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If you’re successful on paper yet don’t have the time (or energy) to enjoy your successes, it’s time to start playing.  Because play is crucial to enjoying yourself. And you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your happiness for success at work.

I know what you’re thinking… Sounds nice but there’s no time for play. I’m busy. I have responsibilities. It would be foolish of me to take time for play (and besides, that’s for kids and I’m too old).

Not true. It’s time to learn why play is so important so that you can take time to play without guilt, shame or apology.


The Key to Prioritizing Play Without Guilt

In order to prioritize play (without guilt), it’s important to first understand what play is (and isn’t). Because play shouldn’t be confined to childhood.

The Definition of Playing (as an Adult)

Kids play all the time.  They play games with friends, ride their bikes for fun, and play hide and seek (or tag).  Yet at some point, that all stops.

I can see this happening already in my 13-year old son Zachary.  He used to play all the time, whether it was with his Lego’s, setting up indoor tents with bed sheets, or just running around like a mad man.   But lately his play has subsided (I had to force him outside to “play” this past weekend).  And I’m wracking my brain trying to remember the last time Zachary played with his Lego’s.

Zachary’s growing up and seems to have adopted the all-too common mentality that playing is a childhood activity.

But he’s wrong… Play is for everyone (even adults).

The common definition of play is to engage in an activity for enjoyment or recreation.  I’d go even further than that.  Playing is about doing something for yourself that will help to renew and energize you.  It’s unstructured, creative, and takes you away from your problems and worries.  

Children aren’t the only ones that need renewal (adults do too!).  And it doesn’t hurt – but instead helps – to sometimes lose yourself in something you thoroughly enjoy so that you can step away from day-to-day struggles.

What Play Is Not (and Why That Matters)

I’m not a big fan of the mantra “work hard, play hard” because most people interpret this as “work hard, party hard”.  And hard partying isn’t the same thing as playing.  Play does NOT include unhealthy activities or those that deplete you (no matter how fun they might be in the moment).  

This means that play does not include binge-drinking, staying out all (or most of the) night, or other unhealthy behaviors associated with partying.  The party hard lifestyle isn’t renewing you, it’s actually hurting you. You’re not getting enough sleep, not eating healthy meals, and are poisoning your body.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and have fun.  However, it does mean that you should be more intentional about what you eat, how much you drink, and how much sleep you get.

Additionally, you’re not playing when watching television, scrolling through social media, or playing video games.  Play involves creativity (and none of these things involve that).  Don’t confuse common leisure activities with play.


child play blocks that spell out the word play


Why Learning to Play Without Guilt Matters

In my experience, many high-achievers don’t prioritize play (or quit altogether) because they feel that it:

  • Isn’t productive.
  • Might be construed as being selfish.

But that’s actually backwards.  Playing will make you more productive, happier, and hence more successful in both your career and life.

Play is About Renewal of Your Mind, Body, and Soul

The point of play is to renew and rejuvenate you.  It’s relaxing yet energizing all at once, mostly because you’re giving your brain some creative time and space to think.

Here’s the thing: your brain needs down-time.  For that matter, so do your body and spirit.

When you play, you’re not just having fun.  You’re also providing yourself with relief from your daily struggles, problems, and stress-inducers.  And you’re giving your subconscious mind time to slow down and process everything.

Did you know that you learn better when having fun?  That means play will help you to grow and learn.  Moreover, certain types of play (such as brain-challenging activities such as puzzles, chess, or certain board games) can improve brain function and memory.  And play makes you feel good.

Renewing yourself in this way has obvious benefits, such as less stress, more productivity, and a better outlook on life.  All of this will help you live a happier, healthier, more successful life.  And that includes more work success too.  After all, work quality is dependent on your well-being.

As George Bernard Shaw once said:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

The 2 C’s of Play: Creativity and Connection

There are two important components to playing: creativity and connection.  Play stimulates your imagination and boosts your problem-solving skills.  When you prioritize play, you’ll be more innovative.

Moreover, play often involves social interaction.  These interactions will strengthen your social skills and even your relationships with others. The good feelings invoked by playing will help foster empathy, trust, and compassion.  This leads to stronger, more intimate relationships with others.

Finally, you’ll be more attuned to yourself through solo play.  That means that playing by yourself is beneficial too because you’ll be more connected with your own thoughts and beliefs (and better able to deal with problems and stressors).

Bottom Line: By adopting a more playful attitude, you’ll be happier, healthier, and more productive.  You’ll make a bigger impact in all you do.


Picture of happy woman on bike


How to Reintroduce Play Into Your Life Without Guilt

3 Mental Shifts to Help You Play Without Guilt

To help you re-introduce and prioritize play into your life without feeling guilt or shame around it, try the following strategies:

#1: Be Productively Playful

Since productivity is important to you, why not focus on how much you can increase your productivity levels through play?  Set a new goal to prioritize it within your life.  And challenge yourself to see how much more productive you can get by playing more.

#2: Prioritize Creative Play

Continued success requires innovation and creativity.  This means that you’ll want to focus on play that emphasizes creativity and problem-solving skills.  Your mind will thank you for it (and so will you thanks to the results you’ll get from these type of activities).

#3: Adopt a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is one of resilience and learning.  When you’re growth-oriented, you’re curious and open to new things.  This mentality will help spark a new level of open-mindedness about play since the point of it is to be more creative, more productive, and learn new things.

20 Ways to Play Without Guilt

Now that you’ve (hopefully) been convinced to play more often, here are 20 ideas to help get you started:

#1: Schedule Family Game Night

Have a regular family game night where you play board games, puzzles, or even make up your own games.  Change up what you do each time and allow different people to choose their favorites.

#2: Go to the Park with Family and Friends

There are so many things you can do at the part.  You can fly a kite, play Frisbee or tag, or throw a ball with your dog.  Not only will this be fun, but it’s a simple way to reduce stress.

#3: Play With Your Pet

Do this daily (assuming you have a pet).  Don’t own a pet?  Regularly visit someone who does and play with their pet.  You’ll still have fun.

#4: Reignite Your Inner Artist.

Start drawing, painting, or sculpting.  If you don’t have an artistic bone in your body (like me), you can color.  Coloring might sound strange as an adult, but it reduces stress by taking your mind off your problems and allowing your brain some space to think.

#5: Go Dancing

You don’t have to be a good dancer to have fun.  The movement will help you both physically and mentally plus you’ll have a partner to connect with.  So, pick your favorite partner and take them dancing.

#6: Arrange Adult Play Dates

Play dates don’t have to be reserved for just kids.  You can go bowling, play mini golf, or even sing karaoke with family, friends, or even co-workers.

#7: Invest in a Science or Magic Kit

Remember how excited you were as a kid when you received a new magic or science kit as a gift?  Reignite your creative juices by gifting yourself one.  These are perfect for both alone play time and for sharing with family and friends.

#8: Buy a Joke Book

Laughter is part of play.  And telling (appropriate) jokes to family and friends is part of having a playful attitude.  Just be sure that they’re appropriate for your audience, time, and place.

#9: Play With Your Kids

Playing with your kids will help you experience play from a whole new perspective.  It’s likely to invoke a bit more child-like curiosity and open your awareness to new ways of thinking.  When playing with your kids, don’t set a bunch of rules.  Instead, let go and just play!

#10: Build Something

Build an erector set or play with Lego’s.  Lego’s are fun – even for adults (trust me, I know what I’m talking about).  I especially recommend building something from scratch without instructions.  It will spark a lot more creativity from within.

It’s Time to Start Playing

Use one of the ideas above and get started with incorporating more play into your life.  Because when you play you’ll:

  • feel more relaxed and renewed;
  • be a better problem-solver (at home and at work); and
  • have more fun.

And that’s a true recipe for success.

Before you go, put something into your calendar that involves playing. To help keep you accountable (and actually do it), include a family member or friend and tell them about it.

Recommended Resources

Ready to go all-in on becoming happily successful? Check out the following podcasts, articles and free resources:

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Hey there, I’m Heather

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I’m here to help purpose-driven lawyers and other professionals (like you) build your ideal career to support the life you actually want. Because you shouldn’t have to choose between professional success & personal happiness.

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