Children are a powerful reminder of the pleasure and potential of play. As we watch them try on ‘pretend’ roles and navigate relationships in team games we know they’re building future skills. Some of my most joyful memories are ones of how my son and I would play together as we walked to his pre-school.
According to play researcher Stuart Brown play not only lifts us out of the mundane but also helps us make new cognitive connections useful for our everyday lives. Through play we can learn new skills without being directly at risk.
Our human need for play is such that Brown asserts the opposite of play is not work but depression. Despite this our need for variety and challenge can get buried under an overwhelming sense of responsibility as we grow to adulthood and take on caring roles.
Women – in particular – can often feel they have little time or energy for play. Life becomes a constant juggle between work and home responsibilities. If that’s you then you may want to treat yourself to a copy of Barbara Brennan’s book ‘The Gift of Play – Why Adult Women Stop Playing And How To Start Again’. In it she describes her own journey back to “heart play” – the kind of play that speaks to your heart and soul.
Play is not only essential to recovery – a critical factor in maintaining good work-life balance – but can also be a powerful tool for reinventing our careers and ourselves.
In her book Act Like A Leader Herminia Ibarra suggests we engage in what she calls identity play as a way of exploring new possible selves and stepping into bigger leadership roles. As she explains: when we work we’re serious but when we play we meander, change course and have less purpose. When we’re playing with who we might become we’re exploring new possibilities without committing to any of them. We hold our future selves lightly and assess our options.
According to Ibarra
“playfulness changes your mind set from a performance focus to a learning orientation”
We become less stressed, more curious and more open.
Brown believes play also has improvisational potential since we’re not locked into rigid ways of doing things. This opens us to serendipity and chance; and can be a powerful asset in navigating life’s uncertainties. He says:
“When people are able to find that sense of play in their work, they become truly powerful figures.”
Will you make a little more time for play in your life? Will you focus on being a little more playful in your approach to daily tasks – both at work and at home?
As Brown says:
“It can be transformative.”