Merging Work and Play

I love the sense of playfulness the artist captured in the movement and sheer delight of the two children in this picture.   I took this shot while waiting for my plane in the Greenville-Spartenburg airport in SC.  It is a reminder to have fun, to find time to play in our lives, and to experience light hearted moments.   I am heading there again this week and remembered this photo.  I got to thinking that the average person spends an inordinate amount of time at work and not enough time in play.

The traditional American work ethic is to indulge in leisure pursuits or “play” only when our work is done.  There is a common belief that work requires self discipline, long hours, and sacrifices.  As a career coach I often ask people what the word “work” means to them.  I get answers like; “boring, drudgery, wage slave, too many hours, frustrating, exhausting, routine, hard, meaningless, etc.”   I remember asking my daughter as a new college grad what came to mind when she hears people talking about getting a job and going to work.  She thought for a moment and then said:  “I see a sweaty bald guy in overalls dragging a ball and chain in a warehouse with a concrete floor and small windows and it’s raining outside and the water is dripping on the floor.”  I wonder how many other people have such dour imagery around the concept of work!  (FYI my daughter is an entrepreneur at heart and is enjoying being a freelance writer and social media consultant in Denver as I write this)

We are taught that we must strive for success and be our best, and work hard to get ahead.  Well meaning parents  teachers, and  other authority figures tell us to “keep your nose to the grindstone” and “pay your dues” and “climb the ladder to success.”  This doesn’t sound like much fun to me.  Does this advice motivate you to go out there and get a job?  Surely there is a way to make a living and be happy at the same time, a way to merge work and play.

What if we shift our perspective and start bringing a sense of  playfulness into our jobs?  Wouldn’t our workday be more pleasurable?  Absolutely!  Let’s look at the concept of play.  As in this photo, the children appear to be alive in the moment, are having fun and seem to be exhilarated.  (Considering they are sculptures that’s kudos to the artist.) How can we bring this joy, this sense of fun and being present into our daily work lives?  A good place to start is by looking at your situation with “new eyes”.  Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does your work environment support you or deplete you?  
  • Are you doing work you enjoy and find satisfying?  
  • Do you feel valued and appreciated at work by peers and management?
  • If freedom and flexibility are important values for you does your current work provide these?

Think of play as an activity in which you are fully present, enjoying the moment, feeling free, valued and appreciated by the other players.  Whether you work for somebody else or are self employed there are ways to bring more playfulness into your life.  For starters, if your work environment doesn’t support you, change it.  This is easier to do if you are the boss but even as am employee there are often options to personalize your work situation.  Would you be more comfortable (and potentially more productive) with an ergonomic chair or an office with a window?  How about suggesting flex time or job sharing to balance your work and leisure time? 

What are you passionate about?  Can you create a livelihood doing things you are passionate about?  (See The $100 Startup for guidance on this.) Is there a way to bring passion into your work?  If you work with a team, do you mutually appreciate and value the other “players”?  What might you do to contribute to the well being of co-workers?   What needs to happen in order for you to have more fun at work, to feel energized and yes, playful?  Sometimes it is as simple as shifting your perspective and changing your attitude.

“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.”  Mark Twain