“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw
During the magical period we humans call adolescence, we do this strange thing. We utterly stop playing.
Our lives become focused on schoolwork, burgeoning teen hormones, and deciding where we fit within the social morays of middle school, and quite quickly high school.
Dolls get placed into trunks and hidden into dark attics. Magical trolls with jeweled bellies are shoved under the piles of magazines filled with attractive young men and women donning pouts of lip-gloss and sex appeal far beyond their years.
Books filled with whimsy and far away imaginary lands get replaced on shelves by texts espousing historical events, deep thematic imagery, and the magic of “the calculus.”
And so it goes, the joy replaced by intellectual inquiry. Intellectual inquiry replaced by the nine to five job, the nine to five becoming our lives.
I remember the last year I played during my childhood; I was in the seventh grade.
I suppose you could say I was already unabashedly uncool, and disastrously awkward. And yet, I had by some miracle made a friend my age who was in the “in crowd” at school, and invited her over to hang out after school.
Previous to this experience, my idea of hanging out was playing games—board games and games of make believe, for example. My other uncool friends and I did this regularly, and with the abandon of far younger children; we had yet to be nabbed by the cool bug.
I entered her room, a castle to the realm of the cool. A land where Sassy and Teen magazine took over the worlds of the Boxcar Children, Harriet the Spy, and miniature figures in a cupboard. A space littered with Abercrombie Bags, Stila makeup, and locked journals.
Most of us do this. Most of us hide away our interest in play during adolescence. We make room for other activities—dating, hanging out, partying, homework, exercise, and team competitive sports.
Whimsy, past the age of ten, is rarely valued and often dismissed. In adulthood, those that manage to play are often referred to as “immature” or “clutching to childhood.” And yet, there is such deep value in play.
So I ask, when did you last engage in a moment of play?
Lucky for me, it was yesterday. But that hasn’t always been the case.
I too succumbed to a world of nine to five, jobs requiring rote completion day in and day out. The monotony of clock in. Clock out. Coffee breaks at nine, eleven, and two. Meetings. All the time meetings.
Somewhere along the line, in a job known as management, I broke free through play.
It started when my coworker called me “mama duck.” Soon, at quite the fancy pants company, my team was “the ducks.” It was a catalyst.
Then came a laugh at an accidental joke there (and we laughed, even though it was inappropriate).
We held brainstorms, and called them cerebral thunderclouds.
Celebrating a client’s birthday with a perfectly branded image of a birthday cake, complete with their company colors (thanks to Photoshop).
Then we built imaginary presidential campaigns for bosses who were far more qualified than the candidates of 2008. And made the buttons to boot. The office joined in.
The moments were expansive. Each led to happier meetings. Happier clients. Happier team members.
Advertising campaigns became opportunities to reflect our fun (and they worked).
And while we played, work was completed, on time.
The curtain lowered.
And lo and behold, professionalism didn’t dissipate. The company didn’t fall apart. If anything, we all received a moment of joy in our otherwise slog of a job. Turns out, play isn’t just for after the work day.
And if anything negative happened as a result of more play, you’d have to ask the CEO. But we caught him in a Gorilla suit with bananas strewn about his office one day; I’d say he caught the play bug too.
Too often we allow ourselves to be swept up into the stuff of adulthood, and forget that adulthood doesn’t have to equate to boring. And sometimes, adding a bit of play catalyzes work into a space of joy, fulfillment, and creation. Just what your job wants from you.
Give it a try sometime. How can you bring play to your day and work place? If a financial services company can do it, you probably can too.
Office celebration image via Shutterstock