We humans

What would you do if you could play hooky for a day?

Mar 19, 2019 /

This 4-question quiz can help you identify the specific things that could make you happier right now, says writer Sam Horn. Just pick up a pen and paper.

I had just wrapped up an intense two-day consulting job in Southern California. I was sitting in my rental car, trying to drum up the energy to drive to the airport and fly back to Washington, DC.

My phone rang. It was my grown son, Andrew, who was helping me with my business. He must have sensed something in my voice, because he asked, “Whazzup, Mom?”

“Andrew, I’m so exhausted,” I said. “I don’t even know how I’m going to get on the plane. I’ve got to take a red-eye and then turn around in a couple days and fly back to the West Coast.”

He replied, “Mom, there’s something about you I don’t understand. You’ve created a life where you can do anything you want, and you’re not taking advantage of it.”

He didn’t stop there. He said, “Why don’t you stay there the next few days? I’ll book you a hotel, and you can handle your business from there.”

An hour later, I was falling asleep in a hotel in Laguna Beach to the sounds of the ocean. Bliss.

The next day I followed another piece of Andrew’s advice. He’d said, “Mom, you’ve been working so hard, you deserve a break. Why don’t you play hooky for a day? I’ve got this.”

As a single mom and small business owner, I’d been going nonstop for decades. The thought of waking up when I wanted and not having appointments all day made me feel like a little kid. After waking up, I dawdled over coffee and then headed into town to explore. I was drawn like a magnet to a bookstore, where I gravitated to the writers’ section and started thumbing through old favorites by Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron. As I did, a voice welled up in me: “I am a writer. That’s who I am.”

The voice was as real as if someone were speaking to me. It was the author I’d buried in busyness, the author who spent most of her time consulting, the author who’d had no time to work on a new book for two years. Please understand; I’m grateful for my career. I do work that I love with people I enjoy and respect, and I get paid for it.

Still, what this day of hooky was bringing up was that I had set aside my passion. I spent most of my time helping others get their work out in the world — instead of getting my own work out in the world.

What would you do if you could play hooky?

What is it that, when you’re doing it, you don’t want to be doing anything else? How long has it been since you’ve had time to do that? If you could play hooky for a day — and there would be no repercussions and your responsibilities would be taken care of — what would you do?

What you do on your day of hooky doesn’t have to be grandiose. It’s your day. You get to do exactly what you want without apologies or “shoulds.” It can be a bucket list of things you’ve been putting off … or an all-day nap. You have complete freedom to do what’s been calling you. But for many of us — who are preoccupied or stressed or just focused on all the stuff of day-to-day life — it’s hard to know what that even is.

This four-square quiz can help. It takes only a few minutes and can help you identify specific things that could make you happier — right now, not someday.

Here’s how to take it. Have you ever played a word-association game in which someone asks a question, and you’re supposed to say the first thing that comes to mind? That’s what you want to do here.

Please draw the above grid on a piece of paper (or make a grid in a “notes” app on your phone). Write down whatever pops into your mind in response to the following questions, even if it’s not “nice.” No one needs to see this unless you want them to. If you tell the truth and nothing but the truth, this quiz can clarify what’s not working in your life and what you would rather do, so you can start making positive changes.

Square 1. “What are you doing in your life that you want to do?” Walking your dog? Reading? Running your own business? Having date nights with your spouse?

Square 2. “What are you not doing in your life that you want to do?” Not losing weight? Not changing jobs? Not exercising? Not spending time with friends? Not having sex?

Square 3. “What are you doing in your life that you don’t want to do?” Commuting? Racking up credit-card debt? Fighting with a family member? Watching too much TV?

Square 4. “What are you not doing in your life that you don’t want to do?” Yes, this is a double negative — it’s an important question, though, because it identifies unhealthy behaviors you’re keeping out of your life. Maybe you used to smoke, don’t anymore, and you’re happy about that.

After you’ve finished, first look at your responses in Squares 1 and 4. That’s what’s right with your life. This is what is contributing to your happiness.

Next, look at the answers in Squares 2 and 3. That’s what’s wrong with your life. This is what is compromising your happiness. Please note: None of us is perfect, so we will always have responses in Squares 2 and 3.

Next , ask yourself: How long? How long have you been doing these things you don’t want to do? How long have you not been doing things you want to do?

“The mark of a successful organization isn’t whether it has problems; it’s whether it has the same problems it had last year,” US diplomat John Foster Dulles is believed to have said. The same is true of us. As humans, we’ll always have problems. The question is, are they the same problems we had last year and the year before that? If so, that’s a good indicator we’re living in someday land.

Our “someday”s lurk in Squares 2 and 3. These are priorities we’ve been telling ourselves that we’ll act on someday when we have more time, money, whatever. These are the regrets waiting to happen.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Sam, give me a break. I’m working 60 hours a week. I don’t have the luxury to act on the things in Squares 2 and 3.” I understand.

The good news is, you don’t need to change everything at once. That’s not realistic. If you take action on one thing in Square 2 or 3, it can set up a positive ripple effect that compensates for other aspects of your life that are not to your liking. What’s your one thing?

Guess what the most frequent answer in Square 3 is, in my experience? Social media. Specifically, spending too much time mindlessly scrolling Facebook, Instagram, Twitter …

One woman told me, “I read an article about tech addiction. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I have all the signs. It is pretty much what I do anytime I have spare time.”

I said, “Have you seen the research that says the more time we spend online, the more lonely, depressed and unhappy we are? I think social media is the catch-22 of happiness. Not only does the constant comparison to other people’s lives sabotage our self-esteem, it gobbles up hours we could be using for more meaningful activities. How do you plan to change this?”

She said, “That article suggested we have rules. No phone in the bedroom or during meals. Schedule two social media times a day and never as soon as we wake up or just before we go to bed. I’m going to hold myself accountable for changing this, because I already know that when I look back at my life, I will regret wasting so much time on something that won’t matter in the long run.”

I told her, “That is a perfect example of how one thing can positively impact everything. It can improve your relationship with your kids, your husband and your friends, because you’re giving them your full attention instead of checking your phone. It can free up time to journal or read a good book or get outside for a walk instead of spending hours staring at a little piece of plastic. It can reverse a mindless habit that adds no enduring value and can open up time for more uplifting activities.”

Now, what won’t you do on your day of hooky?

Did you ever see the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? In it, the lead character skips school with friends. He “borrows” a Ferrari and they cruise around Chicago, catching a Cubs game, dining at a fancy restaurant, and joining a parade. Their goal is to “carpe diem” — to seize the day and have the time of their life. Look at that phrase “have the time of their life.”

Are you having the time of your life — or are you wasting the time of your life? Are you seizing the day — or waiting for some day?

There is another insight from that movie worth noting. When Ferris’s friends ask, “What are we going to do with our day of hooky?” he smiles and says, “The question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is, what aren’t we going to do?”

When considering how to spend your day of hooky, it can be easier to start with what you aren’t going to do. Ferris didn’t want to waste a beautiful spring day inside at a desk. He wanted to have fun with his friends before they went their separate ways.

How about you? What are you not going to do on your day? You get to do exactly as you please, so use your imagination.

Are you thinking, “I’ve got so much going on, there’s no way I can take a day off.”

That’s what a woman named Jenelle told me. She said, “I’m taking a full load of courses and waitressing to pay my way through college. If I’m not in class, I’m studying or at the restaurant. I don’t have a free afternoon, much less a free day.” Understood.

If that’s the case with you, take a hooky hour. What would give you a well-deserved break from your have-tos?

It’s not selfish to carve out an hour to do something you enjoy; it can compensate for parts of your life you can’t control.

Excerpted with permission from the new book Someday is Not a Day in the Week: 10 Hacks to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life by Sam Horn. Published by St. Martin’s Press. Copyright © 2019 by Sam Horn.

Watch her TEDxBethesdaWomen talk here: