Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was quite bummed that I was feeling rundown, exhausted, and stressed. I was upset that as I sat there surrounded by my parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews that I couldn’t give my all because I felt so tired. My nieces and nephews had decided to play sardines (Think of it as backwards hide and seek. One person hides and as each person finds the hider, they hide with them. The last person to find the growing group hides in the next round.) The kids asked me to play, and I had this moment of thinking that I was too tired to play, but something nudged me to say yes.
At first, it was like I was faking it until I made it. I was counting obnoxiously loud with the kids, busting a gut with giggles, and had intended to play just one round. Soon enough, I didn’t have to force anything. Somewhere over our 90 minutes of play (yes 90 minutes!), I was filled with so much joy and energy. I was snorting with laughter, being ridiculous, and all thoughts of work and stress disappeared. By the end of the game, it was like someone had fully recharged my batteries.
Yes, I created amazing memories with the kids. I will cherish that my teenage nieces and nephews played with us. I will cherish that I got to play with a new generation in my childhood home. I can still feel the joy when I was the person to hide (and I had the best hiding spot!) After some time of the kids not finding me, my niece Monica shouted, “This is Sarah we are talking about!” One by one, the kids found me and we scrunched in tighter and tighter in the back of my old closet, all the while trying to squelch down giggles.
The big A-HA moment came as I was thinking how energized I felt after I played. Why do we stop playing as adults? Why is there this unwritten rule that playing and being silly and ridiculous have negative connotations? Why is only acceptable for us to be silly when around kids? Maybe the reason that we’re tired and stressed more often than not is that we don’t give ourselves permission to play.
I think we stop playing as adults because we feel like to be an adult means to be serious. We judge ourselves and we judge others for being silly. We don’t view play as productive, but science has proven time and time again that it is. Even the words ‘silly’ and ‘ridiculous’ shift connotations depending on the age range we apply them to. A child who is being silly is much different than an adult who is being silly.
I was discussing this idea of play with one of my team members and we thought of the example of Richard Branson. He is a polarizing person, due in large part because he plays. He’s loud and audacious and plays on a very large scale. He breaks the mold of what a successful entrepreneur acts like. These polarizing opinions might come from jealousy. He is no inhibitions, and I think we all, even deep down, want to be more like that.
During my theater years, participating in improv was my outlet to play. I haven’t actively sought out that outlet in quite some time. Truthfully, I didn’t realize how far away I had gotten from play and how much I missed it. I get it, life gets busy and suddenly we are prioritizing responding to emails over smiling. Or people in our lives remind us to be “adults.” Since then I’ve worked to find play every day. Maybe it’s showing up to the office in a ridiculous holiday outfit, seeing what silly voices I can use to get Nick to laugh, getting on the floor to play with my dog, or just having a fun interaction with a stranger.
Bernard Shaw, one of my favorite playwrights once said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; We grow old because we stop playing.”
One of my favorite mantras is to Play Fully Brave. Someone asked me is it to “Play fully brave?” or to “be playfully brave”. To which I respond it’s both!
There is no wrong or right way to play. There should be no judgment, from yourself or others, about what brings you joy. My wish for you is to get present with play. I encourage you to get curious with this question: