Go forth and be positive.
Go forth and be positive. (Illustration: Brendan Leonard)
Semi-Rad

Make 2023 the Year of Maximum Enthusiasm

If not now, when?

Go forth and be positive.
Image

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Some history and context: I first published this essay in 2012, and every year that followed, right around New Year’s, I started to see people on social media re-sharing the original post. So I started re-publishing it every year, changing nothing except the year and the musical artist’s name. And people seem to appreciate it, so I’ve kept it up for several years now.

I have put a lot of thought into it, as it must be the most widely-read piece of work I’ve ever put out there, and it was now more than a decade ago. Sometimes I feel like Mariah Carey probably feels about her number one bestselling song of all time, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” which everyone in the U.S. has probably heard at least a hundred times since it first came out in 1994, and it continues to pop back up every holiday season, like a musical Pumpkin Spice Latte, or the McRib, or the UConn women’s basketball team.

You might think the person who wrote this piece is constantly whooping and high-fiving people when they’re out in the world. Sometimes I wonder if I should be doing those things, especially when I read this piece again. I am actually much more chill in person, despite my medically inappropriate consumption of coffee. But I do espouse the idea of Practicing Maximum Enthusiasm. I am generally trying to look for the bright side. And I’m happy for you when things you want to happen happen, even if I’m personally not that excited about new skate skis or adopting cats or whatever. I’m just happy you’re happy.

I’ve written a lot of words over the years, and sometimes I go back and read them and realize I don’t 100 percent believe something I wrote in 2015 anymore. But I’m still pretty OK with everything in this piece. Especially these two parts:

  • “People can disagree with things like quality, maybe your taste in food, or whether or not a movie is good. But no one can argue with enthusiasm.”
  • “Enthusiasm doesn’t have to stand up to criticism. It doesn’t even have to really make sense.”

I started printing shirts with the mantra “Practice Maximum Enthusiasm” on them a few years ago. Some people bought the shirts, and some people started selling knockoff t-shirts, which of course I am less enthusiastic about, but I try to not let it bug me. It’s a bummer, but it’s canceled out by this other thing that happened with the shirts: People started emailing me about wearing their Practice Maximum Enthusiasm shirt to cancer treatment, or to the ICU when they had loved ones getting treatment, or at the school where they teach.

I think a lot about what you want to happen with your art once it’s out in the world, and at first I think most of us just want to feel heard, or validated in some way—maybe get rich, or just a little rich, or a little fame. But as I get older, I have started to think the best thing is when you get to hear about your work helping other people connect in some way, or get through some shit. And we’re all kind of always trying to get through some shit. I don’t know what I hoped would happen with this piece when I typed it out in the final few days of 2011, but I’m grateful it seems to have helped a few people.

So here it is again. I hope it works for you this year.


One Saturday morning last October, my friend Greg and I were running down the North Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon, close to halfway through 26 miles of trail. We had run four miles and would run about four more to Phantom Ranch, where we could double-fist coffee and Lemmy lemonade at the cantina before climbing 4,400 vertical feet back up the South Rim to finish a hike/run Rim-to-Rim.

I turned around mid-stride and said:

“Hey Greg!”

“Yeah,” he said.

“We’re running in the Grand Canyon!”

Sometimes I get to do awesome things, and I kind of forget how awesome they are. Do you? I get stressed, caught up in other stuff, and I forget how fortunate I am, how incredible life has turned out to be most days, and some of the special places I’ve gotten to see. Most of the time, though, I try to keep a pretty good handle on it—try to remember to turn around and yell to my friend that yes, we are running across the most famous hole on Earth, and that’s pretty special. Or, you know, even reminding someone a few months later about something special:

Illustration of Brendan Leonard reminding his friend Tom of when they climbed cathedral peak: "That shit was SICK!"
(Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

Kurt Vonnegut, in a 2003 speech to students at the University of Wisconsin, said:

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

In 2023, I urge you to notice when something is awesome, as it often is, and exclaim or murmur or just make a mental note of it. Isn’t it just goddamn fantastic that you have your health, for example? Or running water, or electricity? Or that you have enough money to actually pay someone else to make you a cup of coffee? Or if you want ice cream, you are at any time in America probably only five or ten minutes away from a place that sells some form of it? (Trust me on that one.)

Your life, even the bad parts, is fucking amazing. And most of the small things that make up your life are amazing, too—mountain bike rides, rock climbs, ski runs, sunsets, stars, friends, people, girlfriends and boyfriends, dogs, songs, movies, jokes, smiles…hell, even that burrito you ate for lunch today was pretty phenomenal, wasn’t it?

What was your enthusiasm for these things last year? I recommend you step it up in 2023.

People can disagree with things like quality, maybe your taste in food, or whether or not a movie is good. But no one can argue with enthusiasm, especially when it is over the top.

Do you think that climb you just did is the greatest climb ever? Great! If someone tries to tell you it isn’t, who cares? “Greatest Rock Climb Ever” is not an objective title. Thusly, when you are excited about a climb (or a trail run or a summit view or a bike ride or a sunrise), don’t let anyone bring you down.

A conversation where someone puts down your favorite ski area/mountain/rock climb/trail/burrito is not a conversation about ski areas/mountains/rock climbs/trails/burritos. It is a conversation about that person being a pompous asshole. Go forth and be positive in 2023.

Enthusiasm doesn’t have to stand up to criticism. It doesn’t even have to really make sense. If you finish a ski run, MTB trail, or sport climbing route, and you love it, I encourage you to try out new superlatives when describing it to someone else. This goes for everything you’re excited about. Examples:

  • “I’m just going to tell you now that Outer Space is the most incredible rock climb you will ever do. You cannot not smile while climbing it. It’s like the Beatles. Even if you for some ridiculous reason don’t enjoy it, you can’t deny its inherent goodness.”
  • “Have you heard the new Charley Crockett album? It will knock you on your ass!”
  • “The Eggplant Parmesan sub at Pasquini’s is probably my favorite sandwich in the entire city of Denver, if not the state of Colorado. In fact, now that I’ve said that, I think we should go to Pasquini’s immediately.”

Maybe some of the stuff you love, that you’re passionate about, isn’t cool. Hey, this is 2023. Everything is cool. Irony is either everything, or dead. Be honest: When you see someone wearing a Motley Crüe t-shirt, you don’t know if they’re serious, or wearing it to be ironic, do you? Do you like Motley Crüe? Then ROCK THAT SHIT. And spread happiness.

Remember it is not illegal to high-five anyone. Do you use exclamation points in the salutations of your e-mails? Well, why not?

Do you like to laugh? Most people do, don’t they? Including baristas, waitstaff, and retail personnel. Perhaps you have at some point had a real conversation with one of these people. This can sometimes begin by sincerely asking those people how they are, instead of treating them like a machine that makes you coffee or orders your salad. This opens the door to making them laugh. If you play your cards right, you may be able to high-five them at the end of a conversation.

Remember yesterday, when you saw that one thing that reminded you of that one friend of yours, and you thought about how if you sent that friend a photo of the thing that reminded you of them, they would smile? But then you didn’t send your friend that photo, and it wasn’t awesome. Don’t do that again. Here’s what you do:

  • Take the photo.
  • Send it to your friend.
  • Your friend smiles. The world is a better place. Thanks.

You may have already made some New Year’s resolutions, to lose weight, to eat better, to read two books every month, whatever. How about making one more, to be just a little more awesome?

[NOTE: The shirt in the drawing is now a real shirt that you can buy and wear if you wish.]

Lead Illustration: Brendan Leonard

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