The other day I stopped on my way home for no reason other than to eat an ice cream in the park. I left my phone in the car, sat quietly, and ate the ice cream. And you know what? I felt awkward, childish even. I avoided eye contact with others and wondered whether I should just go home.
Then it struck me - this was the whole point, I was playing. And playing isn't something adults do. Adults do not play, because doing things just for the sake of doing them goes against the grain of everything we have been taught. And yet, doing something only because it gives us joy, rather than because it might lead to growth, progress, or reward, is vital. Once I permitted myself to do that, the ice cream tasted a whole lot better. As I began to have fun, I felt a sense of freedom emerging.
People say that we have to do what we love - but what if we don't know what that is anymore? What if we have spent so long working towards a goal we have lost sight of the love, of the reasons we began working in the first place?
The key to finding those reasons is in accessing our own personal joy. Joy unlocks purpose; however, we can only unlock that purpose when we remember what joy feels like.
They live for it, and they know how to balance both learning and play. Children can put aside all their worries or concerns for the sheer happiness that comes from activities such as blowing bubbles, playing chase, watching trains, or [especially in my case] eating ice cream.
Children experience sheer joy and happiness from these activities because they are fully in the moment. They are not thinking about consequences or appearances, goals, or bottom lines. Children can be present in the moment, just doing something because they want to, because it brings them joy and happiness.
I must confess to being a recovering overachiever, and the idea of stopping to have an ice cream isn't something I would have ever come up with on my own. I was inspired by Aaron McHugh, author of Fire Your Boss. He talks about doing big things such as carving out time for proper holidays, road trips, and special occasions. But it's his approach to everyday play that I believe we can all learn and benefit from the most.
Aaron says when he's on a conference call, he will go outside to do hopscotch while on mute. Disrespectful? No way - he is merely bringing his energized A Game rather than the slumped over the desk, caffeine dump version of himself.
In your personal life, this could take any form as long as it's something you do only because of how it makes you feel. Here are a few ideas of play for adults:
At work, just like Aaron, you can also make space for play. Make a point of celebrating birthdays, work anniversaries, and successes - laugh, eat cake, share stories. Invest in a tabletop football set and encourage its use during tea or lunch breaks. Move your meetings outside in good weather, do a pub quiz at lunchtimes, dress up on Fridays or start the day with a silly stretch and singing session.
Finding joy can open up the world of work to entirely new possibilities. It opens up the part of you that is creative and truthful—the part of you where desire, passion, and purpose exists. Play connects you to joy; it reminds you of how it feels. If you can do that, it's easier to use it as a barometer when you want to make changes to your working life.
Find your joy. Unplug, put away the phone and just go for a walk, or a hop, or an ice cream. Feel silly, experience joy, embrace happiness. Start playing today!