“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
As adults, we might view play as an indulgence, something to escape to or to manage stress. It certainly can be quite important, sprinkled throughout our days, weeks, and years.
But play can also be quite alive and powerful within work.
Toddlers put it on display. That vitality of play is obvious in their work of learning how to understand and build. There is a flow between self and world, a back and forth, an exploration.
Their play is alive, meaningful, and vibrant.
Play is crucial not only for the toddler but for adults as well. We can see it in the masters of any field, be they sculptor, athlete, or a coder. They certainly dedicate themselves to regular practice. But when we see that gentle and calm smile that shows up in even stressful settings, we know there is something good built into what they are doing.
Bringing play into our work is a practice. It’s not something we can simply do like we might have as a child.
The toddler has someone in the background creating the trusted conditions in which they can play.
Adults have responsibilities. As we learn to manage them, we can forget to bring play along with ourselves, despite it being a most wonderful method to grow meaningfully.
I remember my frustration with music years ago. I felt I’d analyzed everything I possibly could about music. Somehow what I was writing was still a boring mess. I could tell myself, “don’t think so hard,” but then I wouldn’t be myself.
Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery described finding a way to reach a sense of not having to need to sound good. For me, that phrase was an important key to unlocking that playful space. Since then, I’ve learned to listen to any tension within me as a signpost pointing the way to play. A whole new style of writing emerges whenever I find that space.
Maybe the same process exists in any field of work, even where play would seem hard to find. After all, the beginning of learning an instrument can seem quite remote from any form of play. But now I find it not only in music, but in speaking with clients, in time spent with family, and more.
As adults, we can build playgrounds for themselves, crafting them into the fiber of their days. We only need to practice.
If you’re interested in learning how play could ever be a part of work, even stressful work, consider Being Productive: Simple Steps to Calm Focus. If you already have a functional system, consider Workflow Mastery: Building from the Basics.