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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I was at a dinn…

Aside

I was at a dinner party with some boomer friends this weekend and we got to talking about returning veterans and their needs. I had heard a great segment on Dan Rodricks’ show (WYPR) (http://www.wypr.org/stationprogram/midday-dan-rodricks Thurs  11/10/11 6th Branch) about a local Baltimore nonprofit called “the 6th Branch.” They help local veterans regain a sense of leadership and community by involving them in community projects –problems being solved with a team of other veterans. These projects give the vets a mission as they reintegrate into civilian life and start to create the relationships and networks they need to find community, jobs and friendships. One of the panelists was a psychologist who works with vets with PTSD and he confirmed the importance of finding a sense of purpose in recovery from their combat experience.
There was a silence at the table, before one of my dinner companions reflected “we all need a sense of purpose.”

Many of us close-to-retirement or recently retired folks are grappling with this “what will I do when i grow up” question. Some of us fear leaving our jobs, because we fear losing our purpose. Others of us rush out into the Oz of retirement and then feel a twinge of loss for the roles we played.
For younger folks, raising families, striving for advancement, purpose is defined by career or family. As our family responsibilities lighten and we leave our jobs, we’re free to define our purpose. How have you defined yours? What are the stumbling blocks that get in your way?