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On Joy and Play in Work

Ever notice how so much of how we experience life is about attitude?  And how that’s also intimately connected to joy and play in work?

Image and quote about importance of play.So, I’ve been experimenting… playing with working on working differently this week.  If that makes sense.

As a freelancer, and a newbie still at that, I’ve spent the last year trying to clear my head of all the cobwebs instilled by over 30 years of working for someone else….

A Someone Else who always had tons of work for me to do – way more than was humanly possible to finish, with any degree of expertise.  We all knew it was totally unrealistic, but no one ever changed it.

So, I was perpetually behind, because I’d rather do less and do it well, than cram in a bunch of mediocre work, just to get it done.  No second thoughts about my decision to do so – wouldn’t change it for anything.

Nonetheless, it was stressful.  There was always a big pile of “More” waiting for me.

And it’s taken me a while to change my thinking and reflexive expectations around, now that I’m freelancing.   After 30 plus years, I’d simply embedded that “stuff” into my expectations for my “work day”.

So, for a long time, especially on the new end of the learning curve about freelancing, the stress continued.  No wonder.  Different work, same stress…. All about feeling I couldn’t work fast enough, do enough, manage my time effectively.  I’m sure you get the picture.

As a freelancer, of course it’s still good to use my time effectively.  I have, after all, bills to pay.

But here’s the thing:  I don’t have to carry that internalized “Someone Else” bossing me around with how I use my time.  Not anymore.

And here’s the problem with continuing to carry it:  my writing is an expression of my creative uniqueness, merging with all the things I’m excited about sharing with others.  And, when it’s unfettered by the “serious shoulds” that I sometimes box it in with, it flows juicily…gifting me with new viewing points…. with interesting images….  and covering some previously unexplored territory.  Fascinating.

But when I start to box it in, over-structuring it like a kid who has an endless stream of dance classes day after day, week after week (because she’s good at it)…. well, the wheels grind to a halt for me.  And I come up empty.

The joy and the juice are gone.  Then I feel like I’ve gotta push myself to finish a task or a job… and it feels like my “job” all over again.

I was sharing this with a writing buddy of mine.  We were bemoaning it together.  She had a great way of summarizing it – “This is a lot of what I’ve been aware of for me lately – I can just about push through anything, but finding joy and inspiration in it… that’s what seems to have been disappearing from the mix.  I think the ‘pushing through’ gets turned into ‘feeling pushed’ and then ‘pushing back’ enters the picture — not much room for joy for sure!”

No one likes to feel shoved around.  Even when it’s us doing our own shoving!

So what do we do about this…?

Well, seems to me anyways, it’s really about the quality of hard work, isn’t it?

We can “work hard” and have it be joyless duty (as trained by the current ethos of the post-Victorian adult version of “hard work”)…

Or, we can find the inner wellspring of joy, and re-connect it to our “work”.

So, lately I’ve been reframing work, as play…

Why?  I’m used to working as a therapist with troubled kids.  And here’s a lesson I witnessed over and over again:  play is the work of childhood.

You never see kids feeling grim about “having to play” [unless adults have messed with them – like in troubled kids.  Or in many group sports/activities, where it gets to be all about training kids to “win” by beating others – well, maybe not all… but surely too much of the time].

But outside of that, watch kids playing organically, following their hearts and intuition and imagination, and it’s a thing of pure beauty to see… it just flows out of them.  Effortlessly.  Creatively.

When my “work” is like that, it’s magic what happens.  So, for me, it’s about surrendering.  I can’t “push the river” and “make” it happen – that’s forcing it, and it kills the energy of it.

It’s more a heart-full and heart-felt willingness to open my senses to this now moment…in curiosity… and to watch the magic unfold…

It means balancing having a plan with letting the plan go sometimes….

It means following my passions and interests, while keeping my priorities in place.

So, it’s not just about impulsively doing whatever I feel like, as a kid would.

It’s also not just about lovelessly, rigidly following my schedule of goals, and ploughing through even when it feels like desiccated old bones I’m scuffing through.  There’s no point in lifeless rituals to just push through.

It seems to be about a balance between the 2.  Between the exuberant passion of a child at play… And the structured discipline of an adult with some life experience about getting through challenging times, under her belt.

I don’t claim to have it down pat, at this point.  And maybe that’s part of what keeps it green and alive.  After all, if art mirrors life, how can it be anything less than a messy business at times?  So, maybe that’s as it should be….

I don’t know where it’ll lead me.  Maybe I’ll need to keep adjusting it, and learning from the process.  I’ll keep you updated as I continue along….

Do you have ways you’ve found helpful, about keeping joy in your writing/freelancing/art?  Or ways play has made a difference to your work life?

I’d love to hear back from you, either about what works for you, or about your own adventures trying to work with these challenges….

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