I remember when I couldn’t wait for Memorial Day. The unofficial start of summer, it was my internal signal that a season of FUN was about to begin. But over the years, the signal has gotten more and more faint, causing me to ask a serious question. Does anyone over 30 have FUN anymore? Does anyone remember what it’s like to play? Alright, I’ll make it personal. When is the last time YOU had an out of control, don’t care who’s watching, tears running down your face belly laugh? Last month? Last year? If you’re like most professionals on your grind, it’s probably been a minute. We get into serious work mode and then serious family mode and, well, you get the picture. Sure, we take vacations but if we’re honest, the idea of playing seems like a luxury we can’t afford. For a long time, I felt this way too. I wanted to be taken seriously and playing didn’t fit into the equation. That is, until I started paying attention to the real players in my life and learned some helpful lessons from them. One person in particular stands out.
Let’s call him Jake. He’s smart, funny and has a great sense of humor. He takes each moment as it comes, rarely fazed by challenges. The thing I love most about him is that he knows how to have a good time. I’ve never met a person who seems to have as much fun for fun sake as Jake does. He’s clearly my hero. And by the way, did I mention he’s twelve years old? Now I know what you’re thinking–he’s twelve years old; of course he wants to have fun. Kids his age are players by nature, right? I thought so too until I really started to observe him. When I did, I came to the conclusion that not only is my man serious about play, but he could teach me a thing or two about how to add more play to my own life. A while back, I went to a holiday party with Jake. I was there for the food but clearly Jake had other plans because as soon as we crossed the threshold, he took off running. And I mean top speed. Before I could process that he was no longer walking by my side, I see him walking down a steep flight of stairs BACKWARDS without holding on to the rails. Now, you parents might be yawning because you see this kind of behavior all the time. But see, I am not around young kids a lot so I literally freaked out. But when I looked in his eyes all I saw was, well, joy and no fear. This lead me to the first of many things Jake taught me that night. Lesson One: People who are serious about play know that if you are willing to get creative and take a risk, adventure is literally everywhere.
The teaching didn’t stop there. Later on that evening, Jake figured it was time to really get the party started so he got up walked up to a group of young boys he did not know, whispered a few words and before I knew it had organized some sort of game of tag/hide go seek. Lesson two: Fear of rejection and failure is the enemy of play. If you are serious about play, you gotta be willing to try something different, meet new people, and be willing to move on if people don’t get you.
Throughout the night, Jake bounced from one game to next, exploring, laughing, stopping, going until I thought he would collapse from exhaustion. But he never did. It looked like he became more energetic as the hours passed. Final Lesson: Serious players don’t suck the life out of fun by overthinking or overplanning. They go with the flow, confident in their ability to find the fun and energy in every experience.
There was a time when I wanted to be known for being “on top of my game”. But Jake has helped me see that it’s just as important to know how to play games and embrace all the fun life has to offer. Yeah, I’m still serious about work but thanks to Jake, I’m also serious about play.