Many of us are trapped in a world of ‘do this for that’ – a mode when we believe that if we work hard enough we will achieve the elusive thing we are searching for. There is no denying that dedication, commitment, and intentional effort can bring us closer to the successes we seek. But maybe there’s another way, maybe there’s something missing.
Play is the engagement in an activity for the pure joy of the task itself. It is a place of wonder, curiosity, and creativity. Play has no expectations. Alan Watts, the 70’s philosopher, talked about life as a dance; the opportunity to lose ourselves in the moment rather than racing to the end, the best dancers being those who can be fully present in the music rather than those who get to the end quickest.
At its best play begins with joy, happiness, and a love of life. It is this foundation that brings so much of its richness. Starting from a place of abundance the engagement in any activity becomes an adventure. A chance to grow and discover more about ourselves and find the magic hidden deep within any task. Each new discovery a reward that provides the energy to keep exploring.
This is the very essence of the growth mindset that Carol Dweck describes. The joy found in the process of learning. A chance to just ‘be’ and embrace all that comes with it.
Yet our ability to play is being eroded. We seem to be losing the innocence and naivety of our playful minds. Instead, we replace the search for adventure with the search for achievement, chasing success over fulfilment. Rarely do we pause to examine how much of our time is spent in the pursuit of something outside of ourselves. The prevailing belief seems to be ‘I’ll be happy when….’, the idea that the next achievement is the one that will unlock all that we have been looking for.
Yet, just like Sisyphus pushing his ball uphill, the success we achieve isn’t quite what we hoped for, and we have to begin again. The horizon we seek being tantalisingly close, but always just out of reach.
Much of society is built on the idea that self-improvement is the essential ingredient that will take us closer to happiness. It is seductive, the pull of ambition, the opportunity to achieve, to progress to the next level. Yet, if we look at it more closely, we can see that it is the cause of much of our frustration and dissatisfaction, the underlying message being that we are not good enough as we are.
Work replaces play. ‘Doing’ becomes more important than ‘being’. In this definition ‘work’ is much more than our 9-to-5, ‘work’ is anything we do that is rooted in scarcity, chasing something that we don’t currently have, the belief being ‘if I do this, I will get that’. Rather than the joy and happiness that supported the energy of play, the energy for ‘work’ is more often found in fear and insecurity. The things we seek being an attempt to address what we believe we are lacking.
So, what’s the answer? The solution is to find opportunities to put play back into our lives. Even within the increasingly complex and challenging world we find ourselves in there is the opportunity to create time each day when we can just ‘be’. To find the joy in connecting to the present moment. To spend time nurturing a sense of wonder, to deeply connect to nature, to find the magic of our own dance, to open our hearts to the love within our relationships. Play can the very real expression of the joy and happiness that we are often seeking through ‘work’. We can do this in both our professional lives and our personal lives, it is the chance to start any activity with a sense of curiosity, to explore the unknown, to embrace the wonder of what we may discover a long the journey.
All that we are looking for may already be within us. The opportunity is to find those moments when we can press pause, escape from the demands of ‘work’, and re-connect to our abundant playful self.
The answer may be less about our work:life balance and more about addressing our work:play balance.