The Difference Between Work and Play
Quick! What is the opposite of work? Did you say: play? I would have. That's how most of us think of it: "work is the thing that is takes effort and play is the thing that is fun". Most of us would like to connect the two a bit more. In other words "make work more fun". This often means changing careers and finding work that you enjoy more.
Merging work and play is not a new concept. By now, we are all familiar with places such as Google integrating play into their structure and work environment to boost creativity. However, even within that context, I'd say that most adults think of play as synonymous with entertainment and recreation. I'm not looking to argue
semantics, but it seems to me like the key to integrating work and play in every aspect of our lives is really understanding what they mean. So, who remembers what it was actually like to play as a child? Anyone?
Honestly? it was a lot of work! By that I mean that there was a lot of effort involved. I remember elaborate costumes, plot lines, and characters (even story boards... but that may not be normal). Oh! the hours spent looking for that one Lego piece. The days spent painstakingly building damns and bridges over the creek. Even the endless practice of cartwheels, or running at break-neck speed to play tag.
Play usually requires just as much effort, if not more, than work. So how is it that some things were fun and some were drudgery? It seems like the difference isn't in the task or the activity. In fact, I have a theory that play is the brain's way of allowing us to conceptualize something and then execute it. It is a state of getting work done, not the opposite of work.
The playful state of mind is a powerful one. It makes the tedious seem effortless, it leaves us refreshed and energized even in exhaustion. It makes the impossible possible because it gives us superhuman focus and determination. I've found it is possible to be in a playful or a dull state under almost any circumstances. Having said that, there are a few elements that make a big difference:
1. Free will
I am here by choice. I want to do this. If I don't, then is it part of a larger goal that I am choosing? Am I really excited about that goal? Good carry on.
Can I imagine the outcome of this task? Is this part of a story and if not can I make one up? (never underestimate the power of a good narrative). Am I using my skills and creativity to solve problems? Yes? Relax into it and the fun will find you.
When the stakes are high it can be difficult to engage with a playful mind. The more we care, the more we tend to take things seriously. This is when we need to play more than ever. This is when a relaxed and focused mind is the most helpful. I'm still trying to crack this one, because it is always shifting. Invariably, though, when I at least loosen my grip on myself (regardless of external pressure) and find a way to make it a game I come out better than I went in... regardless of the outcome.
So I'm curious: what does it for you? When do you feel the most playful? Do you still use your imagination to change your experience of a task?