In texting with a friend today she revealed that during the pandemic she was trying to add more fun during her days which made her think of me. She shared that being with her daughter between work assignments forced her to start playing more. She also shared that going back and forth from play mode to “being a professional” was tricky all day. This made me think, not that thinking is a stretch for me, but some days it’s a sketchy proposition at best. I never thought that my options were being a professional or having fun. For me it was always an And not an Or choice. Here’s the thing, I am fun. I am fun to work with, I bring it, I pack it along like I would my Chapstick, my keys and my phone. It is a tool that elevates everything, work, learning, creating, everything in life is better when fun or levity is introduced. Think of laughter as the language of God.
I can understand my friend’s conundrum. We are trained, most especially women, to be serious so we are taken seriously at work. We all are taught that work was serious business and we needed to focus, produce and excel. Those are all good things, but all done better with humor and fun. Here’s an example where I injected a small dose of fun into a small thing that netted a great result:
I taught Career Readiness workshops. As students came into our center, they were checked in and went into the classroom for the start of the session. I asked the front desk staff if they wanted to bet on how many students would come to the session. There was no wager, the fun was purely in the guessing, estimating and teasing that went with this small tweak of competition. It was playful, created laughter and the level of delight we exuded as we greeted everyone who walked through our door for those 15 minutes, exuberant. Not that we didn’t always give folks a great reception, but now they got a group of delighted faces as if they were celebrities coming down the red carpet. That small game became part of our culture and a common experience that bonded us in a different way than we had before, we bonded in play and laughter.
This was small and silly, but it created a bond and common experience that elevated a simple task into play. It made everyone’s experience in that 15 minutes better than it would have been, and that energy moved them on through other work in the day. Play shifts us to look at what is possible, it opens us up to new ways of thinking, doing and being. I think that being good at what you do should not be tied to being serious. As an example, in operating rooms they play great music to set the mood and create an environment of positivity. That does not in any way undermine the tasks at hand but rather enhance teamwork and energy.
Fun and play have a reputation of being frivolous, however, this runs contrary to what science and nature show us. Animals teach their young how to hunt, to survive, through play. All great learning happens during play. Cancer patients are frequently told to watch comedies as laughter changes our chemistry for the better. Endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin are all released during play, laughter and closeness. Why wouldn’t these same things make us better teams, workers, thinkers, creators and people?
So how does one start to introduce play and fun in all aspects of their lives? Here’s a simple list of steps to try and see what happens.
- Notice where does play or fun live currently in your life, at work, home, relationships. Start to notice those moments in small conversations with co-workers that are playful or fun, see how that can be deepened if only in your enthusiasm or appreciation. Know this person is now a coconspirator to fun in the future. It also makes you notice folks who may not be open just yet to this way of thinking.
- Opportunity comes after you have noticed where play currently lives and where it can be expanded. You now know who is open and you can create your own moment or instigate one. That can be meeting at the coffee truck first thing to share a moment of laughter. In these virtual days, a drop-in lunchroom where folks can chat and share their lives. Noticing leads us to finding opportunities for play and fun.
- Practice gives us mastery of a tool. A well placed and appropriate joke in a meeting can cause a small bout of laughter and that extra oxygen gives everyone a boost. It builds teams and goodwill. It can also break tension and help find a way to be better able to focus on solutions not just problems.
I will make a note of caution here- play and the introduction thereof can make you vulnerable and sometimes a target. Always start small, know you audience, never make anyone the butt of a joke and keep inclusivity and kindness in your sense of play. We know humor or play is also the weapon of a bully. It has been pervasive in many work cultures that are toxic. The play I proscribe is out of generosity, kindness and love…In this practice, I am, if anyone, the only one who is vulnerable in that moment. These are crucial points to make note of when going forward.
Start small if this is new or scary to you, start at home, with your family, your partners even your pets. Bust out that tiara, that ridiculous hat you were bullied into buying on vacation or even a fake accent and try them all on as a surprise at the dinner table. Could that turn into Friday night dress up dinner? Maybe. The worst thing that could happen is people don’t laugh. On the flip side, you may have a great story of your silliness and a cherished memory is born. The practice of gratitude is shown to improve our lives and well-being. I believe a practice of play will do the same thing. Give it a whirl and share the fun… cheers. – Kyra
For more information about my coaching go to Trueroadtraveler.com.