Permission to Play

On Friday afternoon I took myself out on a play date. I started with a nice lunch in a lovely cafe in my favourite bookstore. After many years of business travel, I grew fond of eating alone in interesting cafes. It’s not something I do very often in my own home town, though, so it felt like a rare treat.

After lunch, I wandered through the bookstore (and yes, I treated myself to a book), and then headed to the conservatory (an indoor tropical garden) with a chai latte, my camera, and my mandala journal. The flower garden at the conservatory was fully of orchids and crocuses, and I soaked in the colour like a hungry addict getting a hit of Spring.

I had to carefully guard my playtime last week. It had been a hard week, with a few too many twelve hour days of marking papers, teaching, and prepping for teaching, and I knew how badly I needed time off. When I got a very good invitation to serve on an interview panel for a women’s leadership program, I almost gave up my Friday afternoon playtime. But I managed to stand firm and say “no”.

It’s how it always is, isn’t it? Playtime falls at the bottom of our priorities. It’s the thing we do “if we have time” after fulfilling all of the duties that fall on our shoulders. First we have to be responsible friends, moms, employees, business owners, homeowners, community members, etc. After all, that’s what a grown-up does, right? Take care of responsibility first?

Whenever I teach creativity classes, I almost always assign some kind of playtime for the weeks between classes. This past week, for example, I told my students that I wanted them to fill a page of their new art journals with colour. “I don’t care what it looks like,” I said, “I just want to see it full of colour.”

I already know what I’ll hear next Thursday, because I hear it all the time. “I didn’t have time. I couldn’t work it into my schedule. My husband made me feel guilty for goofing off while there were dishes to be done. I was too busy driving my kids to all of their activities.” I’ve heard it all before, and it all boils down to the same thing. “I don’t know how to make playtime a priority in my life.”

What we fail to realize, though, when we use those excuses, is that we are not only trivializing playtime, we are trivializing our own self-care and investment in our happiness. We are putting everyone else’s needs ahead of our own and forgetting that the best way to be of service to them is to first find our contentment and self-worth. We are also forgetting that play is a crucial part of growth, even for an adult.

Those people who make time for play also know how to work hard and how to pour themselves with passion into their lives.

Play isn’t trivial – it’s transformative.

Play helps us get in touch with our deeper selves. It helps open our imagination and gives us a greater creative advantage in all areas of our lives.

Play helps us deal with stress – often more successfully than talk therapy does. It gives us greater balance in life and helps us cope with the times when we must struggle.

Play is also one of the greatest learning tools. I’ve seen it in my classroom when my students’ eyes light up when they’re allowed to play and often don’t realize how much they’re learning from their play.

Play is a community transformation tool. Engage in play with your community, and you invite each other into a new space of possibility, creativity, and connection.

I was once leading a staff planning session where most of the time was spent in play. We tore pictures out of magazines to make vision boards and we got our hands dirty playing with clay. One of the men in the group was clearly stressed out by how trivial the day was and asked more than once “When are we going to get to our action plan?” I didn’t say much, but at some point, while he was holding a clay model of our group’s vision in his hands, he had an a-ha moment and said, “Oh, I get it now! This IS our action plan!” Even strategic planning can be transformed with a little play.

As we grew into adults, we learned to relegate play to a child’s activity. We had more grown-up things to do. And yet, we are missing out on so much if we don’t make play a priority.

What will YOU do this week to make play a priority?


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