This week my five year old son said to me "I don't know what to do with my life". My first reaction was an internal chuckle, followed by surprise and feeling a little sad that already such a question was on his mind.
But there is also something wonderful about being curious of the world. Imagining the roles you may have in your later years. It's natural to question what you are to do with your life. And children play out these roles from a very early age. As well as mimic our everyday activities.
I responded to my son with - "Play!" What do you enjoy playing?
I believe that play is such a simple and natural concept that can bring much happiness into our lives. And in a way, can offer clues as to what elements of play we can perhaps bring into our working life.
Yet our minds, and interactions with others and society have a tendency to confuse and complicate it all. We compare ourselves to others and what they have, thinking we need to have the same, and do the same to accomplish a similar way of living. The term 'keeping up with the Joneses' is a saying most of us are familiar with. Rather than allow curiosity and joy of play guide us, we are often led by the chase of money.
And let's be honest, money is important. We need it to survive. But life is much more than material wealth and possessions. Much more than spending all our time working and being defined by it. I think the question to ask ourselves is, how much money do we actually need to live simply enough, so that we have time to enjoy life outside of our work hours. So we have time for play.
So what is play?
Children naturally do it. They explore their senses and surrounding. They let curiosity guide them - painting with their hands, building block towers and creating cities, making noise with musical instruments, kicking a ball in the yard, pretending to bake cakes and pass around cups of tea. And so on.
So really, children don't need much help when it comes to play. Gentle encouragement and exposure to a sensory rich environment yes. But naturally, they grasp the concept rather well.
How can this continue through to adulthood? Quite easily really.
We can get our hands dirty playing with charcoal or pastels, clear the dining table and put together a model airplane or sailing boat, enrol in piano lessons or simply enjoy listening to classic pianists, call a friend to kick a ball around in the park or go for a sunrise bike ride, follow a passion for baking and make it a weekend ritual to gather for morning tea with family or friends to share a delicious creation.
Through experimenting with different forms of play, we may feel little sparks of excitement and joy. And like a child, we can follow them and allow ourselves to do them more often. Possibly enter a state of flow.
And by being a little creative we could even bring this sense of play into our work life.
For myself, I've always loved taking photos. I remember using those old school disposable cameras on school camps and holidays, documenting our adventures. Of sitting on the living room floor flipping through my parent's photo albums. I'm now a photographer. I remember sitting in the car and using my eyes like I'm filming, changing my focus to the scenes around me as the music played within the car. I'm now creating little films. I would spend hours in my room redecorating it and feeling proud when my mum came home to see that I'd done the same to the living room. I'm now being asked to style friend's homes. And I love to learn about life and write of my discoveries. Simply for the joy of it. So I allow time for it and share reflections within this space.
These forms of play that often stem from the very early years of our life - they can continue into adulthood. They can become a compass of sorts which help to guide us through the course of our life. And just as the path of life takes twists and turns, so too can our interests. And what we enjoy doing for play.
The challenge that many of us find in adulthood is having time for play.
Most of us feel short of time. And quite often will say we don't have time for play. This is when we can look at our routines and schedules and let go of anything that isn't completely necessary. It's when simplifying various areas of our lives and our surroundings can free up time so we do actually have space for play.
Allowing time for play is as important for our wellbeing as eating well is for our health. It can help us feel a great sense of happiness and fulfilment in our everyday life.
So we can ask, "what do I enjoy playing?" It helps to notice the little moments of magic that make us feel alive. And actually allow time in our weekly schedule to enjoy them.
To my son: right now at five years old, you spend hours constructing Duplo cities. You come alive when showing others how fast you can run, or how you can kick a ball. You take great pride in building a train track that runs the perimeter of our home. You love stacking things to great heights. You love dressing up - as Spiderman, Hulk, or a combination of both, and jumping on the trampoline doing tricky moves :) x