“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent, and original manner possible.” ~Richard Feynman
For most of Western history, we have valued work over play, labor over leisure, seriousness over sincerity. This has been a double-edged sword. It led to the Protestant work ethic, which led to the explosion of both the agricultural and industrial revolutions. But we became a species of hyper-fatigue: over-worked, stressed out, and depleted in mind, body, and soul.
A sense of play is missing. A sense of joy regarding our work is scarce. Especially as adults. We’re too serious. There’s too much self-importance regarding our jobs and careers. We’re overly sensitive about ‘our place in society’ and how our work defines us as a person. This self-seriousness, self-importance, and hyper-sensitivity has led to rampant anxiety, stress, and depression.
Meanwhile, our inner child is drowning. Or, worse, he/she is already dead. Beaten out of us by the demands of a cruel world that’s dead set upon working us to the bone. And for what? More money? More security? More things, things, things? But how much money do we really need? How much security is too much? Where does moderation come into play?
“Keeping up with the Joneses” has blinded us from keeping up with the way reality really works. It’s a psychosocial red herring of the highest order, distracting us from what really matters. And what really matters? What are we working for? We’re working for a healthy life, for the people we love, for profound experiences, for making the best of the short amount of time we have in this life.
But when we’re overworked, overstressed, and overly sensitive, we lose perspective on health, love, experience, and living life to the fullest. A sense of play can help us with this. The rebirth of our inner child resurrects our sense of play. Which opens us up to curiosity, joy, laughter, and being love.
So, how do we go about resurrecting our inner child? First, we must find a way to flip the script on our self-seriousness. We must turn the tables on our overworked brain. We must change the way the game is played. We do this by leveraging Beginner’s Mind against Master’s Mind to create true self-mastery. We do this through art, poetry, music, and taking a leap of courage into adventure.
As Robin Williams said in The Dead Poet’s Society, “We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
Resurrecting your inner child is resurrecting your ability to recognize what’s worth staying alive for. With your inner child archetype working for you, rather than dead inside you, you see how true play is work and true work is play. You come alive.
When you play hard, you clear a sacred space where your inner child can breathe. When you are practicing art, poetry, music, or a sense of adventure, you’re indirectly practicing passion, love, and connection. You’re practicing participation with Cosmos. You become connected to the interconnectedness of all things. It becomes a spiritual experience which embodies the whole—mind, body, and soul.
And the best part? This interconnection will resonate in your work. In the long run, playing harder than you work leads to better work. This sense of interconnection lifts morale, increases optimism, and raises self-esteem. And it’s infectious. Others will sense it. They will respond to your newfound work ethic. They will see that your work has a certain quality to it that exudes passion, love, exuberance, and high energy. Not for the sake of work, but for the sake of play. For the sake of life.
Work to live, don’t live to work. Mix work with play for optimal production and satisfaction. Work hard. Just make sure to play harder. And the line between work and play will begin to blur.
Because, otherwise, what’s it all about? We come alive when we play. A sense of play is vital for health and well-being, and it actually improves our work. We discover that we’re more imaginative and creative, more open and adaptable to change, and more flexible and robust in the face of failure or tragedy.
In the spirit of play and remaining in touch with our inner child, here are five quick ways (there are definitely more) to practice the work hard play harder ethic and to leverage little more joy into your life…
1.) Make fun of certainty:
“The business of philosophy is to teach man to live in uncertainty. Not to reassure him, but to upset him.” ~Lev Shestov
Crucify certainty. Hang it on your wall, draw a red target on it, and then throw darts at it. For certainty is the crippler of curiosity. Certainty is the coffin that your inner child was buried in. the crowbar of curiosity is the only thing that can release him/her.
Use curiosity to free your inner child and then unapologetically mock certainty henceforth. Laugh at certainty every time it rears its ugly head. Juggle the certainty of others to reveal how laughable their self-seriousness really is. Pinpoint the cosmic joke by laughing rather than crying at the fact that the universe is inherently meaningless, and then create meaning out of it with your profound sense of humor.
2.) Work hard at penetrating the Great Mystery:
“The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.” ~Ken Kesey
Stay inquisitive. Never stop questioning. Inquiry exists to keep you engaged with being a vital aspect of the universe. You are the universe becoming aware of itself. Staying inquisitive is your way of honoring that vitality.
Why is inquisitiveness so powerful? Because it is both a proactive engagement and a playful presence. True inquiry is deep, primal, absorbing, imaginative and ravenous for updated knowledge. Fall in love again with being curious about the universe and your place in it.
3.) Be ridiculous:
“Almost all capable people are terribly afraid of being ridiculous, and they are miserable because of it.” ~Fyodor Dostoevsky
Be unconventional. Be eccentric. Be as crazy-beautiful-bizarre as your delicious imagination can dream up, and then dance into it without shame. Laugh at the cosmic joke of it all. Play with it. Tease it. Dance with it. Reimagine it in ways that will shock your soul and heighten your awareness.
Shoot yourself in the daredevil-foot from time to time. The universe is your playground, and it’s time for recess. Just be healthy about it, have a good sense of humor, and keep your tongue in your cheek.
4.) Practice Kidmaste:
“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.” ~Khalil Gibran
What is kidmaste? It’s like namaste (the god in me honors the god in you), with a twist: the little kid in me honors the little kid in you.
This is a way of leading by playful example. It helps others get in touch with Beginner’s Mind and maybe find ways that they too can resurrect their inner child. Really, we’re not that far removed from the little kid we once were. The illusion is that we’ve “grown up.”
At the end of the day, there is more maturity in a spoonful of humble, playful, child-like vulnerability than in an oceanful of prideful, serious, “adult-like” invulnerability.
5.) Trump Master’s Mind with Beginner’s Mind:
“Our firmest convictions are apt to be the most suspect; they mark our limitations and our bounds. Life is a petty thing unless it is moved by the indomitable urge to extend its boundaries.” ~Jose Ortega y Gasset
When Beginner’s Mind trumps Master’s Mind Meta-mind manifests. Through Meta-mind we gain a bird’s-eye-view of our work and how it fits into our life as a whole. We see how working hard is important, but playing harder is vital. We see how playing harder is a way to embrace life as a loving feed-back loop that improves our sense of wellbeing and our quality of life.
At the end of the day, working hard and playing harder is about enjoying being human. Life is too short and too fleeting to waste it grinding away at a meaningless job; or becoming a nine-to-five debt slave, or a conditioned cog in the colloquial clockwork. Balance it all out by playing harder than you work, and your work will almost always be more rewarding.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Work Hard, Play Harder) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.