All Work and No Play-Who Me?

I’m a helper kind of person. It makes me happy to assist others in ways that makes them happy.

In my forties, I sailed on a 93-ft schooner for two years. To run such a vessel it takes collaboration and team work. I was really good at that. If there was something to be done and I could do it, well, I did it! I was happy to help and it was fun to work together for the betterment of all. However, I realize that I continually put aside my own projects and tasks in support of other people’s projects; the outcome of which not only frustrated me, because I wasn’t getting my jobs done, but it also made me feel resentful and depleted spiritually. This confused me because I was happy to help and yet there was a part of me that wasn’t happy. How can that be? Just because I often disregard my natural requirements for solitude and for creativity – how could that be a bad thing?

All Work and No Play Makes Jackie a Dull Girl


My client Maureen is a fabulous artist, when she gets around to it. She says: "I always have 10 things to do before I can get to my creative stuff. And most often I become uninspired and am too tired after doing that stuff to be creative. So I sit and watch Netflix instead. I want my painting to be a higher commitment than every thing else on my to-do list. How do I make that happen?

Much like Maureen, not only do I take care of the to-do list first, with painting being at the bottom of the list, but I also ignore and distract myself from that aspect of myself that longs for play. I forsake her in service to being productive and seeing results, attending to the needs of others, or at least attending to the perceived needs of others. Netflix wins again!

Growing up in a Catholic dysfunctional family of nine, I wasn’t good at playing, and apparently a lot of children that grow up in dysfunctional families aren’t good at playing. Why? Because we worry, we are anxious and we are hyper-vigilant to potential chaos and crisis. I didn’t allow myself even the awareness that play and innocent abandon was a possibility. I focused on doing everything I could to not be part of the dysfunction. This in itself is dysfunctional, isn’t it? I had very few friends, and it makes sense, since I wasn’t much fun to be around. And I certainly wasn’t having much fun!

Over time, I’ve learned to enjoy everything I do. However, to allow myself to engage in activities that have no benefit whatsoever aside from that it is infinitely pleasing to me, well that has been a huge challenge all of my life.

I realized not too long ago that although I love to write, I love to coach, I love speaking and facilitating groups, these activities are generated by my desire to make contributions to people and to the world. They feed me in very nourishing ways. However, over the past year, I discovered that creating through painting and drawing feeds my soul in a way the other activities don’t. Playing with pencils and paints provides me with infinite pleasure. I want to engage and play with color, even though there may be no specific outcome produced aside from the sheer enjoyment of playing with paint and making pretty pictures.

People love my paintings and tell me all the time that I should sell them. That could be fun! So, I set up a studio and bought the tools needed to begin a career as a painter, alongside my other careers. Okay, so, I love my studio and am excited to paint. However, painting to produce now requires some focus on business, as do my other careers. Now I have to think about what is sellable, how to market my work and more. It now becomes about other people again and not about solely and completely allowing me to bask in the delight of play. What to do? What to do?

The other day, I bought some new colored pencils and brushes that would allow me to work in mixed mediums and to sell, sell, sell. As I was driving home with my new tools, I had a thought – a very unusual thought – that what I was buying were more than tools, they were toys!!! My body lit up and got excited, as if I was six years old again. What a refreshing idea – that I was allowing myself to buy toys to play with. Immediately, the puritanical-parental aspect of me reared up and frowned ferociously at this idea. But, I sided with the idea of toys and play and looking forward to, well, playing!

The puritanical-parental aspect of me doesn’t like spending money on non-necessities. It doesn’t like wasting time doing useless activities. It believes that my desire to paint and play is frivolous and leads to irresponsible laziness! These words – irresponsible and lazy, triggered a strong visceral response to this voice that’s inside my head. It’s a feeling that I hate and avoid at all costs! I pause, waiting for the angst to pass. I pause. It’s still here. I pause. It’s still here. I pause. It’s still here…. Sometimes it takes time to wait out that voice that admonishes me for my desire to create play. I’m working on it!

The acts of life that are self-pleasing as expressions of our essential nature are so hard to engage in when our cells are spontaneously triggered by the demands of that puritanical-parental aspect that says, "do something productive!"

We have to want what we want enough to ignore the voice that destroys any fun and play available to us. It’s hard work for some of us to go play and have fun. And, as we age, perhaps we gain the wisdom to choose to make fun wherever we go.

There are so many workshops and retreats available to corporations and business people which focus on Work-Life Balance. However, we are so entrained to focus on productivity and on requirements for results, that to balance work with life is excruciatingly challenging – at least for some of us.

My friend Marti shared with me this morning that she was transitioning from that part of her day where she is immersed in her morning Blissipline to those other activities that don’t necessarily contribute as much to bliss in her day. It was delightful to hear how another person defines those aspects of life that are required to cultivate bliss and play from those that are more mundane. It helped me consider that carving out time for my Blissiplines was as essential as carving out time for my other disciplines.

Actually, there is a great deal of research that indicates that starting your day with fun and play enhances the rest of your day. You feel happy and fulfilled and you act happy and fulfilled throughout your day. What a concept! So for me, it means painting first thing in the morning, then engaging in my other regularly scheduled programming. It makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m sure my puritanical parent-self will not like that one bit, but maybe I can experiment with this idea and see what shows up!

Aging like a guru, a concept I play with, means questioning reality. More specifically, it means questioning consensus view of reality, and questioning why we do what we do.

Most of us have been programmed to do what is “right” and “good.” Most of us haven’t questioned what that actually means. And, most of us ignore those scientific studies that fly in the face of our training to work hard then play. A lot of people are getting sick with diseases that are caused primarily because we aren’t playing enough. We ignore our well-being, we ignore our human-spirit – but in service to what?

As I age, I question reality more frequently, asking myself, "If it isn’t fun, what’s the point of doing it?” So my practice is to either only do what is fun, or to reframe what I’m doing so I can see the fun that is available to me, no matter what!

Aging like a guru requires looking at life with eyes that are most likely different from the ones we were given. What I mean is, we generally look through those eyes that are primarily connected to our heads and to logical, rational thinking. The other set of eyes are connected to our heart, and to our wisdom and spiritual intelligence. It’s fun to play in experiments where you try out looking at life from these different sets of eyes. There doesn’t have to be a specific outcome from this practice, but just noticing who is choosing to choose which eyes to look through can be a fascinating and curious place to play. Here’s looking at you, kid!

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