Work and Play Aren’t That Different. Really.

I wonder when life stopped being a game.

I wonder when I stopped playing.

I wonder if I could start again, somehow.

I was sitting at a friend’s orchestra performance. After a few rounds of clapping, I had become acutely aware of the red spots on my raw hands. “Why does that-freaking-conductor keep leaving the room and coming back in?” I wondered, irritated. Because seriously. My hands, guys. They don’t need to take this abuse.

As the applause died down for the fifth (sixth?) time, I clasped my hands and remembered the games I used to play as a kid.  My teeny-tiny hands perceived a round of applause as a call to competition. I would concentrate on being the loudest clap or, more frequently, the last clap–quietly tapping my hands together after everyone else had finished showing their appreciation, feeling a proud, silent victory when I was responsible for the last small sound from the audience.

That was the game.

Everything was a game back then.

I don’t want to be unreasonably nostalgic, but I think it’s a fair reflection. The line between fantasy and reality, which now feels so concrete, was blurred when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was from lack of experience, or dreamy imagination, or unrefined perception, or something else. But the line was blurred. We were self-centered, obnoxious, pushy…but we were also a lot of fun. The way we looked at the world was fun.

When I was small, I didn’t know much about life (hell, I still don’t), but I was pretty sure it was supposed to be fun.

“Play” is often considered frivolous recreation, the opposite of “Work.” But perhaps this isn’t totally true. Perhaps work and play are not mutually exclusive. A worldview that favours joy and laughter and a heavy dose of “don’t sweat the small stuff” sounds like a healthy move. A little less stress and a little more giggling and running around (endorphins, anyone?) has to be a good thing for your happiness and relationships. Challenging yourself in a joy-filled way sounds like a pretty good habit. And it’s certainly easier to see the world humbly and honestly when you aren’t busy taking yourself too seriously.

My favourite definition of play is this one:

Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving.

Translation? Play is basically how every cool innovation ever has ever happened. Toying with ideas. Playing around in the workshop, playing instruments, wordplay.

It’s pretty simple, really. Play is experimental, constructive, innovative, competitive. It can exercise your imagination, (pretend that there’s a monster after us!), your problem-solving skills (how do we hide from the monster?), and your ability to collaborate (let’s build a fort!). Games make you push yourself, and trick you into actually enjoying it.

And they make hands red from overclapping into a fun challenge, apparently.

I could learn from that. Maybe we all could.

In kid-land, we played house. We played school. We played dress-up. Now we just “do” those things, somehow forgetting that they used to be games. And forgetting that in many ways, they still are.

The stakes are higher, our awareness is (ever so slightly) stronger, but life is still full of games, just waiting for us to uncover them. We’re still allowed to play.

In fact, if we aren’t playing, maybe we’re doing it wrong.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

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On Work, Play, and Goin’ Professional

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. In some ways, I get it. I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.

– – –

I was sitting in the back seat with a friend.

It must have been 2005, I guess. I was young. She had just shared the new Black Eyed Peas album with me, and we disagreed on the quality of the song “My Humps.”

(Yeah, we were really hip to the important issues.)

I digress.
I digress.

This friend and I had become close through the local little kid theatre scene.  We had both been through summer camps, community productions, that kind of thing.  She declared that she was going to be an actress when she grew up.  I asked her why. She recited, “Because when you have a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”

And I was horrified.

Obviously, I couldn’t speak for her–but in that moment, I knew that my enjoyment of little kid theatre would be destroyed if it were forced upon me.  Even as a child, the things I did purely for capital-F Fun were precious. And so, instead of being nice and supportive, I argued back (which I’m sure was super annoying): “Wouldn’t turning it into work make it not Fun anymore, though? What would you do for Fun if you made that a job?”

I wasn’t suggesting that Work had to be unenjoyable–at least, I don’t think I was.  There were a lot of things I liked doing in a “potential career” way.  I signed books out of my little-kid  bookshelf, organized by author’s last name (not because I was organized–I wasn’t. I just wanted to be a librarian). I regularly turned the basement into a carnival, a stage, a restaurant–anything where I could charge admission. I painted rocks and sold them. I rocked the lemonade stand. At halloween, I even turned my parents’ bedroom into a “mall” and charged my brothers for space and hand-drawn business cards.  

This, to me, was what “work” would look like someday. I created something, or did something. It helped or entertained someone, who then decided it was worth signing up for. If I was lucky, they might even decide it’s worth paying for.

I loved it. But the idea of those considerations tainting something I did purely for Fun was terrifying.

ForShaunaColour

– – –

The idea of being forced to do my little hobbies for hours and hours every day is not a comfortable one–it wasn’t comfortable in 2005, and it isn’t now. Work means being accountable to other people. It means meeting quotas, training, building, attaining results, providing something to someone. And it means doing all that OR ELSE.

With some things, that would excite me–but with others, it would be draining.  I love doing puzzles in my spare time, but I would be miserable if you made me jigsaw through my 9 to 5. I like playing guitar, watching sports, scrapbooking, cooking new food–but I also like that those things are not obligitory. That they ultimately belong to me, just me.

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. And I get it, I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.  Instead, I ask this one:

What would you enjoy doing even if you were getting paid for it? Even if you had to. What would you love even if it became a Job?

Work-style accountability can take the enjoyment out of a light hobby or interest.  It’s why readers often resent the books English teachers assign.  Or why people edit Wikipedia…while procrastinating from writing a report. It’s what makes some students realize that  they really picked the wrong major, because being interested in something and wanting to do it full-time are two very different things.

Work-style accountability is not totally unmotivating in and of itself.  It’s just different. It changes the reason you do something, the way you do it. If you’re truly passionate about something in a Work way, it can be incredibly rewarding and awesome to go professional. I think everyone has something (maybe a whole lot of somethings) that they would enjoy even if they were getting paid.

Even if they had to show up.

Even if they had quotas to fill, and people to please.

Even if it became a Job.

Right now, we just have to figure out what that is.