We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.
The faint light of autumn peers through the blinds as I sit down to write this. Outside, the trees have all turned colour and are fast shedding their leaves. Summer is a distant memory. Where did the time go? It seems to have just zipped past… just like the plans I had for summer.
This summer, the plan was to write and write some more. Taking time off writing and blogging was definitely not part of the plan. But sometimes, life has to force the direction it takes, in order to lead us to what we say we want. So this summer, I didn’t write or work, but I played!
I’m not sure how it happened. I think it was after I read Steve Jobs’ biography for the third time. A friend then lent me Steve Wozniak’s autobiography. Reading about the founding of the Apple Computer Company and the heady days of the Homebrew Computer Club left me bitten by the bug. I ended up wanting to dabble in electronics and to build a replica of the Apple I – their first product.
In the end, I didn’t build the Apple I (that plan has been shelved for a later date). But I did end up buying a Raspberry Pi computer, an Arduino microcontroller (I actually bought a cheap clone off eBay, but it’s all legit since it is an open source project), several hundred pieces of electronic components, a hot-glue gun and somehow, also a weird looking flying machine (a.k.a. the Hubsan X4 micro-quadcopter).
Most of my summer was spent tinkering with these new toys and there was precious little time for anything else. My 5-year-old daughter became my chief assistant and together we spent many a happy hour, learning and playing together.
I soldered (badly), hot glued (badly), programmed (badly) and flew (yep, you guessed – badly). I even started ‘hacking’ my equipment (this term originally meant ‘to modify’ something, although sadly, it has come to mean something more sinister in recent years).
By indulging my inner child and playing all summer long, I have grown in ways that I simply could not have imagined. While I did everything with the single intention of having fun, there have been many side-effects that have been both positive and unexpected.
I have learned a lot – not just in terms of ‘real world’ skills and knowledge, but in terms of being more open to experimenting and trying new things. I also learned to be ok when something doesn’t go as planned (and it goes up in smoke before my very eyes instead) and to learn what I can from that experience and then get up and have another go at it.
I made new friends and caught glimpses into the lives of other people – people who having being playing for longer and with more intensity than I have. And what I saw has just reinforced my belief that play is as much a ‘must’ for adults as it is for children.
My friend Benedikt is one of the best examples of this truth that I have seen so far. His skills, knowledge and proficiency in building and flying weird and wonderful flying machines is underscored by a strong lightheartedness and playfulness that is nothing short of inspiring (and infectious too!).
It is nothing new, and if anything, a real cliche, but I have found that playing is a wonderful way to relax and forget about everything else. When you get so absorbed in what you are doing, you simply lose track of time and of all your worries. And, as Benedikt spells out in the video above, you cannot help but be absorbed when one false move can result in a propeller splitting, motor wrenching crash! So to my mind, playing is the new meditation.
All of the above have been life-enriching, but the best thing that came out of my summer of fun is the huge improvement I saw in my relationship with my daughter. We shared a close and loving bond from the day she was born, but if things were good before, now they are AMAZING!
Throughout this summer, Dakota has been my constant companion and main accomplice. We have had a TON of fun playing together. But she has also had a front row seat to all dizzying successes and spectacular disasters of my many crazy projects and schemes. And we have become so much closer as a result.
I think she has been learning a lot and enjoying all of this too (there was the one time however, that she had to be woken up from her siesta to come to the park with her mother to help me search for my quadcopter, which had crashed in the tall grass. She helped me find the missing quad within minutes of arriving – even though I had searched for about an hour and a half before – so she got the job done, but still she reminds me that she didn’t appreciate being woken up!!).
I am much happier now as a person and as a father because I feel that my relationship with my child (and my fathering skills) have improved no end as a result of learning to just play and have fun. And that to me is priceless!
Work and Play
It is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that playing and having fun is hugely beneficial to one’s health, happiness and relationships. But what about work? Isn’t work more important than fun and where’s the time to have fun, when you are so busy with work?
These are very valid questions and are probably the main reason that many adults drift away from playing and having fun. But looking at the world around me, I can see several examples of how playing and having fun has helped people in their work and careers as well.
Apple Computer Co.
We can all agree that the late Steve Jobs was the guy who made Apple the huge success that it is today. But the fact is that there would be no Apple without Steve Wozniak. He was the guy that created the first two products, which helped launch and establish the Company in the first place. If you take the time to learn about Steve Wozniak (or ‘Woz’ as he is affectionately known) you will see that he is a blend of prodigious engineering skill and a child-like playfulness. In fact, he and Jobs spent a lot of time and energy playing pranks on people, before they set up the Apple Computer Co.
Woz liked computers and he loved to tinker. He ended up making a little terminal for his own fun and enjoyment – a main board that he could connect a keyboard and monitor to. It was this labour of love that led to the Apple I, which led to the Apple II, which in turn launched the Company. Woz wasn’t very money minded. In fact, he is known for giving his ideas and designs away for free and it was Job’s guidance and influence that led the pair to commercial success. But none of that would have been possible if not for Woz’s need and willingness to play and have fun. And when the Company went public, Woz ended up a multi-millionaire in the process. So his path of play and fun worked out well for him in the end!
Sir Richard Branson
Here are just three quotes from the boss of the Virgin group that will give you an insight into how much he values play and a way of living and working:
- I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.
- Fun shouldn’t just be reserved for special occasions, if you find time for it in your everyday life you will be rewarded everyday.
- Don’t think about fun as a reward, think of it as a responsibility.
Google is one of the biggest and most successful companies in modern times. And it is still innovating and still growing. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a company of this calibre would stress on hard work and place little or no importance on anything outside of work (like play perhaps?). But you’d be wrong!
Google not only values play but encourages it. This is why you will see volleyball courts, ‘foosball’ and pool tables, video games, pianos and ping pong tables located on the premises of their corporate headquarters in Mountainview, California. They even let you bring your dog to work!! Little wonder then that this company has been voted ‘best place to work’ time and time again by Fortune 500.
This wonderful article from HelpGuide.Org entitled ‘The Benefits of Play for Adults: How Play Can Improve Your Health, Work, and Family Relationships‘ while confirming the above, gives a great deal of information as to the ‘how and why’ of it all and is well worth reading.
So it’s clear to see that play can help improve virtually every area of your life. So now, there is simply no excuse to not play!