Per my previous post, as of the end of November, I was clear on one of my two core values: compassion.
But the second was proving elusive. “What am I prepared to struggle for,” kept playing on a loop in my mind.
The answer came, as is so often does, while I was rocking-out to some favourite music (Loreena McKennit) in the shower.
Yes, the obvious kind. And also much more than that. Play for me is not a simple value at all. It’s a wonderful yummy mash-up of rest, creativity, curiosity, learning, growth, exploration, not-taking-myself-too-seriously (one I reeeaaaly struggle with), goofiness, vulnerability, experimentation, down-time, relaxation, rest…etc. Play for me is both purposeful AND purposeless. It is both, at the exact same time. Just like it is with kids.
Why is play so important to me that I would list it as one of my two core values?
Precisely because it is the one where a whole lot of other behaviours and patterns of thinking get tested. Taking myself too seriously, for one, as I've already mentioned. When I was a graduate student the head of the Leadership Scholarship program I was a part of told me “Sue, you’re far too wound up, you should really just smoke of doobie”. As this was an Ivy League MBA program you can image how off the wall that suggestion was to me!
Yet I had been on the receiving end of variations on this theme for some years: A a short-lived boyfriend had told me in my twenties – “Your walls are raised so high I can walk in right underneath them”. Another friend at a similar time : “You’re strung so tight I can play you like a guitar”.
So play would hardly seem to be a value I was embodying. True, and yet....
It is was precisely because I was so deeply uncomfortable with vulnerability, and - truth-be-told, downright insecure - that I was armoring up and trying to project a certain image. But it was precisely in the moments when I wasn’t armored up, when I felt truly comfortable to be me, that I could be goofy, ridiculous, relaxed and chilled out. Earnest, task-focused, highly productive, taking-things-seriously Sue is a part of me yes. And it’s a part of me that, when left to run rampant, quickly leads me into a quagmire of shame, blame, judgement, resentment and unhappiness.
“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression” write Dr Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play. Drawing on his own research, as well as latest advances in biology, psychology, and neurology, Brown explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups and is the core of creativity and innovation. Play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest.
Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.
All of this is so incredibly true for me. When I lose sight of play in my work, all the uglier, sadder and more depressive parts of myself quickly start running rough shod over my energy, my relationships, and my mood.
When I am honoring and living by play as one of my two core values I am me at my best. As a decision-making filter it guides me to decisions and choices that honor what I actually need, not what I think I need to prove myself to myself or to others. It is achievable, internal, conscious and socially-constructive (using the tests of good values from my previous post). When I bring an attitude of play to something I am open, curious, learning and growing. It keeps me out of defensiveness and armoring up. It helps me lean-in compassionately even with those with whom I really struggle.
So, compassion and play. There you have it.
In the next post I will (vulnerably, playfully and compassionately!) share how I am working to operationalize these two values, what tends to lead me to walk away from my values, and what support systems I have put in place to help me protect and nurture my values.
Sue Mann - Coach
Reflections on how we reclaim and sustain our worthiness in the face of falls and challenges.