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A Spoonful of Sugar: How to Transform Work Into Play

Chit chatting this morning over the water cooler, a colleague said to me, “We spend the first ten years of our lives having fun. It’s all responsibilities from there.” I was taken aback. Really? Is that true? I walked away wondering why I could not relate to the comment. What is it that I’m doing that makes work and responsibilities so fun?

In pondering the question, I recognized several very meaningful ways to approach work that have the power to transform it from responsibility to play.

  1. Be curious. My children love Curious George. If you too have watched or read any of his tales, you know that Curious George gets into a LOT of trouble. He starts with a question and it leads him into a wild adventure of sorts. It always ends well, but not before making tremendous errors that cause the characters in his story to panic. Be like George, not like his friends. When you approach life with curiosity and a willingness to explore, no matter what the consequences, you will find yourself always growing. Whatever you do, don’t be like George’s friends; don’t let your failures get you down. Get up and find solutions.

  2. Find purpose. In every sector, in every business, there is a purpose of some sort. A service being offered that people want, a benefit to someone or some group in some way. Align your work with your own sense of purpose. If you can, seek out sectors or companies with missions that enliven you. There is an ocean of possibilities, never let yourself feel trapped. If you do feel stuck, take small steps that will lead you down a new and different path. Notice what you love and begin to cultivate that passion. Patiently, knock on doors until the right one opens.

  3. Notice energy. No matter how inspiring the mission you work for is, you will inevitably bump into other human beings or situations that test you. The key to working with people or projects is to step back and notice energy, rather than words or deeds. Become the observer of things and people. The practices of mindfulness are all about this. The more you can observe the energy behind a behavior or even behind a project, rather than react, the more you learn to navigate interpersonal challenges skillfully and move projects forward.

  4. Seek solutions. When you identify a problem, spend as little time as possible on it. Once you have clarity about the problem, focus on the solutions. Here’s an example: you have a new business process to implement and a timeline to keep. But, thanks to resistance from staff and technical mistakes, the project is well behind schedule. Take a pause. Notice the resistance of staff and ask the question, “why?” Perhaps it is fear of change? Perhaps it’s a lack of aptitude? And what about the technical failures? Take each concern, people and things, and consider the energy behind it. Rather than lament the issues or consider it a failure, work with grace to move the project forward energetically by finding where there is an open door, even if it’s only ajar, and move through it. This requires interpersonal skills. This requires getting vulnerable with your team to problem solve. Be inclusive in finding solutions, or as Brene Brown writes in Dare to Lead, “rumble with vulnerability.

  5. Follow joy. Above all else, follow your joy. If you are living with a sense of heavy responsibility, don’t chuck it all and inadvertently hurt others in the process. Instead, find healthy activities that fill you with joy and follow them in small ways and large. Read more, exercise more, practice kindness, meditate, love…Notice that I say “healthy” activities. That is key here because there are plenty of unhealthy behaviors that bring temporary elation. That is not real joy and that will not have the lasting effect that you seek. As your inner bubble of joy grows, doors will open. This may seem like a long road, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’ve reached the step where you realize that joy is inside of you, then you are very nearly there! If not, know that you will discover that truth in time.

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