Play Hard

Since I can remember, hard work has been the only form of value that I have known to give the people in my small world. The harder the work, the better.

I grew up in a house with seven brothers and sisters, and work was our primary pass time. I figured out that I was pretty good at it, and I used it to make up for all the things I got into that did not exactly put smiles on my parents’ faces. I also found that hard work earned me a good deal of affirmation from the parents of my friends. I instinctively knew when to: take out the trash (it’s full), remove my dish from the table and rinse it in the sink when I was finished eating (why should someone clean up the mess I just made after eating the meal they cooked?), jump right in line when there was a project going on that involved simple but difficult manual labor (I enjoyed digging), and laughing/agreeing with the corny jokes/nuggets of wisdom that my friends’ parents would throw out to look cool or smart.

Fast forward 20 years and here I am… a hard working, people pleasing, perfect citizen of the American workforce. I work in a management position at a small family-owned construction company, of which I am part-owner. I have worked my way up from a crew helper to my current position, and physically abusive hard work has turned into mentally abusive hard work. The only success I have ever known came from persisting in that hard work. The only real affirmation that I have ever gotten from my superiors has been for my hard work and cooperative attitude.

Rewind again 20 years. I was never interested in hard work. I was, however, in need of encouragement and affirmation for my actions, and hard work brought this in abundance. I don’t even know what my real interests were. With school, family, and responsibilities, there was not much time for anything but what I seemed to be most successful at… working hard. What I do know about my interests, was that they were labeled as “play”. Play did not matter, was not productive, and was something I had to sneak most of the time.

If I really sit for a while and think, I can conjure up memories of things I was interested in as a kid. What if someone had been paying close attention to me? Watching my interests. Making it a point to encourage and affirm me when I pursued those interests. Giving me a sense of accomplishment and success when I “played”, rather than a feeling of shame and guilt for having to sneak or fight for the pursuit of my interests. What if I had been given the opportunity to be proud and have a sense of accomplishment when I played hard as well as when I worked hard?

Fast forward again 20 years. (I know, this time travel is making me nauseous too) My son Axel is 4 1/2 years old, and exploding with interest and curiosity. He plays hard and real. Play is serious for him, and consists of creating and achieving the most exciting goals! It is self sustaining, imaginative, and never boring or monotonous! (I am literally shouting this.) What if I paid close attention to him? Watched like a hawk for the things that peaked his interest most. What if I made it a point to encourage him to pursue those interests, and affirmed his actions when he did? What if he achieved a sense of accomplishment and success when he played, and never felt ashamed or guilty for pursuing what interested him?  What if I taught him that playing hard would lead him to the greatest successes of his life, and give him the best opportunity to affect the people around him with the explosion of life that it brings?

I’ll tell you what… Axel would change the world! And he will. He will because he is awesome, and because I am making damn sure that I do every one of these things. Every day, every chance I get, I play hard with him. His success is my greatest interest, and I will play hard to pursue it! It’s hard play, and it does not come naturally to a hard worker like myself. I do it anyway, and love every life-giving second of it.

So, to all you hard working moms and dads out there. Play harder when you are with your kids! You will quickly find that it is a much more successful way of living, and hopefully as a result you will eventually turn your work into play. This is my goal, and I will achieve it.

I wrote in an earlier post that I have learned more about myself from interacting with my son than any counselor or self help book, and it could not be more true here. When people talk to me about “changing the world”, and “making a difference” I always instinctively look at the people closest to them.  Are you attempting to change their world first? Are you paying attention to their interests and goals? If the answer is no, then you are doing yourself and the world you are trying to change a disservice.

Start with the people nearest to you. Change their world, and every one else’s world will follow in suit.

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