Why Play Is Serious Work

I’m so impressed each time I see the intensity with which little kids play. Developmental psychologists have said that play is their work– their way of mastering new tasks. It makes me wonder what we adults don’t master by not allowing time for play. We’ve all learned to prioritize so well that we frequently prioritize pastimes we enjoy right out of our busy schedules. We might convince ourselves those pursuits will come back later– and they may, but what parts of ourselves are atrophying by prioritizing the “musts” and “shoulds” ahead of the things that bring us delight– and probably use muscles or parts of our brain that our work-a-day lives don’t engage at all?

An example– the discipline of “putting butt in chair” consistently day after day is key to being a successful writer, so I discipline myself to sit and write for a few hours every day. I haven’t seriously tended my garden in several years, until this spring. I needed the physical exercise of bending and stretching that gardening provides but I also found my writing improved when I took an hour or two to garden. I went back with ideas to create setting details I’d never considered before. I created background for characters that I hadn’t consciously been pondering while I gardened, but it just flowed after my outside breaks.

It seems worth considering that we may be sacrificing an avocation for focused effort in our careers when in reality, our avocations might round us out in ways that would advance our careers even more. And we may not be able to predict that particular alchemy until we try it!

As a career transitions coach, it makes me wonder what my clients aren’t “counting” when we inventory their skills. When I present my workshops on career change, I frequently refer to Richard Bolles’ 3 paths to career change. Two of the three require we use something that we have–familiarity and networks in a particular topical arena or a strong skill that’s transferable to many arenas to make our first “jump” and then to segue into either a new skill set in the former case or a new arena in the latter. There’s no reason that an avocation, such as photography or cooking or love of theater couldn’t provide either knowledge of a field and network contacts or a deep skill set that could be transferred, but we tend to get stuck thinking about only the things we know and do “professionally.”

How often do we fail to consider something that we truly know and love as offering potential career options?

What about you? How have you found ways to incorporate what you love to do into your daily life– and even into your career path? Are you taking your play seriously?

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Getting to the Next Chapter —

Turning Down the Heat

It’s funny how fine-tuning the smallest routines in my new life brings insights. Maybe you’ve discovered this too? After several months of re-patterning when and where I pray and journal in the mornings, I’ve figured out I prefer the kitchen (until it’s warm enough to return to the porch). I harbor an image of making my French-press coffee and then praying and journaling with a hot cup of joe steaming next to me. But here’s the reality. When I’m really praying and journaling with focus, the coffee sits untouched and gets cold. Can’t deal with my first cup of the day being reheated! The morning escapes entirely when I don’t even start the coffee until I finish my morning pages, but if I start the water when I sit down to pray, the whistling kettle distracts me. I know how dumb this will sound to many of you smart people but I just figured out my stove will boil water even if I don’t set it on HIGH. It can take 30 minutes to boil water if I set it on low! Who knew?
Speed has always been the looming directive in my life—and productivity matters, especially now when I’m bombarded by messages about entertaining myself and being self-indulgent because I’ve earned it. Resisting these “raisons d’etre” in favor of shaping a new and meaningful career for myself has made me crabby and impatient. Holding onto rigid ideas about time and timing closes me off from the things that can make this new life richer and more satisfying.
Two ideas that converged with my singing kettle today are: reaching out to one or two people each day via phone or e-mail is the antidote to the isolation of working at home. Connections are part of the life I haven’t had enough time for—what am I doing researching and writing at the computer 6 hours a day—and no wonder I have to force myself to do it!! I read an interview with Steve Martin, whose new book was recently released. He mentioned that after 2-3 hours of writing a day, he needs to get out. Wow. It reminded me that Colleen Mc Cullough wrote Thorn Birds in short sessions before she went to work each day. How did I forget that?
What both of these bring me back to is boiling water slowly. Rather than re-create the fast, pressurized environment of my last careers, maybe I can create a work environment that allows time for friends, family and fruitful products. Turning down the heat may be an important concept to apply to more than coffee.
What little changes have you made that reflect bigger insights in your new life?
Have you found specific ways to turn down the heat or let water boil slowly?

Sandwich, anyone?

Just came back from visiting my grandbabies who live way too far away.  They’re 1 year old twins now and I get to see them about 4-5 times a year.  While I always stay for about a week, it takes 4-5 days for them to warm up to me enough that we can really play and snuggle.  Holding their hands for patty-cake was a biggy this visit.   I understand but it’s still hard.  Our daughter would love us to be closer.  While at times that sounds great to me, most of the time, I know we each need our friends, our activities, our communities and they happen to be 1000 miles apart.

We visited with my local daughter and her husband over the weekend.  She lives an hour away and I probably see her once a month.  I try to be considerate of them, and not demand a lot of their time.  When we were young, our folks were all nearby but we yearned for time with our friends; our parents were obligations, to an extent, even though we had good relationships with them.  Time is tight when you’re 26!

So we each make our way, and try to make our time together happy and rich and emphasize as we did when we were raising them that it’s quality, not quantity that matters.

We bobble along this way  until we can see over the horizon.  My dad is 92 and we’re moving him from his home in FL to a senior community in MD to be closer to us.  He and my stepmom moved there 30 years ago, intent upon living their lives with their friends, in their communitiy focusing on the activities and lifestyle Florida could offer them.  We saw each other once or twice a year.  The kids grew up knowing that Christmas vacation always began with 2 days in the car.  We made memories when we visited.  We talked late into the night.  We also suffered through a lot of Vaughn Monroe records.  It was quality not quantity of time that mattered.

Now he’s alone and I really want Dad back.  His friends have died or moved away.  He has fewer outside interests.  He’s amenable to being here instead of there and  I’m regretting that it’s taken so long to convince him to come.  Now the emphasis is on quantity of time.  Looking back, I realize it all has quality!

How does this track with career transition?  I think relationships hold a bigger place in our heads and hearts as we get older.  So we balance the scales differently than we did when we were younger and the weight of many decisions fell on the side of career advancement. I’ve always read that being the sandwich generation meant being pulled in too many directions, maybe the sides of the sandwich are the buffers that prevent me from taking the inevitable ups and downs of career change too seriously.  Maybe they give me a perspective I wouldn’t have if I only interacted with other seasoned professionals like myself.   I need to remember I was transitioning out of  chaos and busyness that I disliked.  I need to hold onto the value of patty-cake and listening to Vaughn Monroe along the way.

Retiring? Reinventing? or Falling off the Edge of the Earth?

I have a vision. It involves the thousands of talented and savvy federal women who are ready to or thinking about or who have recently retired from federal service.  I’ve worked with these women and I’ve been amazed at their skills and perseverance and their ability to accomplish impossible goals for their agencies. As I talk with my friends who fit this description, I find they fall into two camps—those who yearn for the freedom to come and go as they wish, to pursue hobbies and do absolutely nothing if they so choose and those who feel some apprehension about ending their careers—who may feel like they’re about to fall off the edge of the earth.

What I’m not hearing much about are women who have a passion to create real change in their communities—whether through a paying job or through volunteer activity – and could now take the leap and actually make a quantifiable difference without all the limits of federal programming.
The media is full of stories about women executives from the private sector who dive in with both feet to post-retirement work to change the world and I can’t help but wonder where my federal sisters are.

I know from my own experience that it isn’t that we “checked the box.” It’s not work that’s finished! I can’t believe that federal service has stamped out our passions for the many causes that still need champions. Do we feel we have nothing more to offer? Have we become cynical about whether change is really possible? Are we just so burned out that we’re ready to escape to the lifestyle equivalent of white noise?

I’m really curious and I invite you to weigh in! What are you doing to change the world now that you’re out of the bureaucratic box?  What am I missing here? What would it take for you to commit yourself to a cause that’s important to you for a day a week or more? What would you need to make that a worthwhile exchange for your time?