Why and How
“I didn’t when I coulda, and now I can’t when I wanna.”
An elderly man once spoke those words to a client of mine. The man was obviously saying a lot in that one statement as he reflected back on his life. But at least one of the things he was acknowledging is that he didn’t enjoy himself as much as he could have when he was still able to do the things he enjoyed. What a bitter realization!
How often do you play? You know--do something just for fun. Do something that doesn’t have anything to do with work.
In this episode, I show you how to set yourself free to play more so that unlike the old man, you can look back and say, “I’m so glad I did when I coulda, because now I can’t when I wanna!”
Kids 1 - 0 Adults
Kids are really good at playing. It’s their default setting, you might say, and a top priority on any given day. We adults? Not so much. We’re very often all work and no play.
We may want to play more or even know that it would be good to do, but when push comes to shove, a lot of us bang out a few more emails or do yet another project around the house.
I’m not arguing that, like kids, play should be our TOP priority as adults. I don’t think that’s true at all. You might know a few adults for whom play seems to be a top priority at the expense of the other things in life that matter, too.
But I am arguing in favor of just a bit more play in the midst of all of our adulting. Some of you reading this right now have been wrestling with this very thing.
My Own Experience
In fact, I’VE been wrestling with this very thing, so this topic is close to my heart. My wife and I have been in an intense chapter of life renovation for the past 9 or so years. It’s required a lot of blood, sweat, tears, perseverance, and resilience. Thankfully, we’re enjoying the fruits of our labors today more than ever before.
We’re actually living the dream we first began to dream 9 years ago.
But play has often fallen way down on the list of priorities in the name of pursuing our dreams.
In Ep. 017, Busting the "Balance" Myth: A Better Way, I proposed that growing in our ability to manage life’s many tensions is better than trying to achieve and sustain the ever-elusive, ever-fragile “balance.” In my case, for the past 9 years, I’ve allowed the tension between work and fun to favor work more often than fun. More recently, though, I’ve realized that it’s time for the tension to favor play a bit more, too.
So, I’m taking steps to let play take up a lot more space on my calendar, so to speak--to let an attitude of playfulness have more air-time.
For example, this past weekend, we spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons with our boys and some of their cousins at a cool little spot on the river that runs through town--tubing, hunting for crawdads, building dams, and just goofing off. We all had a blast, and we made some memories. I want more of that! You can hold me to it.
What Qualifies as Play?
Play doesn’t have to be river outings, of course. Play is simply whatever is fun for you, whatever gives you energy back...and ISN’T part of the work of life. It’s not as if play is unproductive, though. I actually think it’s productive in some of the most important ways, and I touch on that in Ep. 032, Reimagining Productivity: A Path to Greater Freedom and Fulfillment.
How to Play More
So if you’re realizing that you’d like more play more, here are three essential ingredients in the recipe for more play:
First, Give Yourself Permission to Play.
This one is a big deal. Many of us lack internal self-permission as adults. Repeat after me: I can do what I want, when I want, where I want, how I want. One more time: I can do what I want, when I want, where I want, how I want. Do you really believe that? Because it’s really true. That’s the great permission of adulthood. So, if you really want to play more, first give yourself permission to do so. You CAN play more simply because you WANT to play more. Period.
Second, Summon the Courage to Play.
This might sound strange at first. But hear me out. When we play, we briefly put down the many concerns and nagging uncertainties of life as a human on planet earth. And we focus our attention on the present moment and the potential for fun that it contains. I think that many of us fail to play as often as we could because we aren’t willing to put down the concerns and uncertainties of life even for a moment. Because that could be the moment when the thing we most fear happens! Or what if I don’t return that client’s call right away? I could lose their business! So, instead of putting work down, even just briefly, we stay connected all the time in an attempt to stave off undesirable future outcomes. And all the while, we miss out on fun that could be ours right here, right now.
If you really want to play more, summon the courage to play. Life IS fraught with peril and uncertainty. Play anyway!
And third, Embrace Your Mortality as Motivation.
Let the inevitability of your Mortality compel you. When you breathe your last, will you be more glad that you fired off that last email or that you rough-housed with your kids? Will you be more glad that you booked that extra work trip or had a new adventure with your son? Australian Nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a book called The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, in which she chronicled the regrets of the dying that she cared for as a palliative care nurse. #2 on the list of top regrets was, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
Think about that. REALLY think about that. Because it’s too late once the Grim Reaper comes a’calling.
It’s up to you.
Simple, But Not Easy!
Though on the one hand, this approach to play is simple, it’s far from easy. There’s a time for everything. A time to work and a time to play. It’s not always obvious which is the better choice in a given situation. And even when we feel persuaded that play is a good choice, actually making that choice is another thing entirely.
So give yourself grace as you strengthen your neglected “play” muscles.
In time, with practice, they will provide better counterbalance to your well-developed “work” muscles and allow you to manage the tension between work and play even more effectively.
Let’s recap. To set yourself free to play more, first give yourself permission to play. Then, summon the courage to play. And finally, embrace your Mortality as motivation.
Remember, you are going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it, and don’t forget to play!
I Can Help
Sometimes, we need help with one of more of those three ingredients in the recipe for more play. We lack objectivity about ourselves, and the support of a trusted partner can create the insight we need to get unstuck.
I can be that partner for you.
Three More APiD Episodes to Help You Play More
These three episodes of Andrew Petty is Dying will help you in your ongoing quest to play more:
I’m so glad you tuned in today. Don’t forget to follow this show, and I’ll see you next time on Andrew Petty is Dying.
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