought, it takes less courage, not none, but, for those of us who have stepped off the moving walkway and built our own lives, designed our own lives, it's, it's a lot of work. There's a whole different level of attention and focus and planning and strategy that you have to do that you don't have to do if you're just working for the man.
Mike: Yeah. But most of that I think is propaganda for lack of a better word for the corporate culture. Like everybody says, "Oh, well having a job and a salary is more secure than being an entrepreneur," but how did that work out for people in the pandemic? The people that own the businesses, aren't gonna lose money. So guess what? The people on salary are the ones that are gonna lose it. So the entrepreneurs had security in the pandemic and people with jobs didn't.
Mike: That was to me when things got real and they got sped up. You find out what people really value or who's really set and who is not. people that can make it four to six weeks without income, and those that can't. And I think everything exactly what you said about lifestyle design, does take guts and courage, but I think it's really more about questioning your own beliefs first. That is it really true what people have told us. And, you know, I think we're doing that a lot in our culture now, which is cool. Is we be driving all the time? Do we need two cars? Is using gas and oil and all this plastic and disposable stuff a good call? Is living in big urban environments with no greenery a good idea, or should we kind of design things to be more healthy. I think as we reevaluate those more and more people are deciding, you know, what? The opposite would actually be better. That if you take gap years, when you're young and you go and explore and you find yourself and you travel the world, you find out what you like and what you want to do for the rest of your life. And if you treat your twenties like your retirement, and maybe you have to work in your seventies, guess when you need to work and you need a reason to get out of bed? In your seventies and eighties, you should be working. You should be trying keep your mind active and exercising that and moving your body and giving yourself, know, reasons to, to work out and move and get outta the house. Maybe that's right and maybe we could play the whole time and have fun and not sacrifice and grind and hope that it pays off someday. Well, why don't we enjoy now? And later, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It can be both.
Stephanie: As you're explaining this I'm thinking of people waking up. Waking up from the dream that's been sold or, shot into our veins or whatever, and, realizing that there, there is another way. And although it's a little scary, it's not quite as scary as maybe they told you, whoever they are,
Mike: Yeah! I have two examples of that. And I think the radio job was really a great example for me. I always kind of pictured that as like performance, like being a rockstar or professional athlete or something else. I was like, oh, that's one of those dream jobs, obviously it's really hard to get, only a few people are in radio in the whole city or whatever. And I found out a couple of things about that. One is it's not really hard, 'cause most people have the same thought and they don't even try. So, just by me trying and going for it, I got a job very quickly, doing what I wanted to do. Second thing
Mike: yep. I realized is that those dream jobs are not always dream jobs either, that working in radio was working for a large corporation. So two funny things about that. Number one is when I was a kid, I was really gifted at computers. I mentioned the websites and stuff, and I was like, well, I don't wanna be a nerd and sit in a room by myself behind a computer all day. I wanna be cool. I wanna be on the radio. And I get the job in radio and guess what it is- sitting in a room by yourself, behind a computer all day. You can tell the funniest joke you've ever heard and nobody laughs, because they're all out in their own cars and offices and homes. And I was like, oh, well this
Mike: of what I thought being in radio was, was not the real thing. But now I have two podcasts and I can make a job that is the real thing. I learned that performing on stage is what I really liked in that. But I think the big lesson for everybody is: one it's not as hard as people think. I think people like to sell it as hard so that you don't do it, that you take the safe job, you take the cubicle job and you stay there and they give you these golden handcuffs. Well if you leave, you're not gonna get these two weeks of vacation or you're not gonna get Friday nights off. So yeah, you can, as an entrepreneur, you can take unlimited vacation. You can work as much as you want and you can enjoy what you do and the results of it. I think the other side of that is the downsides aren't as down and the upsides of working for corporations and stuff are never as high as you think they are. So it's, it's tough if that's what makes you happy and you feel safe and you love that you got your suburban house and your stuff, then great. Keep doing that. That's your thing. But if you've always wanted to go try something, I always tell people to try, because you've amazed how a few people actually are taking any kind of interesting swings.
Stephanie: Right. And you can always try and decide it didn't work and go back.
Mike: Well, there's that too. And what I was gonna, say, I was trying to circle around a little bit and to where I was going to, which was, I think that people think that failure is a big deal and they're afraid to fail if they try something. But what I told my dad when he asked me about being in radio he is like, "Well, I heard they don't make a lot of money." And I go, "Well, not if you're not good." If you're, a shitty insurance agent, you don't make very good money either. If you're a bad employee for a corporation,
Mike: you don't move up and you don't make good money, you get fired and you get turned over and have to keep getting jobs. So what I always tell people is shoot to be a good one. Do good photographers make money, do good musicians make money? Do good whatever it is you wanna do, artists, or cartoonists or whatever make money? Well, yeah, top 1% in anything do well, the top 10% can make a living at it. So don't set your sights on being a starving artist. That's not a, that's not a good idea.
Stephanie: Right, that's not healthy. You have thought so much about this and so deeply about this. So now I want you to bring me into Playful Humans and tell me a little bit about the organization, because as you described it to me, you said you help people avoid midlife crises. And I want, I wanna hear about that.
Mike: That's a lot of what we've been talking about, but what I found in, my own kinda work there was that play and being in a playful state really is the answer to me of, how to find sustainable happiness and motivation in your life. So I don't know how far we wanna nerd out. You can ask me any follow up questions you want, Stephanie, but number one most people think it's carrot or stick, because that's what corporations and these type of unhealthy environments have trained us. That you either work hard for money and that's a dopamine thing that if you work hard you will get a reward in the future or have the cortisol human hormones and stress of "I have to survive. So I gotta panic and grind and I gotta make sure I don't end up in a van down by the river and I'm gonna work really hard for that."
Mike: But there's a third kind that people don't really talk about. This is like the love and it's called eustress. It's a healthy kind of stress and euphoria where people are happy for the present moment. When you think about when you've had a really great time with your family or friends and you're out having drinks and you're dancing or whatever, and you're just in that moment and it feels like flow and you're feeling good. You're not working for tomorrow and you're not out there dancing because somebody's gonna punish you if you don't, you're doing it because you are authentically in the present moment being you. And to me, that's what being in a playful state is and that's something that I wanna put as much of my life around as possible because your physical body will get tired of that. You know, if you're, like I said, you're out dancing with your friends, especially over 40, you know, your quads and hamstrings are gonna tell you when you're done.
Mike: But that's a rechargeable resource. You know, now it depends on how you did that. So maybe that's a, a bad example because most people are drinking and then the next day they have the hangover. But, if you were doing that in a healthy way, or if you were engaging your mind, if you're painting and drawing you're gonna be able to do that again. What causes burnout with people is they're using that dopamine forward, future looking stress to get really focused and grind, and really say like tomorrow it's gonna pay off, but we really don't even care about that reward. We celebrate that reward for like a microsecond compared to all the effort that we put in. And same thing with the punishment stress, it never goes away. So if you're worried about losing your job and that's why you're working hard, guess what, you're probably gonna worry about losing your job tomorrow. You never go, "Oh, I'm safe. I made it." And that's one of the things that I realized too, is there's no moment in your career where like, oh, I'm successful. I'm done. I guess I just get to quit, and you let go of that stress. If you keep holding onto it, it's just gonna keep burning you out and making you sick and, causing a lot of stress. But if you do things that are playful, that are fun for you, that you enjoy doing, that give you energy, you can keep doing that and you could be the best version of yourself for the rest of your life. It doesn't get old. You might find other things that you might prefer to do instead, but you can work in this healthy zone that doesn't lead to burnout. Does that make sense?
Stephanie: It does. Are you suggesting that bringing a playful mindset to a drone kind of job will improve it? Or are you suggesting that bust outta the drone job altogether in order to get to this place? This flow place you're talking about.
Mike: It can be a little bit of both. I'll give you two examples. One of the stories I love to tell is the parable of the Mexican fishermen. There was this American business person who was on vacation, who was watching this fisherman in Mexico work and the fishermen went out fishing in the morning. Then about 11 o'clock, sold off his haul, had lunch with his wife, played with his kids, took a siesta, you know, margaritas on the beach. And the business man's like, "You know what? I can really help this guy." And he was talking to him and he said, know, if you just fished also in the afternoon, went out a second time, you could double your haul. You could sell those. You could build up a boat, maybe hire another person. You could have this large company. In 10, 20 years, you could probably retire and do whatever you wanted." And the Mexican fisherman said, "Well, what would I do then?" He goes, "You could do whatever you wanted. You could have lunch with your wife, you know, drinks by the beach, play with your kids whenever you wanted..." And you go, oh! Idiot! Well, I can do that now without all of that stress. A lot of what we're doing is we're trying to get a nicer car to drive to a job and pay for a house that we're not even in, because we're at the job and we're creating this wheel of spiral of stuff. That's just causing more stress and we never actually enjoy it, be grateful for it, relax and sort of take a retirement attitude to one of those jobs that even if it's a boring job, just do the job, understand that people are not gonna fire you. The job market is safe. Like your job is safe. If you're gonna lose your job, it's probably cuz you were gonna lose it anyway. Because the owner made a mistake, but it has very little to do with your own personal performance. You can relax and just do your best work and you can choose to be healthy before and after work as well.
Mike: Second part of that, though, what you said of choosing a new job and being playful, I think is also the attitude that, that you take to it. So when you're stressed out, your body focuses in on one right answer to survive. So it it's the way our brains work and the way our bodies work, right? If there's the saber tooth tiger there, it's like we better pick one thing, tense up and get the heck outta here. We don't have time to be creative and think about how to trap the tiger or whatever. Like we're just gonna go. That's the place most people operate from in whatever their job is. But if you're in a playful state, and it's been proven that if you go outside and walk around, your whole visual field moves, right? The, trees go past you, houses go past you, and you're using your peripheral vision.
Mike: If you're locked in and focused on your computer and a micro thing, it's just the center of your vision, your brain works the same way. When you're playful and you're let go of all that stress, you can come up with creative solutions around problems, but the research, this is my favorite stat, 97% of people when faced with the challenge, they do one of two things: more of what they were currently doing or less of what they were currently doing. Only 3% of people can be in a head space and relaxed enough to try something different. So if you think about that, you're like, oh, I have a problem, I either work harder and faster and see if I can break through the wall or I go, this isn't working and I do less of what I'm doing and I start to give up. But when you're in a playful state, you can be creative. You go, oh, what if I change the rules? What if I stop doing this? What if I did something fun on my lunch break instead of, you know, staying at the office and eating at my desk and trying to catch up on email. You start creating more interesting solutions to problems.
Stephanie: Yeah. That's interesting, it's reminding me a lot of several of the people I've talked to, not necessarily applied to their work, but applied to their whole life of starting to do things differently. Starting to, again, wake up to a new way of thinking, a new way of doing, and that those small changes end up snowballing into much larger changes. It's interesting, you're applying it specifically to a work environment, but it's resonating with me from a lot of the folks I've talked to that's a lot about transition around that between 35 and 45, as people start questioning authority and and questioning the path and the bill of goods they've been sold and the the right way to do things. and you know, all of those things as you question those, you open up many other possibilities.
Mike: Yeah. Two things came to mind for me there. Number one is there's a lot of things the philosopher Allen Watts called it a backwards law like the more you try to do something, the less likely it is to happen. So the more you try to make somebody fall in love with you, the less likely it is to happen. You end up looking desperate, right? The more you try to fall asleep or go pee, the less likely it is to happen. You start creating the stage fright and anxiety and stress that makes it not happen. Well, your life, your marriage, your relationships with your family, all of those, are very similar things. We all think that the more effort, the more data we have or the harder we work at it, progress will come. But almost everything that I found, the more I look at it, and the more I wake up, like you said, I realize that this Pareto Principle, this 80/20 rule applies that there's 20% of stuff that actually matters and if I get that right, the other 80% of stuff doesn't, and there's 20% of the work that I'm putting into my relationship or my job that really matters to people. And, sure, could I go from 80% score to maybe a 90% score? Yeah. I could get 10% better, but I would have to put in 10 times the amount of work, effort and stress to get there and the return on investment just isn't good. Once you start measuring something, you have to start measuring and controlling everything. Otherwise, there's something out of the blue that's gonna come and mess it all up anyway.
Stephanie: It's interesting, and I don't often admit this certainly not on a podcast, but, so here we go. My business is 15 years old this year. I love it and it's great and I've built it to suit me, but for a long time, I worked really hard at it. You know, sit and crank and, doesn't matter, just stay at your desk and keep, keep doing. And, it supported me and it supported my team and, that was great. About five years ago, I I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and have been struggling with chronic Lyme ever since. So now I'm actually not able to work as hard as I was previously. And again, this is one of the things I don't necessarily admit out loud, I hope none of my clients are listening, is that I actually don't think I've worked a full time schedule in several years because I can't. I have to balance with my health because if I push too hard on the business, I'll crash my health and then I won't be able to work at all. But once I started getting a little bit better at the balance, started taking the pressure off of myself to just sit at my desk and crank, no matter what hour of the day it was or how many hours I had been there, my business actually started blossoming. And, you know, we've had better years the last five years than in any of the 10 before and multiple combined. So it's interesting, right? As soon as I took my foot off the gas and let myself breathe and stopped, you know, with my overachiever, buckle down-ness, as I let some of that go because I had to, it's awful to have to learn those lessons by being sick, but it's a lesson I won't, when I regain, full vitality, I won't go back to nailing myself to my desk for 40 hours a week because I don't think it's done me any favors.
Mike: No. You're absolutely right. And, and what I was just gonna tell you is don't feel guilty about that at all, because it's really, I think one, it's a badge of honor of being a successful entrepreneur. If you have to spend 80 hours a week in your job, you're not a very good manager, or a very good business person that you can't turn a profit and leave the office on Friday. That to me should not be the badge of honor. And scientific research has been done now, it's not helpful. So if you work more than 40 hours a week, for more than six weeks in a row, you actually slow down so much and burn yourself out so much you produce less than if you had just worked 40 hours a week the whole time. So what you're experiencing there, and, like we mentioned earlier, these eight hour days were designed by how long people could stand in a factory, and most of our jobs are not that anymore. So I do webinars all the time. There's a thousand people on a one hour webinar next Tuesday that are registered. I can make a bigger impact in that one hour then I can for eight hours of answering emails. So why wouldn't I just focus on that and make a much bigger impact for my community?
Mike: We're setting up an event for Sandler here in September, that's got 10,000 people coming to it. Well, does my boss care if I put in 40 hours that week or does he care that I made these five hours with 10,000 people as impactful as possible, right? You just gotta start start doing those maths.. And and then I think we do need to change our culture to celebrate that. I'm a big fan of like the Tim Ferris four hour work week, and I know he works way more than four hours and I do too, but man, I would rather celebrate that I supported my family and I did what I wanted to do and then I went and had fun with the rest of my life than I sat at my desk for 40 hours.
Stephanie: Yeah. And with my team I own a marketing agency, each of us are creative brains, in creative disciplines, and that's not factory work. My content writer will put a note in in our team chat and say, "My brain's done today. I can't write any more." And there's nothing I can say or do, or whip him to get more content out of him. And frankly, it'll be worse quality. So the thing that since the very beginning been really, you know, strong about with my team is, you know, it's a small, it's a small company, the benefits aren't great. But one of the things I give you is flexibility. Work when you want. Work, how you want. I have a one teammate who's at her desk by five or six in the morning. I don't show up till 11, as long as we have some overlap in the middle of the day so we can sort of bat things back and forth. She's gone by two and I'm here till six or seven. It's great. Some of my team likes to work on the weekends. That's great. Don't come anywhere near me. But on Monday, there's a bunch of stuff waiting for me. So, you know, that I do think has been part of our success is just allowing some of that humanity to be a factor in the business.
Mike: I'll give you one more thing here that I found on the play research that goes to all of that. When you take a more playful attitude, when you set up your work or your life in a way that is not based on stress, but it's based on play and a playful approach to things, five things happen that are amazing that add to your results, that work better than the grinding and the hard work. Number one is connections. People wanna be around you if you're playful and you're smiling and you have better relationships with your team, which means that creates a better culture. So number two is culture where people wanna be a part of it and attracts more people to it. So you have better individual communication. You also have a better group dynamic that creates synergistic results. Number three is creativity. Like you said with the copywriter is when you're stressed you can't think creatively. It's biologically impossible for your brain to do. So more creative results, usually in innovation, usually lead to better results than other things. The next one is, confidence. When you work without stress and you believe in what you're doing and work in your authentic strengths, you're more confident in it. And here's the funny one, it's another one of those backwards laws that you don't actually gain confidence from being successful. You gain confidence from being able to fail and then overcome that. So if you're, driving your team and micromanaging and saying failure is not an option. Well, then your team has no confidence in what they're doing. When they can take big swings and know that you're gonna support 'em anyway, you're gonna get bigger swings. You're gonna get home runs out of that. And that's huge. And then the last one is physical conditioning. We've mentioned it a couple of times already but if you're stressed out, you're gonna burn out, you're gonna get weaker over time, you're gonna use up people and you're gonna have higher turnover.
Mike: When it's playful, when it's fun, when it's creative, people are healthier, their turnover goes down, their absenteeism goes down, they get stronger, they get more mentally fit because they're trying more difficult things. And all of these add up to massive results. Not just a little bit. I think when people measure, and I see a lot of stuff in the startup culture that's like 1% better every day. If you're grinding and trying to do that what you're missing are the things that are the 30% better. Sales people that are playful sell 33% more than people that don't. Customer service and cultures that are more playful have two and a half times greater net promoter scores than their competitors. Companies that have great cultures and engaged workforces perform like 200% better on their overall profits than companies that don't. So it's amazing to me that we still in our culture say like, "Oh, you gotta stress, grind and everybody's gotta work hard to be successful," because it's just not true.
Stephanie: I. mean, unless you're trying to create a unicorn, which, you know, some people are, and that's great, but I know I'm not.
Mike: You wanna keep scaling and and do something on that level then okay. Maybe. But I I'd still argue most of them start playful and then they become serious over time or they get so big that they have to start measuring. I wonder what their results would be if they didn't. Even places like Disney who were super creative and that's how they got their start and became famous, they still try to keep a playful workforce, but I wonder if they really did what it would look like. That they could have been there 10 years faster.
Stephanie: Yeah. It's true. Mike, this has been such a great conversation and really so different than most of my others, which is interesting to me. We've talked a lot about business and work environments and professional life than we have about personal life and I love that we're sort of peeling another piece of the onion and showing another side of midlife and what that looks like and what the possibilities possibilities are.
Mike: Yeah. And I think all of it is the same in the personal life. For me they're not separate. If I'm unhappy at work, it's gonna affect my personal life. If I'm unhappy in my personal life, it's gonna affect my work. But you know, who doesn't wanna playful spouse or somebody that's keeping things creative there as well. And I think all the same things, apply there. That when you're more playful, you smile more, which means you're ranked more physically attractive people that are more playful have more sex. They're more physically fit because they're moving their bodies and they stave off Alzheimer's and stuff that you start to worry about as you get older. So, all kinds of cool stuff there, but I love that we got into it and it was, fun hanging out with you.
Stephanie: Yeah, likewise. Tell me where people can find you.
Mike: Playful Humans.com is the best place to go check it out. There's a quiz where you can find out what type of playful personality you have. It doesn't have to be like a bow tie, standup comedian, clown. You might be somebody who likes puzzles. You might somebody who likes the outdoors. You might be somebody who likes sports and moving, or, producing and creating parties and being the host or hostess for somebody else, but go find out at playfulhumans.com/quiz. And that's also a podcast. So wherever you're listening to this podcast or on YouTube, check out Playful Humans as well. I interview people who play for a living, and that could be anything from a creative and a visual effects artist for movies, or could be a magician or mentalist. I interviewed Justin Guarini from American Idol and for us over 40 DC from Tag Team and his "Scoop There It Is" commercial. we had a great time talking about that.
Stephanie: That's hysterical. I love it. Mike, thank you so much. And, I actually, I'm gonna go take the quiz and see what kind of Playful Human I am.
Mike: I love it, thank you so much for having me. MC Loughlin getting it done.
Stephanie: okay. Wait, wait, wait. my DJ name would be MC Laugh Lines, L a U G H l I n E S MC laugh lines in the house.
Mike: That's so funny. I was going to change my Twitter handle to Baldi Lama, as instead of Dalai Lama.
Stephanie: That's excellent. I think you should. Um, alright Mike. Hey, have a great weekend.
Mike: I will do that. Thank you. so much for, having me, it was great, conversation.