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The War On Play

Why is there a war being fought against play?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while.

I hear it when I talk to friends about the near-constant stresses of their work. The fear of taking time off only to see the mountain of work upon their return. The endless cycle of meetings where conversation tends to focus on the tactical, on the execution, on the pressure to get shit done NOW. If I would ask, “But did you get to actually play today?” they would look at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. And for good reason…we’ve pretty much separated the ideas of work and play in our current economy.

I truly believe we can and must reconnect work and play if our organizations are going to succeed.

Yes, it’s an uphill battle and the latest employee engagement statistics don’t offer much reason for optimism. And we’re not exactly helping our kids see the connection, either. I witness this every day when my children bring piles of homework from school. Just this past weekend, my daughter probably had four or five hours of personal time. The other remaining hours were devoted to projects, studying, and various other work. She, and so many other children, are suffering a deficit of play.

It’s almost as if our educational system is saying, “Get used to it kids. We’re preparing you for the real world where work is first. Life is just that thing that fills in the odd spaces.”

Why do we believe this is okay? Why have we decided that we need far less time to play, create, and wonder? Why do we regard learning as this intensely serious undertaking instead of the playful possibility it can be? Is this a reason we see so many more instances of depression and anxiety among adults and teens today?

Maybe it’s because as much as we like to believe we value creativity, we really don’t know how to handle it…in our businesses and in our schools.

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Five Things That A Playground Can Teach Us About Relationships

This weekend, I took Katie and Leah to one of the many local parks here in Austin. The brilliant thing about our city parks are the really neat playgrounds…and on weekends, there are always a gaggle of kids enjoying the freedom of playing. As I watched, it occurred to me that there is a lot we can learn about relationships – and in many cases relearn – from observing how kids interact with each other.

1. Lack of judgment
Watch kids play and first thing you notice is that there is a lack of personal judgment taking place. When a new boy or girl enters the scene, they don’t fret and wonder how this fellow player is going to add to their social circle. They don’t worry if hanging around with them is going to build or kill their cred as someone cool or hip. They don’t get hung up in a bunch of the social tangles that we create everyday. The only question they have is whether they want to have fun and play.

2. Sometimes you need a buddy
While kids can go off and play by themselves, they know that the teeter-totter doesn’t work very well with just one rider. And the merry-go-round works way better when someone else helps push. Listen for the laughter on a playground and you’ll likely see a group of kids enjoying the heck out of themselves – together

3. Free to begin, free to leave
There’s no planning, no exchange of business cards, no tearful goodbyes (well, only when you have to actually leave the playground). Kids live In the moment. They’re single-mindedly focused on swinging higher, sliding faster, climbing farther. When a friend leaves, another friend may enter.

4. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow
Notice that there’s never one person ordering others to go push them on the swings or spin them on the merry-go-round. There’s just a mutual sense of helping. And if someone’s hogging all the fun, they get left behind pretty quickly. That built-in sense of fairness means that there’s always a fluid agreement of leadership and followership.

5. It’s all about sharing the experience
For kids, it’s the fun of being together and enjoying the companionship and fellowship of others. There’s an acknowledgement that discovery is better when you can share it with someone else.

If all of this is true, what happened? Unfortunately, we went through that crazy mixed up time called adolescence. We were bombarded by all sorts of messages about what’s cool and hip and dorky and childish. Most of us figured out that some pretty good defensive armor was necessary to survive the hallways of middle and high school. Then, as adults we never stopped to check whether these things we learned during these tough times still work. If we did, we’d recognize that they don’t.

No worries. The cool thing is that as adults, we now have the maturity and insight to come back around to the lessons we intuitively knew on the playground. So, next time you find a playground inhabited by some fun-loving kids, sit down and just observe. And think about how you can bring some of these lessons that may be locked inside of you back out into your work and life.

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Thoughts of Spring in Mid-winter

I’m in the process of cleaning and organizing my home office. Today, I rediscovered a poem that I used to have posted to my wall a couple of jobs back. It was sent to me by my wife and expresses a romanticism and beauty that continues to haunt me.

Morning by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The mist has left the greening plain,
The dew-drops shine like fairy rain,
The coquette rose awakes again
  Her lovely self adorning.
The Wind is hiding in the trees,
A sighing, soothing, laughing tease,
Until the rose says, "Kiss me, please,"
  ‘Tis morning, ’tis morning.

With staff in hand and careless-free
The wanderer fares right jauntily,
For towns and houses are, thinks he,
  For scorning, for scorning.
My soul is swift upon the wing,
And in its deep a song I bring,
Come, love, and we together sing,
"’Tis morning, ’tis morning."

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Your Life As A Variety Show

The idea of creating balance in our lives is a popular one, but for the most part, I think it is unsustainable and unrealistic. It’s not a balancing act between just two variables of "work" and "life" – it’s far more complex than that. Rather than a teeter-totter image, think about a circus performer who tries to balance themselves on top of a giant ball. The ball can go in any direction and it takes an immense amount of concentration and energy to remain centered on top.

But, there are other models for us to consider.

It used to be that TV had solid lineups of variety shows. Remember Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, and Jack Benny? What about Sonny and Cher and the Muppets? What made them great and interesting was that you always had a wide selection of entertainment. There was usually some singing, some comedy, and some stunts (like guys jugggling chainsaws on fire) in each episode. The different acts kept the show engaging and viewers wondering what would come next.

What would happen if we think of our lives as a variety show with each of our roles as different acts? Each day’s episode can contain…
professional acts – ladies and gentlemen, look as he puts out fires with his bare hands


parent acts
– watch as he solves multiple interpersonal conflicts with the greatest of ease


friend acts
– observe as he enjoys a dinner with people he loves

and the possibilities are endless…

Don’t be afraid to add variety to your life. If your day is dominated by professional acts, think about ways to squeeze in some other acts. Watching the same act over and over gets boring not only to the folks around you, but to you, as well.

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