“PLAY BALL,” the umpire shouts to start the game. The umpire does not say let’s get down to work here, he says, “play ball.” Musicians play their instruments they don’t fret much unless they play the guitar. Young children spend the whole day engaged in various acts of playing.
Playful engagement. Playing is a vital pathway to engaged performance. When we play we seldom realize how engrossed we are in what we are doing. Go ahead, ask some children who are learning so much through play what they are doing and chances are they will look at you like you are slightly daft and don’t realize, “we’re playing.” Yet while engrossed in play they are performing, relating, engaging, communicating, creating, and learning. These functions and benefits of play are effortless and children feel bothered when told it is time to stop playing.
Grow up. When did you stop playing? Do you feel that play is just a trivial activity for children — not something that belongs in the seriousness of work? As you got older did you also grow out of a childlike playfulness that made every day seem alive with vibrant activity and relationships?
WORKshop phobia. Is work playful for you? The mark of sanity is to blur the line between work and play. Yet so many of us have divorced work and play and view work as a drudgery to be engaged in only for instrumental reasons—getting paid. Or we take a FISHY workshop to learn to play. If you are enrolled in a WORK-shop to learn to play I think we have spotted the source of the problem.
Of course. Young children do not need to enroll in a course to learn to play and it sometimes seems when they enroll in school that play begins to dissipate out of their approach to living. Play can be invited, play can be initiated, play can be engaged in, but play is not something to impose upon others or to put too much conscious effort into achieving a playful state.
Strong play. Some of us our gifted with a playful strength. Play comes easy to us like water from a tap and we engage in play because it engages us. For us not to play is to risk disengagement and lowered happiness. My number one signature strength on the VIA Signature Strength Inventory is humor and playfulness. I personally risk disengaging when I don’t play everyday.
Entertain playfulness. Entertain playful notions. Don’t stifle yourself. Don’t learn to play or work at playing, just play.
We’re here to play. I was a counselor for almost 25 years. Many couples entered my office declaring they were there to work on their marriage. I saluted their determination and resolve and willingness to engage in rekindling their relationship but I often wondered what it would have been like to have a couple come in and say, “we’re here to play on our marriage.” Of course I always thought if that was the perspective they had, they probably never would end up seeing a marriage counselor.
Mindful play. It is not my intention to provide an instruction manual or a lengthy to-do list or send you off to Seattle to throw a mackerel around. It is my intention to remind you of play. You often played as a child and it did so much. I simply ask that you become more mindful of playfulness and allow it to seep into your work…perhaps if you can do this, even just for a few minutes everyday, work won’t feel so much like…what else can I say….work!
Here’s my pitch. I invite you to get a ball. If you can find an old classic rubber ball that I use to illustrate these posts, even better. Put it on your desk or near where you work. Every so often just pick it up and feel it, roll it, toss it, play catch with a peer, and remember the primal power of play as you play with the The One Ball.
Be the ball. Go ahead, have a ball at work and as you engage in your work let your work engage you so that you experience full engagement, not feeling separate from your work or your organization, as you become: The One Ball.