MISSING THE JOYS OF CHILDHOOD?
I was sitting at my desk one dark and rainy afternoon working on a project when the school bus pulled up at the bottom of my street; I live on a steep hill. My neighbor met her two young children with an umbrella for each to make the trek up the slope to their home.
Not five minutes later I saw little India running around her front yard, her umbrella abandoned. I watched as she danced down the street and into my yard, around the grassy area, and back up the middle of the blacktop road. Her head was tilted upward toward the heavens, arms stretched to the sky in a universal symbol of something good and happy . . . victory! . . . a feeling of something bigger than oneself. India ended her romp with a soggy roll down her sloping lawn; her smiling mom greeting her on the big, covered front porch with a white, fuzzy towel.
I stopped to remember the joy of being a child with its energetic celebration of imagination and the days of innocent, active play. I wanted to grab my rain coat and dance alongside my free, artful little neighbor and roll into the arms of someone who loves me like that. What happened to this freedom to laugh and experience joy in the moment? Do we teach our children to “grow up” and “act like adults” to their detriment? Do we allow ourselves to have fun and play with family and colleagues we live and work with? What are the possibilities if we add that sense of joyful play back into our lives?
MY WORK AS AN EXECUTIVE COACH
In my work as a personal and executive coach, my clients and I often have reason to discuss how work and personal time are no longer easily separated with the advent of all-knowing and often intrusive technology. This hyper-accessibility is not the same as belonging, but rather, results in feeling owned and not in control of oneself. I find people are wistful for a time and place when they felt they really belonged . . . to a point in the world or in a workplace where they were valued . . . as an appreciated member of their family or a team, or as the other half of a loving relationship – one they got to choose.
The problem with belonging is that it is not a tangible, “packagable” thing that we can save or hoard; it changes even as it is defined and claimed. How we belong and what we bring to the belonging is constantly evolving, and we must bend and open ourselves in new and unexpected ways.
This brings me to the value of play. While we don’t often identify what we do as “play,” we may want to explore it more intentionally as a powerful connector and creative change agent. One of my workplaces actively touted the old adage “Work hard. Play hard.” While the intent was good, it wasn’t always executed in a healthy, inclusive manner. Some ended up being “in on the play” and others “out;” and sometimes the “play” was downright destructive.
I am defining play here as having fun doing something together that does not involve any discussion of work. It embodies joy and celebrates being with each other, all others. Play forges connections and bonds people and teams together; it opens us up and reinforces our sense of belonging.
THE VALUE OF PLAY
Scientifically speaking, play shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul – and that is only the subtitle of Stuart Brown’s, book entitled Play! In it, Brown outlines techniques to ensure that brainstorm sessions are non-judgmental and actually result in creative ideas, i.e., engaging in a game as the ice breaker prior to the session. He goes on to say that organizations need to support and protect the “idea people” from the innovation-resistant “not-invented-here” autoimmune system of legacy thinking. Otherwise, new thinking is viewed as threatening and is buried.
We must allow people to be serious about their jobs and also have fun without worrying whether they are being viewed subversively as not working hard enough or having too much time on their hands. Who hasn’t heard someone in an office setting say, “They’re having too much fun.”?
Play is often what is missing in our personal relationships as well. One couples therapist includes goofy competition between couples to generate laughter, joy, and fun while working together toward a common goal. It works. Couples that step out of their comfort zone and engage in play find their brains kick up dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter essential for pleasure. They often see each other with new eyes and remember the person they fell in love with or admired.
So, allow yourself to be human, to enjoy and celebrate time together, to be active, to find freedom in laughter, and to leverage play to build bonds of belonging and support whether at home or on the job.
If you are yearning for this but can only see the obstacles, I would be honored to speak with you about the shifts you can make in your work and personal life to make this possible. Get in touch with Noble Concepts.
For more on my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.
 Brown, S., M.D. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Penguin Group, London. 2009.[/fusion_text]