When I reference the word “play” it conjures up images of children running through water sprinklers, and making paper arts only they can explain. As children we did all sorts of fun things, not because we really knew what we were doing…not even because we were trying to master something, but simply because they were fun.
Adulthood has a way of taking play and making it a bad thing. It doesn’t sound productive and useful in the working world, does it? Yet even as adults, play is a vital part of expressing meaning and purpose, and who we are under the façade of “professional accountant” (or whatever your profession is).
In Alan Watts’ book The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are he unpacks the word person, which comes from the Latin persona “which was originally the mega-phone mouthed mask used by actors in the open-air theatres of Greece and Rome, the mask through (per) which sound (sonus) came.” I find it fascinating that what we put on display publicly is a version of ourselves, designed to help us each get through our days as successfully as possible (whatever “success” looks like for you). In contrast, during play we are often our true, creative, silly, open, wonderful selves that allow us access to heartfelt expression of connection (or re-connection) to our real selves. When was the last time you laughed so hard you hiccuped? When was the last time you did something preposterous at work? Audacious? How about just plain fun?
We need play in our lives, both at home and at work. In Western society we’ve taken play and made it un-fun (“I have to do 30 minutes on the treadmill each day…”). Truth is, without play we lose access to the benefits of all our hard work, and, when we are not trying new things, being audacious or willing to be a “beginner” again, we are also losing relevance. To our work and to those around us. Play is a way to connect with those we love and those we respect, and to stay in touch with our deepest most innovative and resourceful selves. These are the vital ingredients to being effective in our careers and work.
So, carve out some time to do that thing you’ve been wanting to indulge in your work; it may go nowhere, but if it was fun it’s still a win. Go on, you know your inner child is begging you to.
“May all beings learn how to nourish themselves with joy each day”
My first paid job was looking after my siblings. Then other people’s kids, then working in a restaurant, a care home, a grocery store, a call center for the alumni association at my university. My first “career” job was in a loft office in Winnipeg in the newly renovated Exchange District where I felt I had really “made it”, getting paid for the work I wanted to do and was in-line with my post-secondary education.
My path is typical; we take on our first paid jobs because we are offered them. We take on the second phase of paid work because of a need for more income. We take on the third set because it matches our career identification. We take on the fourth set because by mid-career we have choice about what we do in our profession and where we do it. Hopefully by the mid-career point everyone has had an opportunity to contribute to work they love in an environment that makes them feel comfortable, appreciated and offers still more opportunity to grow and evolve.
But the path to get to phase four (mid-career) can create some interesting patterns; striving to be “good” at what we do (using others as our “measuring stick”), or becoming “perfect” at our work. Trying to please others. Making decisions based on a fear of losing respect, or our job. Seeking to fit in and belong. All of these are things we do as a way of learning how to work in environments where we have needs, and making our needs compatible with an organization (and other people) who have their own needs. But it also creates an environment where along the way we may lose connection to ourselves and meaning in our work.
Check in, why do you do this work you do? With what purpose do you get out of bed every morning to provide your expertise and knowledge? If you have an identified purpose in doing it, how does serving that purpose provide meaning in your life? These are the essential questions we should all be asking ourselves (and answering). Human beings have an organizing principle, our lives center around our purpose; without purpose we lose connection to meaning, and ultimately to ourselves. This means you could be in the right place, doing the right work for the right organization, and not be able to feel it, receiving no satisfaction or happiness for your labour. Or, you could be pushing yourself to adapt to kinds of work (and a working environment) that is unhealthy for you. These scenarios have an unsustainable impact on your well-being.
Our work and lives are also constantly evolving. What gave you meaning and purpose at one phase in your career, will not provide the same benefits in another. I remember the feeling of self-actualization I got from working in a role where I received business cards. That was a big deal (you know, back in my 20’s). Today my career stands on a stack of business cards that come and go with the evolving nature of my career and profession. The only constant is change, and as our lives change (we marry, have kids, buy property, move, etc.) our needs change, and with that changes to what will give us meaning and purpose. This is not a “set and forget” but a call to keep connecting to what is meaningful for us as individuals; celebrating it when we have it, and committing to finding it when it is lost.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discover why.” ~ Unknown
“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discover why.”
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.