“Do you want to come out and play?” I have childhood memories of knocking on my neighbour’s door and issuing that invitation. Today I am more likely to be texting a friend to set up a “play date.” But play remains an important part of my life.
When I begin a new coaching engagement, I ask clients to rank their satisfaction in eight areas of their lives using a tool called the “Wheel of Life.” One of these categories is “fun and recreation.” As nonprofit professionals, we often focus on other areas of the wheel such as career, family, money or personal growth. And sometimes play gets lost.
So I was excited to get some insights by reading Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of The National Institute for Play. Also reading is one of my favourite activities.
In this book Dr. Brown defines play as “an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self motivating and makes you want to do it again.” He goes on to say that play can make all areas of our lives better. And when we stop playing, we start having problems. This is one of the reasons I love the “Wheel of Life.” As people start to explore their life from a holistic place they understand that each area affects the others.
Dr. Brown makes a compelling case for play. In today’s complex world I really resonated with the idea that play allows us to imagine and experience situations we have never encountered before and learn from them. And it allows us to create possibilities that have never existed but might in the future. For coaching to really transform someone’s life, they need to be able to expand their perspectives, dream, imagine and explore possibilities. And in a life without play none of these things are possible.
I also love that Dr. Brown gets practical and offers us ways to get play back into our lives. He starts by breaking down eight different Play Personalities:
- The Joker — makes people laugh, plays practical jokes
- The Kinesthete — loves to move, dance, swim, play sports
- The Explorer — goes to new places, meets new people, seeks out new experiences
- The Competitor — loves all forms of competition and keeping score
- The Director — enjoys planning and executing events, such as organizing events
- The Collector — loves to collect objects or experiences
- The Artist/Creator — enjoys making things, fixing things, decorating
- The Storyteller — loves to use imagination to create stories
Take a moment to think about which one of these is your main play personality. It can be helpful to reflect upon past play experiences, especially those in childhood to help you connect to the feelings of pleasure and joy you experienced.
In reading the book, I started to think about my childhood experiences and how they show up for me today.
- The Director: My cousin and I loved to play school as kids and set up her younger sister and our teddy bears as our students. Now I get to co-lead workshops and courses with David and Michelle. Those fun afternoons with my cousin really set the stage for an important and fulfilling part of my work life.
- The Explorer: Reading has been a passion for me throughout my life and I love how a book can take you into another person’s life. I also participate each year in a reading challenge which pushes me to read outside my comfort zone (which is contemporary fiction). This has lead me to read more widely – books in translation, poetry, essays, memoirs, etc.
One important point that Dr. Brown makes is that living a life of play doesn’t mean always choosing pleasure or fun. Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves. I found this to be true when I first took an improv class. I was so nervous at the start of each class and had to overcome that to find the joy. Also even fun things have boring parts to them. As much as my husband and I love to travel to Europe, hanging out at the airport and sitting on a plane for hours I could do without.
How can you bring more play into your life? How can you be more playful and creative in your work?
We would love to hear what your play personality is and how you plan to incorporate more play into your life. And I am still looking for a book outside my (contemporary fiction) comfort zone for this year’s reading challenge. So throw some new reading ideas at me.